Sunday, January 31, 2010

Macmillan and Amazon War by Morgan Mandel

I've been watching with interest the developments in book price wars. This one is a battle between Macmillan and Amazon. Macmillan's demanded higher prices for kindle, when apparently $9.99 is the highest Amazon would go.

Amazon pulled all the buy buttons from Macmillan books and was only selling books offered by third party vendors, none bought through Amazon itself.

Then, Amazon gave in under strong protest and decided it would agree to offer bestsellers at $12.99 to $14.99, under strong protest, saying Macmillan had a monopology over its own books.

I'm not sure what to think of this. In a way, it's a good idea for Macmillan to decide and stick to a price. That means authors will get compensated for their hard work, as well as other people involved in production and selling of books. Also, it sounds like Apple will be charging more for Ibook material than the going rates at most books at Amazon.

I actually dropped the kindle price for Killer Career to $3.99 to stay competitive in the ebook and kindle market.

Will the insistence on higher prices help or hurt authors? That's the question. In this poor economy, it's a good thing for books to be readily available at affordable prices. Still, these prices have dropped extremely low. Some authors give away their ebooks or kindles, while others offer them at $.99 or $1.99 in the hopes of attracting volume sales.

Will readers buy at the higher prices? Are publishers like Macmillan pricing themselves out of the market?
What's your take?

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career available at , at Amazon and other venues.

Ordinary Sounds by Morgan Mandel

Going on midnight, I'm typing away at the computer, with the dog and DH already fast asleep. I hear a loud sound in the direction of the kitchen. My heart pounds. Then I identify the noise as the ice maker dropping ice into the refrigerator's ice bin.

I can be under the covers and hear faint knocking sounds. What is it? It turns out to be the furnace causing the warm air to blow through the vents.

Those are innocuous explanations for ordinary sounds. Now, what if I heard one of the doors creaking at night when the DH is already inside with me? That sound would make me want to grab my cell phone and call 911.

Can you name other ordinary sounds that can become menacing under certain circumstances? Or, maybe you've used one in a book.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career now at and Amazon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Make Every Word Count

by Jean Henry Mead

I recall a workshop where the instructor impressed upon his students that each word committed to paper should pull its own weight. And that every unnecessary word needed to be culled from the plot.

Writers need to engage their readers, not simply enlighten and entertain them. Creating word images that readers can relate to is preferable to forcing them to fill in the blanks. A Hummer H2 conveys a much stronger image than having your protagonist ride to the rescue in an SUV.

Strong verbs are necessary to give one’s plot a dynamic, energetic tone. Words such as hurried, leaped and laughed as opposed to passive words like thought, imagined, mused or considered. And as we’ve all been told, stay away from the verb to be in all its forms because it’s the weakest of words.

Adverbs that end in –ly also weaken your prose. On the other hand, strong specific verbs give writing vitality. I’m reminded of my interview with A.B. Guthrie, Jr. who said, “The adjective is the enemy of the noun and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. Writers use too many descriptive words." As for adjectives, author Lois J. Peterson once said, “One well-chosen adjective can be more effective than two or more, which used together might weaken the idea or image.”

Do we really need adverbs? Not unless it's impossible to come up with strong verbs, such as substituting rumbled instead of drove noisily. Cull the adverbs in your second draft and replace them with muscular verbs. As for adjectives, the rundown house can be rewritten as a hovel.

Word choices affect the plot’s pace. If every symphony movement maintained the same pace, the audience would either be exhausted or asleep before the finale. So writers need to think of themselves as conductors, controlling the pace with word choices, syntax and variety. Long sentences and paragraphs slow the pace and seem to be introspective while short, choppy sentences are much more dramatic and conducive of action scenes. So, in order to keep your reader reading, alternate your sentences and paragraphs in a variety of lengths.

Sentence rhythm is important so be sure to read your work aloud before committing it to a final draft. Some word choices bring a sentence to an abrupt halt and should be rewritten or replaced, along with all unnecessary words. The musical analogy is a good one because sentence flow is so important.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Mysteries I'm reading by Christine Duncan

I love Sarah Graves' Home Repair is Homicide series so much that I barely finish the latest book in the series before I start looking for the next. I don't know exactly why--perhaps because her heroine, Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree is so real to me. The woman could live down the street.

Crawlspace, Graves' newest in the series is no exception to the rule. Jake is busy trying to figure out how to stuff insulation in her house (and striking a chord with this homeowner right there, since I also live in a drafty old place.) Her son is recovering from alcohol addiction and life is going on as normal, when a visiting true crime writer stirs things up by looking at a recent death in the area. Even then, Jake is not all that interested except....

See, this is my problem with reviews. I hate when they tell too much, you know? But suffice it to say, that Jake's adventures into mystery this time put both her son and herself in danger. Read this book!

Another recent read is Ghastly Glass a Renaissance faire mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene. This is only the second in the series but it is already a favorite of mine.

Jesse Morton is writing a thesis about crafts in the Renaissance time period. She is researching them by apprenticing herself to various crafts folk at a Renaissance Village in Myrtle Beach. Previously, she had been apprenticed to a basket weaver (Wicked Weaves is the first book in the series.) and this time she is returning at Halloween for a short apprenticeship with a glass blower. Those folks who like to read seasonal mysteries in order to get in the mood will love this one which really makes you feel as though it is Halloween. And regular mystery series lovers will like the character of Jesse and her boyfriend, Chase Manhattan and want to keep reading their adventures. I can't say enough about this series.

So what have you been reading lately? I'm always looking for a good mystery.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two of the series, Safe House was recently released by Trebleheart books.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


trench coats, fedoras
by Earl "Ah, the good old days" Staggs

Back in the day, when Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Shayne needed information to catch the bad guys, they wore trench coats, fedoras and used up a lot of shoe leather. They scoured the mean streets for clues, twisted the arms of snitches, romanced willowy blondes, bribed bartenders and hotel desk clerks, all in search of information that would lead them to the solution of a crime.

Not any more. Not if you watch mystery and crime shows on TV.

No longer do our heroes have to plead for warrants to examine phone records, wade through years of newspaper articles, get witnesses to spend hours going through mug books, or sweet-talk an old girlfriend at the Department of Motor Vehicles to trace a license plate number.

All it takes now is a few keystrokes.

Nearly every crime show has a computer wizard/master hacker equipped with a million dollars worth of equipment who can come up with any information on anyone in any corner of the globe in seconds.

Take “Criminal Minds” for instance. Approximately every five minutes, one of the profile team calls Garcia, their mistress of the microchip, and the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, babycakes, I need a listing of all twenty-five-year-old redheaded women who spilled beer on their yellow dress while on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 1983.”

“Sure thing, sweet cheeks. Give me a second. Ah! Here it is. There were three of them and they all live within a mile of where you are right now.”

NCIS has two of them. Both McGee and Abby, with flying fingers, can key up any information from any data base on the planet. Need the criminal record or military history of a suspect? How about high school yearbook pictures, a listing of any call made or received on any cell phone, or every home address the suspect ever had.

You’ll find someone like them on all the popular crime shows these days.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating my examples a bit, and I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with any of it. I watch those shows and enjoy them. After all, with the technology available today, there’s no reason not to use it to catch the bad guys.

But somewhere inside me, I miss the trench coats, fedoras and hard-drinking, two-fisted gumshoes whose technology was as simple as a punch in the mouth or a slug from a .45.

Earl Staggs

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on Getting Published

Once upon a time I struggled with the concept of "getting published." I went the recommended route, queried agents, and sent my manuscripts off to those who were interested. I soon learned there was a lot of luck and timing involved in going from manuscript to printed book.

The other day I looked back at the file for my first mystery novel written in the modern era (which means leaving out one I wrote while in college and another penned in the mid-sixties). I had a good agent and she got some nice rejection letters from several major houses. A Harper Collins editor said he couldn't get over the timeliness of the book (an end-of-the-Cold War story). He enjoyed it and found it "very much in the traditions of the thriller genre," but they were looking for books quite different from the genre as a whole.

Grove Weidenfeld found it "a competent and entertaining piece of work" but not the kind of novel they usually published. William Morrow said the "scenario was creepily plausible and nicely audacious," but they feared it might be out of date by the time it was printed. A Berkley Publishing Group editor thought it "a very well written thriller, but this genre is just too hard to sell in mass market at the moment. Maybe this would work well in hardcover."

The result was it didn't sell, the agent lost her fiction associate and decided to concentrate on non-fiction. After equally futile results with the next three manuscripts and the next three agents, I lowered my sights to the small press field. There I got a three-book contract for manuscripts number eight, nine and ten.

After problems in collecting royalties, I started the old agent search again with the next book. I found it more daunting now than back when I was peddling my earlier manuscripts. Being in my eighties, I decided I did not have the time or the patience to continue knocking my head on the brick walls that adorned the New York landscape.

So I lowered my sights another notch and went with a micro-press. I now have five books in print (actually, the first three are "out of print" but will be back in as soon as the current inventory is exhausted). With my bona fides firmly established, I know if I write a decent book it will be published.

Will it be on the New York Times (or anybody else's) bestseller list? Not unless Lady Luck does an about face and gets me a movie deal or some other highly unlikely miracle occurs. Am I worried about my "writing career?" Hardly. I've been a career writer since I got my first job as a newspaper reporter in the fall of 1947 (for the full story see Reflection on the Writing Life - My 60-year odyssey with the written word.

Do I recommend my path to publication for others? Were I forty years younger, I might keep plugging away at the seemingly impenetrable agent barrier for a little longer. But if you've experienced the same long-term frustration that I have, it just might be worth a try. I know all the cautions advanced by organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I'm secretary of an MWA chapter and president of a SinC chapter.

The books get great reviews from all kinds of review sites. Some have won awards, though not the big ones that require a major publisher or extensive name recognition. But I'm viewed as a competent professional by my peers and a creator of exciting books by my readers. What more could I ask?

Chester Campbell

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mystery writing heroes by Vivian Zabel

Since another icon of the mystery genre has left our world, I decided to honor some of the mystery writing heroes who directly or indirectly affected my writing: Phyllis A. Whitney; Mary Stewart; Tony Hillerman; and Robert B. Parker. Three have died, and one still lives but no longer writes.

Phyllis A. Whitney
passed away on February 8, 2008 at the age of 104. For more than 80 years, she wove her storytelling magic — in her lifetime garnering numerous awards and worldwide acclaim for her books. A winner of the prestigious Grand Master award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America, and an author the New York Times once called the "Queen of the American Gothics," Phyllis A. Whitney was and remains one of my favorite mystery and romantic suspense writers. Reading her books during my teens and adult years had an impact on my writing.

"It's hard to come up with a 'quote' about myself. Perhaps I could say that most of my writing has been concerned with understanding between people. Whether of different races, or religions, or even in the same family I tried in my books... to deal with the subject of understanding the other fellow."
-- Phyllis A. Whitney

Mary Stewart published about one book a year from 1955 until 1980, each becoming a best seller. She was at the height of her popularity in the 1960s and 1970s when many of her suspense and romantic novels were translated into many languages. I read every one of her books I could lay hands on during the same years I read Phyllis Whitney's.

Stewart is considered one of the founders of the romantic suspense sub-genre, blending romance novels and mystery. The author has lived for many years in Scotland, where she divides her time between Edinburgh and the West Highlands.

Mary Stewart has always been hesitant to categorize her novels, uncomfortable naming them thrillers, mysteries, or romances. She says, "I'd rather just say that I write novels, fast-moving stories that entertain. To my mind there are really only two kinds of novels, badly written and well written. Beyond that, you cannot categorize...Can't I say that I just write stories? 'Storyteller' is an old and honorable title, and I'd like to lay claim to it."

Anthony "Tony" Grove Hillerman was born on 27 May 1925, the youngest of the three children of August Alfred and Lucy Grove Hillerman. The Hillermans farmed and ran the crossroads store in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Even though Tony was originally from Oklahoma, I never had the opportunity to meet him in person until the Red Dirt Book Festival, October 2003, in Shawnee, Oklahoma. I attended all his sessions, stood in line to get my books autographed, and listened as he spoke at the banquet. Several times he visited with me during the course of the two-day festival. A friendly and gracious man, he signed one of my books with a personal message, giving me a keepsake that I will forever treasure.

One thing he shared with us that weekend, some people around him in the publishing business considered him a prude because he didn’t include sexual scenes. One person told him the closest he came to sexual tension was to have a man and woman shake hands.

Many people have written about Tony over the years, and since his death, but one article that best explains his books is an article by the author himself: “Behind the Books” by Tony Hillerman. I advise anyone and everyone read that essay.

Anthony Grove Hillerman, writer, born May 27 1925; died October 26 2008.

Then earlier this week, the world learned we lost another leading mystery writer: Robert B. Parker. I blogged about him on Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap Tuesday, right after I heard about his death.

Robert Parker revitalized and brought life back to the hard-boiled mysteries. I've read most his books, and I enjoyed some more than others. I'm a fan of Spenser (loved Hawk) and Jesse Stone, and always will be.

Yes, we still have some marvelous models to follow as we write mysteries, such as Carolyn Hart, Jordan Dane, Tess Gerritsen, William Bernhardt, and many more, but those we've lost will remain as pioneers in our craft.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
4RV Publishing

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker

I'm still trying to come to grips with the news of Robert B. Parker's death yesterday. He was certainly a great writer, one of the best of his genre. I believe there is no currently active mystery writer who is unacquainted with his work. Everybody who reads detective fiction seems to have an opinion on him and his books, especially the highly popular and influential Spenser series.

Parker blew life into the detective novel when such stories had fallen out of favor. Are any other writers mentioned in the same breath as Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald? He gave us such memorable characters as Spenser "That's Spenser with an 's', like the poet.", a romantic thug who likes to cook and read poetry, Susan Silverman, Hawk, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and an extraordinary supporting cast.

Parker wrote 65 novels, an impressive output by any standard. Looking for Rachel Wallace is a classic of the detective genre, and, in my opinion, one of the books anyone who aspires to being a mystery writer must read. Not all of his books were great, but I never found one that wasn't readable and entertaining. Aren't those the goals we all strive for? Some people hated his stories, while others loved them. He has a lot of imitators. In the tributes to Parker that have appeared since the sad announcement, one word keeps coming up--stylist. He took great pains with his style, and even among all the imitators, his style is readily identifiable, especially in his dialogue and his use of white space.

I think his greatest contribution to the detective genre is Susan Silverman. The earlier detectives were all lone men and a few women, who, though they may have had frequent liaisons with the opposite sex, were incapable of entering complex, committed, loving relationships. The women or men with whom they did have relationships tended to be weak, one-dimensional characters. Susan was different. She was a match for Spenser in every way. She was beautiful, refined, intelligent and accomplished. She was better educated than Spenser and her professional practice surely brought in more money than Spenser's. Sometimes they were cloyingly cute, but when Parker was at his best, Spenser and Susan sparkled like Tracey and Hepburn. They explored many different, complicated aslpects of a relationship that lasted thirty-six years. Imagine that, a thirty-six year romance in a hard-boiled mystery series. God Save the Child, which introduced Susan in 1974 was a landmark book and the detective genre was changed forever. If your detective has an emotionally complex, if not satisfying, relationship with another character, thank Robert B. Parker for that.

Robert B. Parker was 77. He died at his desk. We'll miss him.

Mark Troy

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Do You Look For in a Writing or Mystery Conference?

There are so my conferences and convention to choose from, how do you decide which on you will got to?

Some folks like to go to the big conventions like Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon to see their favorite authors. For a new author or one with a small press, sometimes the bigger conventions can be a bit daunting. The first Bouchercon I went to was in Monterey, a beautiful place for a convention. I didn't know many people there and it was nearly impossible to find those I did. Because there were six tracks of panels going on, it was difficult to choose which one to go to.

Since then, I've convinced my husband to go with me to several Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes and we've visited places we'd have never gone otherwise like El Paso Texas, Milwaukee and Madison WI. I went alone to Anchorage twice and enjoyed myself. By this time though, I'd begun to know many of the people who attend these cons often.

I've been twice to Malice Domestic which is held near DC. Once with a good friend and the second time with my husband. We combined the second trip to a visit to his home town in Maryland. It's a smaller conference and receptive to new writers.

I really like Mayhem in the Midlands, always in Omaha, hubby likes it there too. We've gone every years since the second one and we've made many friends we enjoy seeing. It's a small conference with only three tracks and not so many people

We went once to Love is Murder arriving in the middle of snow storm in Chicago. (It's always held in February.) We enjoyed it a lot, great people and a well run mid-sized conference.

Epicon is a conference for e-published writer and I enjoy going to them as they hop all over the country: San Antonio TX, Vegas, the Queen Mary in Long Beach CA, Oklahoma City, Tampa FL to name a few. And this March we're heading to New Orleans. I'll be giving a presentation on How to Write a Mystery.

I've been to many writers' conference over the years, but I will no longer go to them unless I have the opportunity to be a speaker. There is one exception, and that's the Public Safety Writers Association's conference.
That's because I'm the program chair of that one and I've presented often, but anyone who registers before March 31 will have the opportunity to be on a panel.

If you go to a conference in hopes of meeting new readers and selling books, a smaller conference is better--unless you are a mega-author. At any conference you will be in competition with other writers.

One thing I've learned over the years is to be friendly and helpful. This is a good way to make friends.

You'll never make back the money with book sales that you've spent on registration, hotels and travel--but if you go someplace new you've never seen before and you have a good time while you're there, I think it's worth it.

What is it you look for in a conference or convention?


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Morgan's Mystery Author Guest, Penny Warner, Tells Us How to Survive a Book Store Event When Nobody's Heard of You

I'm happy to relinquish my spot today to feature the talented Mystery Author, Penny Warner. Her latest release sounds delightful, plus she has some great, fun tips about surviving a book store event. - Morgan Mandel

Things to know about Penny -
Penny Warner has published over 50 books, both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, including over a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and have been printed in 14 countries. Her first mystery, DEAD BODY LANGUAGE, in her Connor Westphal series featuring a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country, won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for an Agatha Award. Her non-fiction book, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, was nominated for an Agatha Award. Warner writes for party sites such as,,, and, and with her husband Tom creates interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. She can be reached at

Don’t let murder crash your party…
HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY - A Party Planning Mystery
Party Planning Tips Included
By Penny Warner National Bestselling Author

Mixing fun and fundraising for charities seemed like the perfect job for Presley Parker when she’s suddenly downsized from her position teaching abnormal psychological at the university. Pres is psyched about her first big gig—hosting a “surprise” wedding for the San Francisco Mayor at notorious Alcatraz prison.

But the party’s over when the bride bolts faster than an escaping prisoner, and is later found dead floating in the bay, a victim of poisoned chocolates. When Presley becomes prime suspect, she looks to her quirky Treasure Island co-workers for help, but it’s the attractive, mysterious crime scene cleaner Brad Matthews who helps tidy up her tarnished reputation. If she doesn’t solve this mystery, she’ll be exchanging her party dress for prison stripes.

HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY is the first in the series featuring reluctant party planner, Presley Parker and set on Alcatraz, Treasure Island and other locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The book offers party tips throughout, and a complete party plan at the back of the book. A second book in the series, HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, set at the de Young Museum, will be published in August, followed by HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER S√ČANCE, set at the Winchester Mystery House

Penny Warner has published over 50, including more than a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and been printed in 14 countries. Known as the “Queen of Parties,” she’s planned over 500 parties, including interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. Visit her at

And Now, Let's Hear What Penny Has to Say About Surviving The Dreaded Book Store Event -


By Penny Warner

Ah, the glamorous life of a writer. I’m “on tour” with my latest book, which means I’m signing at some bookstores, “chatting” on a few weblogs, speaking at a handful of writers’ conferences, and spending all my advance money making cute little bookmarks as bribes for potential readers.

If you haven’t done a book signing recently, here’s how they typically go: You cold-call booksellers, ask if they’ll host a signing for your upcoming “bestseller,” and show up at the appointed time to sign autographs for your adoring fans. At least, that’s the idea. Here’s what really happens:

You email the booksellers asking for a signing because there’s not enough alcohol in your wine cellar to provide the courage you need to actually speak to them, certain they will laugh in your face at this ludicrous idea. When a bookseller surprises you by asking when you’d like to come in for an event, you blurt out a date, which has already been booked by JD Salinger or JK Rowling. He counters with only date he has left this year and you gratefully accept, only later realizing that it’s the same time as the Super Bowl, the last episode of “American Idol,” or Christmas.

You send out handcrafted invitations to 200 of your closest friends, including the grocery clerk, the five-year-old boy next door, and the new neighbors you haven’t even met yet. You email the rest of your fans, creating an eye-catching flyer that doesn’t convert on anyone else’s computer and reads: “*^$&((%##& *&$^#*&^($($*(!”

You bribe your future readers to the event by promising them an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet and free bookmarks, then search the knock-off stores for a “literary outfit” that makes you look like Sue Grafton. You realize after you purchase it you look more like Barbara Cartland so you change into a T-shirt featuring an ironed-on copy of your book cover, pull on a pair of black jeans to hide your less-than-literary fat, and skip the fake glasses.

When it’s “book-signing time,” you arrive at the bookstore to stage your themed display. You find yourself at the kiddy-sized table in the back, next to the Books That Never Sell. You sit down and try to look busy by constantly rearranging your book stack, while shoppers give you a wide berth and never make eye contact. Finally someone approaches your table, smiles, and you get your Mont Blanc pen ready to sign a heartfelt passage, personalized to the reader. That’s when she asks you where the restrooms are located and you point with your outrageously expensive pen. Suddenly you’re flooded with table-visitors, all asking questions like, “Do you have any books on bird-watching?” “Have I ever heard of you?” and “What’s Stephen King really like?”

Between “customers” you browse the bookstore shelves and end up buying more books than you sell. You wonder why you bother to write books that nobody reads, and ask the bookseller if he needs any part-time help, since it’s time you got a “real job.” Just as you’re packing up, someone approaches and asks if your latest book is out. You smile proudly, point to the stack of unsold books on the table, and give her your well-practiced pitch: “It’s a kind of a Sherlock Holmes meets ‘Girls Gone Wild’ set on Alcatraz, featuring a love story between a feisty party planner and a muscle-bound crime scene cleaner, who overcome misunderstood, socio-pathological murderers, barely escape death by poisoned chocolates made in the shape of handcuffs, and achieve happiness as the new Bickersons.” She puts your book down, says she only reads chick-lit cookbooks, and heads for the free snacks.

Hey, don’t feel sorry for me. I love every minute of it. In fact, you’re all invited to my gala publishing party on February 8 at the Peasant and the Pear restaurant in Danville, California. That’s when I’ll be launching my new mystery series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, featuring—don’t laugh—a party planner/sleuth.

There will be free snacks...

Penny Warner

Please leave a comment below to welcome Penny, or, maybe you'd like to share one of your own experiences at a book store event.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Do Trailers Sell Books?

by Jean Henry Mead

The jury’s still out on whether trailers actually sell books. Regardless, they showcase your work if you place them on U Tube and promote them on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

The videos range in price from less than a hundred dollars to several thousand, or you can produce them youself. My first book trailer for my historical novel, Escape, was created by a student who did a credible job for $60, but I wasn’t impressed with the music or photo quality. So I hired a professional to produce my second trailer, for $475, which carved a nice chunk from my royalties. A Village Shattered video recently earned four and a half points out of a possible five from a new video judging site, First Turning Point. The only nit mentioned was punctuation within the video.

My first self produced video, Diary of Murder, only earned three points from the same site. Among the nits, the judge said the music was too recognizable. The bottom line is that both books have sold equally well so the expensive trailer was probably a waste of hard earned royalties.

Whichever route you decide to take, book trailers are worth the investment if you have the time and energy to vigorously promote them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Writer's Resolutions--Revised?? by Christine Duncan

It's only two weeks into the New Year and I'm hitting some snags with my resolutions. I stuck to 3 resolutions when it came to writing. I wasn't hoping for the moon.

I had resolved to write one page a day--no problem. I'd grade myself an A+ there.

I had resolved to do one promo thing a day. I have been writing people to put together another blog tour but we all know that is the easy part I've got to write those blogs and figure out how to promote them. Still the resolution was just one promo thing a day and I have been doing that.
Grade? B.

But my third resolution is giving me real problems. I had resolved to organize my writing research and my old articles and stories. This job is way out of my league--if there is a league for organizing.

Just gathering all this stuff up is a massive undertaking. I've found notes from a con I attended in 2003 in a drawer in my bedside table, old articles and stories in a file drawer downstairs and a pile of stuff next to my computer in my husband's drafting office. Now that i"m looking, the stuff is expanding and coming after me. It is truly scary.

Sigh. I haven't even attempted to figure out the stuff on floppy disks (remember those???) Many of those were written in Word Perfect--which I no longer have. But I'd better get to it quick while I still have one ancient computer with a floppy drive.

So short of throwing out what I haven't used lately (my usual rule when it comes to clothes and household items since we live in a small house,) what is an easy way to do this? I would put it all on computer--scanning is easy, but I've learned my lessons from those floppies. Technology tends to become outmoded. I long ago ran out of file cabinet space. I have one drawer just for articles I wrote for Sunday School magazines. I never even got to file most of my research material--heaven help me if I really needed to find it in a hurry to use it.

Any tips would be appreciated. And next year? I resolve not to make any resolutions.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series

Monday, January 11, 2010


Recently a friend told me that he had written a book and had an offer from “a very, very, very small publisher” They pay 15% royalties (40% on ebooks) but the writer wondered if he was selling himself short, or if self-published would be better until he attracted someone bigger. He also didn’t know what a reasonable advance would be. It occurred to me that we may all have had these same questions at one time or another.

I know a little about the pros and cons of self publishing. After all, I started my own publishing company because I didn’t have the patience to wait for the mainstream to let me in and I wanted to know for sure if anyone wanted to read my work. Luckily, I have found an audience.

I also placed one of my novels, Blood and Bone, with a small publisher (Echelon Press.) With 60 other writers to support, they have not been able to give me the support I can give myself. HOWEVER, they did make it easier for me to break into Borders and Barnes and Noble. Once I started selling in those places they happily accepted my other titles.

I think the primary advantage to NOT being self-published is distribution, and that difference exists more in the minds of booksellers than in reality. My books, manufactured by Lightning Source, actually get to stores faster and more reliably than the Echelon title, yet there are still managers who back away from “print-on-demand” books (if they find out.) A few I’ve become friends with were quite stunned to learn that my books were printed as needed because they had been told two falsehoods: they are not returnable and they take much longer to order.

My advice to my friend was to question the publisher closely about distribution. They need to have a distributor in addition to Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Lightning Source distributes thru both of them but there’s no sales force. If they have all three then a book has as good a chance at getting the “brick and mortar treatment” as anyone else. If, like Echelon Press, they also work with a distributor that specializes in library sales you have a good chance there too. But understand that even with distribution, few stores will stock your title unless you do a signing there.

As for the advance, I think I have some unusual advice. Try negotiating for a smaller advance with a dedicated marketing and publicity budget. If they spend money on promoting your book, you'll get more royalties in the long run.

Also, for what it’s worth, my experience has been that you are more likely to go from small publisher to big publisher than you are to go from self published to big publisher. And who knows? If your book is a hit you might turn a small publisher INTO a big publisher.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Where Is Global Warming Now?

by Ben Small

Now there's a good mystery question.

We've been told the ice caps are melting, that glaciers are receding, that the earth's temperature is rising. Yet, the U.S. had one of its coldest years in history last year, and winter this year has been the worst we've seen in twenty-five years, or at least that's what we're being told down in the Tropics of Florida, where oranges are freezing on their trees.

Is anybody too hot out there?

I looked on the internet to see where Al Gore has been flying his private jet, because it seems wherever no-longer-poor Al goes, record blizzards or low temperatures follow him. Only thing I could determine is, he must really get around. Seems everybody is having record lows these days. And while a Global Warming conference was being held in Copenhagen, a blizzard dropped on the delegates, who of course flew in on private jets, too. Is there anyone who believes in a Higher Being who doesn't think that Higher Being was having fun with these high-falutin potentates?

Scientists are a funny group. They tell us the ice caps will melt and the seas will rise, wiping out Florida, turning NYC into a swamp, and converting most of the eastern seaboard into bone-fishing heaven. But did this happen in the Middle Ages? Scientists also tell us that tree core borings show that period on average to have been about twenty degrees warmer on a world-wide basis than now. Guess there musta been too many gas guzzlers on the road in the Middle Ages, huh?

And the scientists can't seem to agree on much of anything. I've heard various alleged supporting reasons for the alleged Global Warming: sun spots, carbon emissions, solar flares, polarity changes, rising magma -- heck, even cow farts. Yet these same scientists -- or maybe their parents -- were telling me we were entering a new Ice Age as recently as during Jimmy Carter's reign. We were urged to conserve fuel; we might need it to keep from freezing.

And I love it when politicians realize that their words ring false; they just change the words. So "Global Warming" is no longer politically correct; now we're told we should use the term "Climate Change." That's what I call "wiggle-room." They can be wrong and still say they were right. And climate does change. It got colder from the Middle Ages; the tree borings prove it. It got warmer when the Ice Age ended; the glaciers melted. So, in other words, all this stuff has happened before.

Yes, I'd like to see a cleaner environment; I'd like to see crystal clear waters, clean air, the end of droughts and floods. And I'd like to see thinner people, those who emit less methane than fatties. And don't we all know fatties cause earthquakes? I've got scientific proof of that. The guy who lives above my Florida condo -- where I'm freezing now -- weighs more than his wife. When he walks, the building shakes. She, in turn, seems to dance on air. And just look at all the fatties in Los Angeles. No wonder Los Angelinos fear The Big One.

I've got a theory: The true cause of Global Warming is politicians. All that hot air's got to raise temperatures somewhere. Did you happen to notice that this cold front started when Congress recessed? I'll bet I can find a scientist who'll say there's a correlation.

But I do get a kick out of those who try to analyze hundred year data. How many third world countries, or even first and second world countries, kept temperature data a hundred years ago? Recently, during a cold snap in Tucson, my home town, the local weather guy said we'd experienced the lowest temperature since record-keeping was begun, some eighty-five years ago. If that's true, where did scientists get their hundred year Tucson temperature data?

Meanwhile, I'll just keep cranking the thermostat up. Maybe if I crank it up far enough and open my doors, I can help create Florida Warming.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Internet - Prime Source for Research

The Internet is a great source for research on a mystery novel. When I started working on The Surest Poison, the first book in my Sid Chance series, I had the basic idea for a plot contributed by a friend who’s a PI in Nashville. She’d worked a case a few years back that involved the dumping of a large amount of the toxic chemical trichloroethylene, commonly known as TCE.

My first step was to Google the chemical compound to see what it was like, how it was used, and what effects it would have on public health. I found both government and non-profit organization sites devoted to information on various pollutants, including TCE. I copied pages of details on the chemical and its health effects. I also found it was used as a degreaser in cleaning things like auto parts. All vital information for use in the novel.

I decided to locate my fictional chemical dump behind a small plant in a mostly rural county on the west side of Nashville. The other adjoining counties all had large populations and at least one moderate-sized city.

Back I went to the Internet to gather all the information available on Cheatham County. I found enough to steer me in the right direction when I made my first on-scene visit.

Since I put my protagonist, Sid Chance, in my home area of Madison, a northeastern suburb, I didn’t need the Internet or anything else to handle that area. However, I gave him a female sidekick who had inherited controlling interest in a lucrative chain of truck stops from her father, a French Canadian import.

I wanted Jasmine (Jaz) LeMieux to live in a French Colonial mansion in an affluent section on the other side of Nashville. I did a search on French Colonial houses and came up with one I used as a model. I also did a Mapquest search, both street and aerial views, to check out the Franklin Road area for a likely spot.

I also used Mapquest to look into several other areas, including the small town of Centerville, where I had them make a helicopter landing. It was also useful to figure how long it would take to drive from Jaz’s house to the location of a climactic event. And when I did the helicopter flight, I looked on the Bell Helicopter website to pick out the Jetranger III for the ride.

I set a few scenes in the fictional town of Lewisville, where Sid worked as chief of police until false accusations of bribery ended his career. I named it after explorer Meriwether Lewis, who died on the Natchez Trace near where I placed the town. I checked the Internet to be sure I had my facts correct on the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s chief.

I used the Internet in countless other ways to check out minor points. The common advice is to be careful of the facts you get off the web, as there is plenty of misinformation out there. If it was something I needed to be sure of, I always chose a reliable source, and on occasion checked another to confirm what I found.

Another use I made of the Internet was to ask questions on listserves or through emails to people like Dr. Doug Lyle, the forensic guru, or in one case, ex-policewoman Robin Burcell.

The Internet has made researching for a book as easy as sitting down at your computer. It can save hours of time and miles of travel. I recommend it highly.

Chester Campbell

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The year in reading.

2009! What a great year for reading! Here are some highlights of the mysteries I read. Some were new in 2009 and others were ones I got to belatedly.

Creepy stories: John Lutz's Darker Than Night. Even though we meet the killer early on, the plot has the reader guessing to the last page. I'd like to see more of homicide detective Frank Quinn. Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island. This is a psychological thriller that has the reader questioning reality. Martin Scorsese's version will be one of the must-see movies of 2010.

Women of the year: Mercedes Lambert's Whitney Logan (Dogtown and Soultown) tops the list. She's an edgy, vulnerable and tough lawyer in Los Angeles's gritty ethnic communities. It is a tragedy for all of us that Lambert died before the third book, Ghosttown, could be published. Not as edgy, but very compelling is Denise Hamilton's Eve Diamond, the reporter protagonist of The Jasmine Trade. The action-woman of the year is Kristin Van Dijk, aka Baby Shark, in Robert Fate's Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues. Kristin is a young, gun-toting, P.I. and pool shark in Texas in the 1950's. The story has equal measures of action and atmosphere.

Paradise found: Mark Haskell Smith's Delicious is hilarious and sexy. It's about a Hawaiian chef whose catering business is threatened by a mainland company. He fights back in the only way he knows--by cooking. Dark is the operative word in Lono Waiwaiole's Dark Paradise. This is not an escape-from-reality beach read. It is stark reality. I was pleased to be able to interview Lono on this blog earlier in the year.

Murderers Row:. The big hitters, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Lee Child and Robert Parker delivered. I hadn't read Blood Work before, though I thought I knew the story. I was wrong. This is a classic of twists and suspense. Robert Crais's Elvis Cole stories have become as predictable as Parker's Spenser. The surprise read was The Watchman with Joe Pike as the protagonist. Pike is the quintessential side kick, the guy who never says much nor shows much feeling, but in The Watchman he's a solid lead. My favorite Lee Child of the year was The Enemy, a prequel, you might say, to the Reacher series. In this story Reacher is still in the Army and we meet his mother and his brother and find out some of what makes him tick. Whenever I need a good, satisfying read, I turn to Robert Parker. Spenser never disappoints, but Night and Day with Jesse Stone did. The plot is thin but worse is the dialogue. Parker's dialogue is usually crisp and sparkling, but in this book it is pared to the bone.

The Letdowns: Though Night and Day was a disappointment compared to other books in the series, the real letdowns were two books I finished the year with. The biggest disappointment was Gardner McKay's Toyer. McKay was the actor who sailed around the South Pacific on the schooner Tiki in Adventures in Paradise, one of the best shows to appear on the small screen. He was also a playwright and storyteller. Toyer is supposed to be a disturbing creep-out, but I found it boring and confusing. There are a lot of point of view characters in the story and at least one of them is dead. Each scene is identified by the POV character, but that doesn't guarantee the POV won't change in mid-scene. I'd hoped for something better from McKay. The final book of the year was Dan Brown's Deception Point. It's high concept like Brown's other books. In this case the concept is that NASA finds a fossil-bearing meteorite in the Arctic. The concept is so far-fetched, I found it hard to suspend disbelief. The main character is a female government security analyst who's personality is flat and uninteresting. But then I've been spoiled by Whitney Logan. The ending is a Rube Goldberg style Deus Ex Machina. I kept reading to see what outlandish plot twist would come up next. it was like watching a Boise State game for the trick plays.

On balance, 2009 was a great year for books. How was your year? What did you read?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Are Your Plans for 2010?

To be perfectly honest, I never thought I'd see the year 2010--it just seemed so far off.

But being the optimistic sort, I've made lots of plans for the coming year, most of them book related.

I've already signed up for several conferences. I'm headed to New Orleans in March for Epicon (that's the conference for electronically published authors) and my book, No Sanctuary, is a finalist in the mystery/suspense category--as are three other fine mysteries.

In May comes Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha, one of my favorite mystery cons. And of course there is the Public Safety Writers Association's conference in Las Vegas in June. Because I'm the program chair for that one, I'm hoping we'll have a good turnout because we have some fantastic speakers--authors and experts in many fields. Our keynote speaker is Simon Wood, short story, horror, and mystery and thriller writer. In October, I'll be headed to Bouchercon in San Francisco.

Of course there are many things in between. I'm speaking to a book club in January, have several library talks coming up, and because I'll have a new book out sometime after the first of the year I'll be planning a book launch and actually have two places already lined up even though as yet I don't know when I'll actually have books.

As the year progresses, I know there will be other opportunities to speak about my books or writing or just sell my books.

Like seasoning the pot, I know there'll be many family gatherings and social events that have nothing to do with writing or books--but they don't seem to be planned as far ahead of time.

In any case, if I stay healthy and mobile, that's some of what I'll be doing in 2010.

What are your plans for 2010?


Monday, January 4, 2010

Carola Dunn Mystery Writer Feature, A Rewind from Acme Authors Link - Brought to you by Morgan Mandel

Many of you have not seen this delightful post, since it was done quite some time ago at Acme Authors Link.
From time to time, I'll be featuring rewinds of posts that I consider worth repeating. I hope you enjoy this one and don't be afraid to leave a comment. - Morgan Mandel

Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series, was born in London and grew up in the Buckinghamshire village where William Penn is buried. With a degree in Russian and French, and no desire to take up a career, she set off around the world. She made it half way, to Fiji, before turning back to marry an American.

Bringing up her son kept her busy for several years. When the dreadful moment could no longer be postponed, she went to work in market research. Thereafter, among others, she had jobs in child care, construction, building design, and writing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology.
In 1979, she sat down at the kitchen table and wrote her first book, a Regency romance, longhand in an exercise book.

When, much to her surprise, it sold, she quickly wrote another. Since then she has produced thirty-two Regency romances and, since moving to Oregon, 17 mysteries, the Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s. She is just embarking on a new series of Cornish mysteries in addition to continuing Daisy's adventures.

Carola lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her large black dog, Willow, who exercises her by the Willamette daily. Visit her website:

Here's what Carola has to say:


When I started writing mysteries, I'd been writing Regencies for a good many years. One aspect I always dreaded was trying to think up good titles. So I thought I'd call my mysteries Death in January, Death in February, Death in March... and never have to invent a title again. When St Martin's bought the first book and the series idea, they had just brought out an anthology based on month by month murders, so they made me think again--fortunately as it turned out, or I'd have had to quit after 12.

As it is, this is the seventeenth in the Daisy Dalrymple mystery. The series is set in England in the 1920s (hence the pic of me dressed up a la '20s, sort of). They're trad/cosy mysteries, take your pick. Much tea is drunk and little blood is spilled, at least visibly.

Black Ship has Daisy and her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard (of course!), moving to a new house. An old acquaintance from the US turns up (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker is my only US set book), claiming he's now a Prohibition agent sent to England to track down the villains who are shipping the Demon Rum (actually wine, whisky and gin) to the States. Guess who the new next-door neighbours turn out to be? Got it in one: they're high-class wine-merchants. When the Fletchers' dog finds a body in the garden, Daisy gets mixed up with rum-runners, bootleggers, and assorted mobsters. Not to mention Alec's superintendent, who can't believe she's meddling again!

Researching rum-running in the North Atlantic was fascinating. A library book, The Black Ships (that's what the US Coast Guard called the rum-runners), helped a lot but made me turn to the USCG themselves for more details. They sent me their history, Rum War at Sea. I just had to use all that info, so I set four scenes on board rum-running vessels. I bet I know more about the subject than most Americans--I should have mentioned that though living in the US, I was born and grew up in England.

Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple mysteries-England 1920s-hc,pb,audio,LP
BLACK SHIP--Daisy tangles with bootleggers (#17)
IMBA BESTSELLERTHE BLOODY TOWER-More death at the Tower of London!(#16)

Please leave a comment for Carola.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Rewind from Double M Featuring Cyndia Depre, Mystery Writer - Provided by Morgan Mandel

I've received many great posts from guests on my personal or group blogs. I'll be sharing some of the classics with you from time to time. Here's one featuring Cyndia Depre, originally posted on 11/18/08, but it still contains lots of helpful information.

Eccentric Olivia Chatham has found her life's calling. Crime buster.

Tucker Monroe, the small Wisconsin town's mysterious new resident, discovers he, too, has a mission...Keeping up with her.

Cyndia Depre was born in Iowa, and has lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting, with a second major in Finance, from Northern Illinois University. After running her own business for ten years, she closed the doors and began writing full-time. She now lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities with her husband and their miniature Schnauzer. They keep an old, but much loved, boat at a marina on Lake Minnetonka, and use it as often as possible. Cyndia is currently working on her third novel.

Here's Cyndia's post on some of her pet peeves. Do you share any of them?
I’m pretty sure we all have a book peeve or two. Here are some of mine. I’d love to hear yours!

Coincidence-Coincidence happens in life. But to paraphrase what someone, I think Mark Twain, said, “The difference between life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” How true. If something happens in a book, there better be a reason for it. Two egregious examples of far too much leap to mind. In one a medical examiner was consulting in a distant city. Not the next county, but thousands of miles from her home. While there a body turned up, which just happened to be someone from her town. Someone she knew. That was a bit much, but I kept reading. The coincidences kept piling up. Instead of taking the novel seriously, I finished it wondering when the next unbelievable event would occur, and laughing when it did. That was the last book I read by that author.

Another had a medical examiner (they do seem to pop up often, don’t they?) happen to drive by a river where police and rescue people happened to have discovered a body. It was December, in a cold climate, but the ME happened to have scuba gear in the trunk and naturally was able to save the day and help with the body. Then she went home and made lasagna, clear down to preparing her own mozzarella. I couldn’t finish that book, and never bought another by the author. Both these writers are wildly popular, so I’m sure it’s a ‘me’ thing. But I gave up on them.

Editing-Once an author is popular, they sometimes get more free rein from editors. This can badly. One recent novel read more as a travelogue than fiction. The writer had been to Italy, and clearly loved it. Readers were going to get the detailed tour whether they wanted it or not. I didn’t. Just because your books sell doesn’t mean everything you write is a pearl. Listen to editors. Please.

Loose Ends-Several recent novels just ended. Like the authors were in a contest and the buzzer went off. What about Aunt Sue? Did they ever find Jim’s missing money? Did Lulu get her operation? If you throw something out there, something to add to the tension, resolve it. Loose ends make me nuts.

Repetition-I read a book with a hero and heroine falling in love. However, their families had been feuding for years. That was repeated over and over and over and over….Readers aren’t dumb. Don’t talk down to us by repeating something we know. It irritates us.

Dialect-Another recent book had young people in London speaking in dialect to the point it was hard to understand. I’d rather the author establish their way of talking, then go back to ‘normal’ dialog. I hear the accent once I know it’s part of the character. And I don’t waste time and get pulled out of the story by strange phrases. The same is true with a Southern accent. It’s lovely to hear. I adore Paula Deen’s ‘Y’all’. But I just can’t read it in every line. I hear it anyway, so leave it out. Again, this is all just my taste.

Ignored Pets-If you have a character with a pet, don’t forget the poor animal. Feed it. Hug it. Exercise it. Don’t stick it in the kitchen with a bowl of water and another of kibble. Once I see an animal in a story, I worry about it. Same with kids. If they’re in the novel, make sure they’re taken care of.

That’s my list. How about you?

You've seen Cyndia's peeves. Okay, gang, now it's your chance. What are your pet peeves?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Writing Resolutions

by Jean Henry Mead

I avoid resolutions because they're usually broken before the end of January, but 2010 is a year to be more organized. Last year was my busiest to date with two books published and two accepted for publication. I'm currently working on two additional books, so a haphazard approach to writing just won't work anymore.

My first resolution is to write a minimum of five pages a day. Yesterday I wrote ten but a lot of dialogue made that easy. I also resolve to plant the seat of my jeans to my computer chair for a minimum of six hours a day, which includes blog articles, promotions, email and networking as well as writing.

I only outline nonfiction books because I find that it inhibits my creativity when writing a novel, but it certainly helps to have a vague notion of what the ending will be. That's why I enjoy writing historical novels which follow actual events and people. But I'm going to attempt to write a loosely constructed outline from now on for my Logan & Cafferty suspense novels.

Sitting at the computer all day tends to pack on the pounds so giving my exercise equipment a workout every day is also a resolution. It stimulates the brain and can't help but prevent writer's block. And speaking of stimulating the brain, I've heard for years that fish caught in their natural habitat are good brain food. Salmon also brings down blood pressure when writing is like pulling teeth, so a couple of grilled salmon fillets a week will hopefully do double duty. :)

Spending more time networking is also high on my list. Because I now live on a mountaintop at 7,000 feet, social networking can only be done via the Internet. It's a great way to stay in touch with other writers as well as the publishing industry.

Reading more books means giving up TV or going to bed earlier. I resolve to do a little of both because there are so many great books out there to read. And we can always learn from the work of others.

Finally, I resolve to be more optimistic about the economy, the publishing business and my own writing career. I plan to work even harder this year to reach my highest potential because writing has become a way of life, not just a diversion.

How about you? What are your writing resolutions?

Happy New Year, everyone.