Sunday, August 29, 2010

Aliens Versus Ghosts

By Mark W. Danielson

Lately, we’ve read some interesting ghost tales, and no doubt they are real. So in keeping with this theme, I’m adding a ghost tale and a couple of UFO stories just to keep things interesting.

The first involves a WWII pilot’s flight through The Devil’s Triangle off the Florida coast. For decades, this fabled region has been swallowing airplanes and ships, but that didn’t stop the Army Air Corps from flying C-47s (DC-3) loaded with virgin passengers through it. Capitalizing on the area’s superstition, one flight crew decided to board their plane with two pair of white gloves tucked away. At cruise altitude and just prior to reaching The Devil’s Triangle, the pilots applied sticky glue to these gloves and fastened them to their control wheels. After engaging the autopilot, they climbed from their seats and strolled to the back, much to their passengers’ dismay. One soldier nervously asked what was going on in a manner I’ll forgo. Meeting this young man’s wide-eyed gaze, the pilot calmly explained that they were now in The Devil’s Triangle so they turned the flying over to the spirits. He told him not to worry and assured him they would return to their pilot seats once they had safely exited. With no cockpit door to hinder the passengers’ view, everyone on board was now staring at Mickey’s hands steering both control wheels, certain the spirits were in control. Imagine the roar at the Officer’s Club when the pilots shared their story that night. But here’s the clincher: while I was completing Air Force water survival training in The Devil’s Triangle, the ship’s captain was the son of a pilot who’s KC-135 (Boeing 707) was lost in The Devil’s Triangle. The crew never made a Mayday call and there was no sign of any wreckage. You decide whether The Triangle is cursed.

Now onto UFOs. In the 45 years I’ve been piloting airplanes, I have never seen a UFO, but I know two pilots who have. I’ll preface this with having made numerous Atlantic crossings on indigo nights, with the Milky Way illuminating my cockpit, I realize that from space Earth is nothing more than one minuscule dot. So considering the billions of stars and countless galaxies out there, it seems ludicrous to refute alien life any more than we do spirits from other worlds.

The first incident involved a fellow instructor pilot who, at the time of the occurrence, was an Air Force F-106 fighter pilot assigned to the Air Defense Command. One day he was scrambled to intercept an unidentified flying object, meaning any airborne target that had not established proper radio communication. The supersonic F-106 was such a capable interceptor that it could probably reach Heaven if gravity never tugged on its leash. With the fighter’s radar showing the target well above his aircraft, my friend centered the target by raising the nose and in full afterburner eventually established visual contact on the shiny object. By now, his F-106 had exceeded fifty thousand feet, far in excess of what was normal for this, or any other aircraft of the day, could fly. As he closed on the object, the target suddenly shot straight up and disappeared off the fighter’s and NORAD’s radar, never to be seen again. To this day, no aircraft in the world is capable of such a maneuver; especially from that altitude.

The second sighting involved an airline crew who, while flying the Atlantic red-eye, spotted a brightly lit craft much larger than any airliner flying next to them. Every crew member on board saw this unusual craft and reported it, but the air traffic controller saw nothing on his radar screen. The object disappeared without explanation, but later that night, reports of the same craft came from people all over Europe. In an apparent effort to protect us from panic, governments bury such events by fabricating stories that most of us buy into. If our fiction sales were as successful, we could all retire.

The beauty in these true stories is they allow mystery writers opportunities to explore unlimited dimensions and still convince their readers that it “could happen”. Ghostly reality shows are popular because on some level most of us believe there is an afterlife. UFO shows excel because many believe that aliens have visited our planet. Whether you’re using ghostly or alien themes for humor or drama, there is a wealth of related reference material in libraries and through the Internet. Ghosts and aliens never whine, complain, or shed tears, so try weaving one into your next story.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mystery's History

by Jean Henry Mead

Edgar Allen Poe's first detective story is credited with creating the mystery genre in this country, but “What’s happened to the mystery since [Sherlock] Holmes hung up his deerstalker hat and started keeping bees?” Carolyn Wheat asks the question in her book, How to Write Killer Fiction.

Wheat says that mysteries have been split into three distinct strands: the classic whodunit, the American hard-boiled detective story and the procedural. She further divides up the whodunit category into the regional mystery, historical, comic relief, niche mystery and the dark cozy. Her book was published in 2003, and a number of subgenres have since been added to the list, including the science fiction mystery.

I love niche mysteries such as Carolyn Hart’s series featuring a red haired ghost who returns to earth to solve murders following her own death in a boating accident. And former NASA payload specialist Stephanie Osborn not only taught astronauts what they needed to know about space travel, she wrote a mystery involving the disappearance of a space shuttle after her friend was killed in the Challenger explosion.

The American hard-boiled detective story evolved from The Great Detective, who solved crimes with his intellect. The list isn’t complete, however, without the books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. The plots take place in urban areas where murder and mayhem happen on a regular basis. You’d be hard pressed to find a hard-boiled detective story set in Cabot Cove, Maine, or St. Mary Mead, England. Or as Chandler once said, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid.” The phrase epitomizes the hard-boiled detective story that's alive and well in any number of currently written series.

The police procedural evolved when writers came to the conclusion that the majority of crimes were actually solved by detectives who used scientific methods to track down and apprehend criminals--much like Sherlock Holmes with modern equipment. They weren’t bunglers like the cops in Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead or mainly corrupt like the cops in Bay City, California. No one seems to know who first wrote procedurals although the genre was influenced by Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff in his book, The Moonstone, published in 1868, and TV’s Sgt. Joe Friday of the LAPD of the 1950s. Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy later refined the subgenre and placed a spotlight on the corruption, violence and racism of the Los Angeles police.

The dark cozy has lightened considerably in this country. I still love Christie’s sleuths and have written a few of my own, adding comic relief to my Logan & Cafferty senior sleuth series. The dark cozy came into being with Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, the first novel to use fingerprinting as a method of detection, long before it was used in real-life police work.

With all these great subgenres to choose from, which do you prefer?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Makes a Cozy by Christine Duncan

Recently I've noticed a lot of talk about what makes up the cozy genre. Basically, if people don't read cozy they tend to view it as sort of old-fashioned or as someone said on one of the mystery sites recently, give off the... scent of camphor balls and old wet wool. One of the nicest things said in that discussion was that cozies were set in a small setting like an old English manor house and the hero/heroine was an amateur sleuth.
I am here to set the story straight. The only thing true about any of that junk you read in the last paragraph is that cozy heroines are amateur sleuths. There is no graphic language or graphic violence. Cozies are more about a puzzle to solve. But cozies today are hardly old-fashioned.
Today's cozies are set in the real world. Probably a lot more like YOUR world than the PI novel you just set down. They can be in a small town (doesn't have to be in the UK let alone a manor house.)And they can deal with some pretty harsh problems. For instance, Sarah Graves, who writes one of my favorite cozy series--Home Repair is Homicide, has the heroine dealing with her son's drug addiction, and her own not so wonderful childhood.
My own cozy series, is set in a battered women's shelter.
Cozy writers like Jennie Bentley, and Joyce and Jim Lavene have fun series with savvy heroines. Others, like Monica Ferris may have a hobby type setting.
Folks, don't trash 'em, till you've tried 'em. And if you haven't read a cozy since Miss Marple, you really haven't tried 'em.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two of the series, Safe House is available now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Those Dark and Stormy Nights

It was a dark and stormy night...Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, may have been overly melodramatic with this pearl of fiction, but it wasn't a bad idea. The weather can be a great way to set the mood of your story or provide complications to the plot. One blogger listed a number of ways the weather can be used symbolically, such as:
  • Rain: cleansing, renewal, mixed emotions, depression
  • Thunderstorm: anger, danger, strong emotion
  • Blue Skies/Sunshine: hope, happiness, absence of trouble, purity
  • No Wind  or humid: stagnant, unable to  move forward, smothering
  • Windy: change, things moving too quickly to grab onto
  • Snow: inner coldness, sadness, cleansing, covering the bad, a quiet calm, purity
  • Blizzard: overwhelmed, trapped, helpless
  • Fog: unknown, fear, confusion, foreboding danger
Despite Elmore Leonard's famous rule "Never start a book with weather," it has been done successfully by several authors. He went on to explain that its use should be related to how the weather affects the characters in the story.

Hurricanes have been particularly useful to mystery writers. Randy Wayne White's Dark Light, a Doc Ford mystery, involves the retired CIA agent in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that ravaged the Florida coast. Others have used the massive storms to create havoc for their protagonists.

Thunderstorms, snowstorms, floods, and heat waves have provided backdrops for novels. If you're using one of these meteorological wonders, though, it's best to do some research to make sure your facts are right. Strange things happen during these storms, but sometimes they're a bit too strange to make it in fiction. If you've never been through a hurricane, it's a good idea to talk to someone who has. Of course, everybody has a good thunderstorm tale.

Have you read any good weather-connected books lately?

Chester Campbell

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Here are the authors to watch for

 The Private Eye Writers of America have announced the nominations for the Shamus Awards for 2010. My favorite category is Best First P.I. Novel because some of these nominees in the past have become the stars of the genre. I make it a point to find and read each nominated book each year. This year we have a Tinseltown private eye, a sexy Bronx sleuth, a Scottish P.I., a Newark gumshoe, and a New York shamus. The winner will be announced at Bouchercon, but, in my opinion, they are all winners. 

Congratulations and good luck to the nominees and good reading to the rest of us.

Best First P.I. Novel:

• Loser’s Town, by Daniel Depp (Simon & Schuster) 
Private investigator David Spandau, an ex-stuntman familiar with the ins and outs of Hollywood—a smart, tough, and wickedly funny observer of la vie L.A.—finds his patience almost sapped when he's hired to protect actor Bobby Dye from a blackmailing scheme gone wrong. Dye—young, brash, and on the verge of becoming a major star—has been set up by gangster Richie Stella, a nightclub owner and drug dealer with dreams of becoming a Hollywood producer.

• The Last Gig, by Norman Green (Minotaur) 
Alessandra Martillo is just another Puerto Rican girl who's run away from the projects in the Bronx until her uncle takes her in and teaches her how to take care of herself. Now she's working for a sleazy P.I., repossessing cars and trolling for waitstaff on the take. But when the head of an Irish mob family, Mickey Caughlan, wants to find out who's setting him up from inside, Al is exactly the woman for the job.

• The Good Son, by Russel D. McLean (Minotaur)
There is something rotten behind the apparent sucide of Daniel Robertson and it’s about to come bursting into the life of J. McNee, a Scottish private investigator with a near-crushing level of personal baggage. James Robertson, a local farmer, finds his estranged brother’s corpse hanging from a tree. The police claim suicide. But McNee is about to uncover the disturbing truth behind the death. With a pair of vicious London thugs on the move in the Scottish countryside, it’s only a matter of time before people start dying. As the body count rises, McNee finds himself on a collision course with his own demons and an increasing array of brutal killers in a violent, bloody showdown that threatens to leave none involved alive. 

• Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks (Minotaur)
A shooting can rattle a city, even if it's gun-choked Newark. Investigative reporter Carter Ross finds himself with gruesome front-page news: four bodies in a vacant lot, each with a single bullet hole in the back of the head. Soon, Carter learns the four victims have one connection, and this knowledge puts him in the path of one very ambitious killer...

• Chinatown Angel, by A.E. Roman (Minotaur)
Chico Santana is a likable, but not perfectly sympathetic New York PI. Hired by a wannabe movie star Kirk Atlas to track down his beautiful cousin, Tiffany, he gets involved with the apparent suicide of Kirk’s maid. He finds out Kirk’s family has a lot of secrets they really don’t want to be uncovered.

Mark Troy

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

E-Book Revolution?

I wrote this for my own blog but thought I would share with Make Mine Mystery.

It's amazing to me that people want to call what is going on an e-book revolution.

E-books have been around for a long, long time. When I was first published as an e-author the only way to read my books was on a computer.

Next came the Rocket E-Reader--a wonderful device. It was back-lit, you could download books from e-publishers (there were and are lots of them), and it shut off if you didn't turn a page for a long while. Perfect for reading in bed. Unfortunately, the sold out to Sony, who didn't come out with a new e-reader for a long time, and in my opinion, wasn't nearly as good as the old Rocket.

Other readers came along in-between and after, but the first to really take off--as everyone knows--was Amazon's Kindle.

New York publishers took awhile, but they finally saw the hand-writing on the wall and included e-rights in their contracts and hung onto a much greater percentage for themselves then any of the e-publishers do with their authors.

Dorchester/Leisure Books recently announced they now will only print POD books (standing for Print on Demand which is just a printing process which allows the publisher to only publish what is needed) and electronic books. Some say they are going this route because of financial problems--authors are gossiping about the fact that royalties are not being paid on time. How much is true, I have no idea.

Things are definitely changing in the publishing world--but they have been for a long, long time. Good changes for the author, in that we can now send queries and whole manuscripts in as attachments and receive out contracts the same way. When I get royalties from my publishers it's spelled out exactly where the sale came from: print book from a book store, Amazon, or the publishers' website; e-book from Amazon or other e-book seller or the publishers' website.

And of course, many authors are submitting their work directly to Amazon.

Do I still read paper books? Yes. Do I have a Kindle? Yes. Do I miss the smell of a book when I'm reading my Kindle? No. As far as I'm concerned, a book is a book.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Wildlife in Novels by Morgan Mandel

Lots of critters seem to be in my neighborhood lately. Friday night, our dog, Rascal, was very interested in an area by one of the bushes. Being dark, I couldn't tell what was our there. I managed to distract her and get her to go to the back of the yard instead. The next morning, I discovered a rabbit in the front yard, so I'm assuming that's what had her attention.

Along with the usual squirrels, on Saturday I also noticed something small with a long thin tail in our driveway. Turned out it was a mouse. It was kind of cute, so I had to go inside and get my camera to take pictures and a video. I didn't want to hurt it and was hoping it would leave before we took the van out. I'm glad it obliged. Here's the link to my video of the mouse -

A falcon also seems to be hanging out in the neighborhood lately, which is unusual for our area. I did see a fox once a few blocks away, but that was last year, so maybe it moved its quarters.

On one of my blogs, I asked whether or not any of you've written or read novels in which insects played a part. Today, I'm asking if you've included any forms of wildlife in your novels or read any novels where non-domestic animals played a part. Or, maybe you just want to share sightings of animals in your neighborhood.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Men [and Women] of Misery

By Mark W. Danielson

For the past eight years, I’ve had the honor of being part of the Men of Mystery event in Irvine, California. Here, some fifty authors dine with five hundred guests to discuss their mysteries and the writing business. Last November, Michael Connelly was the keynote speakers. Having served as the inaugural speaker, he graciously returned for its tenth anniversary. During his speech, he offered some interesting comments on writing that are worth sharing.

Connelly’s opening statement was that the authors in attendance were actually “Men of Misery”. Not in the sense of Stephen King’s thriller, Misery, but rather in the dedication it takes to craft suspenseful mysteries. He admitted to writing several manuscripts where he was well into them and then shelved them because he “wasn’t feeling it”. He also spoke about spending hours on a single paragraph or two. In this sense, the misery he was referring to isn’t about the writing process, but rather its painstaking re-writes.

Another item he stressed was daily writing. One of his mentors said you need to write at least fifteen minutes each day to mentally keep you in the loop. Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but it can be devastating if you’re stuck on a single paragraph or thought.

A most interesting remark during Connelly’s presentation is in spite of his success, he still faces the same writing demons as the rest of us, and while he writes numerous sequels, he is not a formula writer, so every book requires the same scrutiny as his first. That's one you can take to the bank.

Readers may breeze through Connelly's pages not realizing that all of his words have been carefully chosen, every setting has been visualized, and every breath from his characters has a purpose. There are no mistakes in a well-written novel. He emphasized that in writing, it is never acceptable to say, “It’ll do”.

A wonderful cast of authors makes up Irvine’s Men of Mystery and Women of Mystery events. Some authors are also screen writers and producers. Some names are more familiar than others. But every author is equally dedicated to weaving quality webs. If you wish to check out their work, try browsing their names at the Men of Mystery link: If you find someone interesting, then check out their personal web sites. Most have chapter previews. Their mysteries await you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Most Hated Man in America?

by Ben Small

Do you cringe when you see this picture?

If you're a basketball fan anywhere but Miami, you certainly do. You shake your head, vow to either blacklist Miami games -- voyerism on a one-time basis excepted -- or root for Miami's opponents. Or... you may realize the Jordan-Bird-Barkley-Magic era is over, look at this image, and give up on NBA Basketball altogether.

I did, a long time ago.

Yes, there are others it's trendy to hate. These guys come to mind:

But hopefully, their days are numbered, and they're somewhat regional phenomena, anyway.

So how about this guy?

Yeah, I hear the applause. But not so fast. This one's gonna pay through the nose, and apparently takes his parenting duties seriously. Folks still follow this guy in droves, the media loves him, and he'll soon be back on his winning ways. Besides, it looks as if he protected his betrayed wife from domestic abuse charges. He'll weather the storm.  

No. The guy I've nominated will be with us for years. We'll mock and grumble about the crown tat on his arm. Yes, the self-proclaimed King, who sold his soul and betrayed his constituents and did so in an hour-long ridiculous television self-glorification program entitled The Decision., well...

Such an embarrassment, the NBA should fine the guy. Ego gone wild. Damaging to the image of the league. Too much a reminder: NBA basketball is all-about-Me.

What does my nominee have other than massive talent and a thick bank roll?

He's certainly not gifted in gray matter. Otherwise my nominee would never have listened to whatever collection of idiots ever told him The Decision was...well...a wise decision. Was Mike Tyson an advisor? Don King, maybe?

Wiser heads, some of the NBA's all-time greats, are appalled. More appalling still, is the leak that the deal was done well before The Decision played. So my nominee used that lag before showtime to play Cleveland, indeed, the entire Midwest and even New York, for fools.

How stupid can one be? Look at the diamond in his ear. There's a twin in the other one. Big baubles, sparkling like strobes during The Decision. Smart image in a tough economy, eh? And just before the trial of Charles Taylor, the Blood Diamond guy.

Again, the NBA should fine my nominee. The First Amendment only applies to government actions.

You may disagree and nominate somebody else for this award. That's okay. Just please don't announce your decision in an hour-long ESPN television program.

NOTE: No names here. I can't bear to write them.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Queen of Patpong

by Jean Henry Mead

If I were giving a lecture on characterization, my primary example would be Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series. Although his novels are thrillers, his characters take precedence over the plot and readers care about them, especially the women who people his books. Tim has an uncanny ability to write convincingly from the female point of view, although he admittedly has no daughters or sisters of his own.

I was enthralled with Rose’s story in Tim’s soon-to-be-released fourth Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong. He plunges his series family into imminent danger and then artfully incorporates the backstory to explain why his wife's former lover wants to kill her. As a beautiful virgin teen, Rose--then known as Kwan--has an alcoholic father who plans to sell her into prostitution, but she's lured to Bangkok by an acquaintance who sells her to a tavern owner. There she's expected to dance seductively on stage and “entertain” the customers.

Years later travel writer Poke Rafferty marries her and they adopt a street child to complete their family. But it's the events that take place during Kwan's maturation that make the story so riveting.

The novelist handles the subject with compassion and wry humor, avoiding explicit sex scenes, yet portraying the gritty side of Southeast Asian life. It’s a book that’s difficult to put aside.

Tim spends six months out of the year in Thailand and Cambodia, writing in Asian coffee houses. He explained that  on New Year’s Eve 2001, he walked alone through Bangkok all night long. "As I wandered through the back streets, the little neighborhoods tourists don’t see, I asked myself why no one wrote about Thai life beyond the temples and the go-go bars. Within about half an hour, I had Poke and his entire family in my head, as well as one of the two main plots of A Nail Through the Heart, which was the first book in the series. What I like best about the character of Poke is that he’s an outsider who doesn’t understand the culture and who has to learn more about it for his marriage to survive—and to live through some of the situations in which he finds himself.

The Queen of Patpong is an important book to me because it follows the path several young girls set out on every day, the path that takes them from the dusty, impoverished northeast of Thailand into the brothels and bars of Bangkok. I'd known for some time that I wanted to write Rose's story, but I couldn't find a way to begin it until an e-mail landed in my inbox. I'm part of a small group of people who put up a little money each year to pay parents in the northeast to keep their daughters in school rather than selling them into the sex trade.

“A member of the group sent me a description, complete with photos, of a meeting she'd had with the grandmother of a teenage girl. The teacher had heard that the grandmother was going to accept 60,000 Thai baht (about $1,500 US) from a pimp in exchange for the girl. The meeting took several hours but by the end the grandmother -- who really was living in dire poverty-- accepted a little less than $100 per month to keep her granddaughter in school. One photo of the girl, sitting on a metal stool, her back as curved as the letter C, gave me the first scene of Rose's section of the book."

He was worried about the main section of the book because it's mostly about women "and women at an intimate and difficult juncture in their lives. So I'm especially happy that female reviewers have been extremely kind -- even enthusiastic -- about it.”

I'm one reviewer who's definitely enthusiastic about Tim Hallinan's novels.

(The Queen of Patpong will be released into bookstores August 17 by William Morrow, but the novel may be preordered from, Barnes and Noble and other online sources.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recession Tactics by Christine Duncan

This recession has been dragging on a l-o-n-g time. But then I'm not one of those folks that put the beginning of it at Dec 2008. If you ask me, and many of the folks that I know, the recession had its roots in the ground a whole lot longer ago than that.

I don't know about you, but I've given up a lot of things during this recession. My family no longer goes out to eat very often, although it used to be a Friday night tradition. We have given up some luxury items that used to be considered fairly standard. My husband and I no longer take wine with dinner for granted, for instance. We use Redbox instead of Blockbuster and we search Craigslist and garage sales for used items before we think of buying new.

And yet, there are some luxuries we have figured out how to keep in the budget. Chocolate is a necessity. And books and reading for instance are not negotiable. Like many, we get more books from the library and although we have a harder time finding a nearby used bookstore than we used to, we also are part of a trend of folks buying used books when we can.

I know, I know. Authors should support their own industry. We of all folks should be out there buying new books, encouraging new writers. None of us get any money off of Amazon's used books or when someone checks our stuff out of the library. I know the arguments.

But you know--if you want to request that the library buys a book--the author would get some money from that. And for me, right now, that's gotta do.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House is available now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grab 'Em and Don't Let Go! ♦♦

We all know we need to start our stories with a hook, something that’ll draw the reader in right away and keep him or her riveted to the page. There are some great ones out there, and I’d love you to tell me your favorite opening lines in the Comments section.

A recent intriguing opening line I read is from an upcoming new release by E.F. Watkins entitled One Blood. Does this make you wonder at all: Without meaning to, Camilla Torres had picked a good place to die.

What’s the best way – open with dialogue? That can be an attention grabber for sure, depending on how provocative or intriguing those words are! Open with a fast-moving action scene? It definitely gets your readers’ adrenaline pumping. Open with a description that pulls your reader into the atmosphere of the story? That can be very effective.

But the reader feels let down if a great hook degenerates into a mediocre narrative. Therefore, it’s our job as authors to keep that energy of a great first line moving. You must engage your reader and don’t let that oomph stop. Keep the reader’s interest piqued and the story and characters moving forward at a consistent clip. Of course, there have to be moments where everyone catches his or her breath, but the reader is counting on you to deliver from that great opening line…right through to the final syllable.

So, tell me in the Comments section as well – what is your favorite closing line?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Also on Twitter, GoodReads & Facebook

Monday, August 9, 2010

Searching for Clues - Online

Whether finding the right poison or verifying how long it takes rigor mortis to set in, a writer has to do a lot of research in the process of creating a good mystery or thriller. Finding the information you need as a writer shouldn’t be a chore and as I've recently learned, there are loads of search engines out there that can help us find what we need. A website for Accredited Online Colleges seems like an unlikely source, but I just read a blog on that site that is a collection of 60 Awesome Search Engines for Serious Writers. (

The search sites are broken into logical categories. For example, under the Professional heading you'll find sources like the Writer’s Cafe, an online writer’s forum to find and share creative works; and the Literary Marketplace, a great place to learn about the publishing industry.

The Writing list includes WriteSearch which focuses exclusively on sites devoted to reading and writing, and the self-explanatory Writing Forums. Under Research you’ll find Google Scholar for reliable, academic results for your searches, OpenLibrary which can help you find books you can use, and lots more.

And if you need to look up a quote or a fact, check the Reference search engines such as, Literary Encyclopedia and Acronym Finder. There are also search engines for Niche Writers, books and Blogging.

I think every writer can benefit from this fine collection of sources to start his or her search. What have YOU had trouble finding, and where did you find it??

Saturday, August 7, 2010

As Re: Big 6 Publishx Going E-book a BAD THING

He who gives over his rights to his electronic books to the Big Six is in for a world of hurt and financial loss.  Read on from one who knows as this past year I have had it both ways - self pubbed as Indie Author on Kindle and watched as HarperCollins pubbed three of my titles as ebooks. Guess which one of us is making money and which is failing to as a result of stupid corporate greed?

Think of it, please, all youse guys who think that publishers getting into ebooks is a good thing; with their practices in the paper world, do you expect them to change such things as KEEP the sales numbers secret for six months to a year? A secret from the author?  My three HC books that are up now, I have SEEN no sales figures for whatsoever in a year's time. Why? Because I have no access to my own figures--a fact that has always been the case with dead tree publsihing (DTB)....and now it carries over to ebooks.

Same will be true and is true of my HC "so-called" team - PR, Marketing -- I see NO backup or help for the books on e-platform anymore than I saw in the non-virtual world for these titles. The titles are also effectively killed by another practice brought over from the paper world - too high a price. These publishers, and Dorchester is among the worst for poor royalty statements, unreadable contracts, etc., ripping off writers, etc., YOU can bet have not changed their spots.

At first I thought the folks at HC just did not know any better, that eReaders are not so dumb as they want to believe, so I wrote to them explaining no one is going to by an ebook set at same price as a paperback, but it is not just that they do not listen to the author, they are greedily married to an old model, an economic model that does not work in the online world (a circumstance wherein an author can make far, far more money on a title set at 2.99 than he can make on a $25 dollar hardback). So eReaders, not wishing to be tagged as stupid refuse outright to purchase a book online that is set at the same price or higher than the same book out here in the tangible world where hardcovers have become door jams.

Joe Konrath is the Pied Piper here on this subject of becoming an Indie Author and championing the author's causes rather than those of the publishers who have not given us authors a raise since Johnathan Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables was penned.  Joe Konrath is the Pied Piper and the rats he is running out of town are the publishers, and I am close enough to Joe that he allows me to trumpet for him but you need to clue into his blog on this issue now if you are an author, whether a newbie or an old pro like me.  Go to The Newbie's Guide to Publishing found at:

Whereas my HC titles are sitting like stones due to the stupidity of the publisher's decison-makers and committees, the titles numbering 40 that I have up and I control are earning out enough now for me to pay my rent and go on a trip and feed my family and buy the occasional shoes and tie. I have made more in the past month on ebooks than I have in the past three years on paper books. But my three HC titles on Kindle have earned me not a dime in a year's sitting there at 7.99 and 6.99.  Sad really as in my estimation these books represent my best work to date alongside Children of Salem, my bestselling title on Kindle which sells a hundred copies a month.  So will publishers -- who once considered ebooks as a losing proposition -- help or hurt authors by taking their electronic rights, running off with them, taking a big cut on books they sell online? That is IF they can sell online at all?  Given their poor track record so far, I'd say no if a publisher insisted on suddenly ebook rights being a deal breaker on a contract -- as those rights in your hands mean dividends for you and not a waste of time orchestrated by them!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this. I have lost my rights to certain titles during my career, and I would hate to hear that you have made the same mistakes I have in this business.  As in a casino, the stakes are against us but for now ebooks has historically given us a much, much better percentage than ever before in the world of publishing.  Now that whole NYC agencies are putting up their clients backlists and whole NYC publishers are making ebook rights a boiler plate clause in the contracts....BEWARE of who you are dealing wtih and as one agent cautioned me in 1980, "These people, Rob, are not your friends."
Sorry to take the tone of the cynic but who made me so? Born of experience and it is borne out.
Robert W. Walker
free sneak peeks of Children of Salem and Titanic 2012 here:

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's Beind the Rise of Senior Sleuths

By Chester Campbell

The subject of senior sleuths has grown in popularity in recent years. Being a certified senior writer who now has five books about a detective couple far from being spring chickens, I was tapped for a panel at the 2010 Killer Nashville conference titled "Grow Old Along With Me: The Aging of Crime Fiction Protagonists." It got me to thinking about what prompted this new fascination with old age.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that everybody is headed in that direction, and we find it comforting to read about people who do a great job of dealing with the problems older generations face. Some writers go for the caricature approach, painting old-timers as slow and bumbling, perhaps in an effort at comic effect. I'm more interested in showing them as productive citizens whose views are enhanced  by years of experience. These are the seniors I know.

I have nothing against using a muddling character when the plot calls for it, but not as an example of elderly people. In my new book I used a character who is shabby and shiftless but there is nothing to suggest that he is particularly old.

Sleuths in the senior ranks, commonly thought of as over sixty, bring many years of experience to the job. They don't see a lot that surprises them. When they face a problem, they can usually relate it to something they have encountered in the past.

Older detectives do encounter problems, but they're aware of their shortcomings and know how to compensate for them. They're no match for a younger guy in a foot race. When it comes to physical struggles, their timing is a little off, and unless they work out regularly they won't have the stamina of years past.  If they're smart, and that's the only kind of people I write about, they use their brains to outsmart their opponents.

Younger investigators tend to be tough guys, ready to use their fists and quick to drasw their guns. Older detectives use persuasion and logic and depend on their weapons only when there's no other way. I think readers live vicariously with the slam-bam types but feel admiration for the older protagonists who tend to be more like people they know.

How do you feel about seniors as sleuths?

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The 80-20 Rule

The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle or the law of the vital few, goes back to Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1906, observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  He also observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.  The so-called law has become a common rule of thumb in business and management. E.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers;" "80% of your productivity come from 20% of your staff;" or "80% of your problems come from 20% of your personnel."

The rule, as it were, has applications in a many other areas. The United Nations, in 1992, produced a report, which showed that the richest 20% of the world's population controls 82% of the world's income. There's nothing magical about the 80%. It's simply the case that, where there are a large number of resources, events, products, or whatever, they will be shared unequally and that inequality can be represented by a number between 50 and 100. If 50% of the land is owned by 50% of the population, the land can be said to be equally distributed. If 99% of the land is owned by 1% of the population, the land is unequally distributed. Most systems are characterized by an intermediate imbalance around 80%.

The 80-20 rule came to mind because of some comments about ebooks and the state of publishing.  A contributor to an online discussion group asked if there was any advantage to an author in getting an agent and getting published by a traditional publishing house now that any author could publish his or her book on Kindle or iPad. The questioner implied that the book publishing industry is dead or nearly so.

On Monday, Helen Ginger, in her Straight from Hel blog referenced an interview with the CEO of Penguin who made exactly the opposite claim, He said the direct-to-consumer model does not work; that authors still need publishers.

So which is it? Have ebooks spawned an era in which every author's work will share the marketplace with every other book, or will authors continue to need agents and publishers to be successful?

Some people who comment on the current state of publishing compare the industry to the state of the recording industry. The arguments go as follows: The book publishing business better wake up or it will go the way of the recording industry. In some people's minds the big record labels are all but dead and music distribution is in the hands of indie publishers and artists.  The reality is different. According to figures from the Recording Industry of America, a handful of music producers account for 80 to 85% of music sales with the indies fighting for the remaining 15 to 20%. In other words, the disparity between the vital few and the rest of the players is still great.

But could ebooks be pushing the publishing industry towards more equitable distribution? That remains to be seen. Dan Poynter gives a few telling statistics on the Para-Publishing website.  According to Poynter, small presses and self publishers produce 78% of all book titles, and, therefore, big publishers produce 22%. When it comes to sales, industry watcher Andre Schiffrin, says that six publishing conglomerates control 80% of all book sales.  In other words, 22% of titles are getting 80% of sales and 78% of titles are fighting over the remaining 20%.  The large publishers are getting the largest piece of the pie.

Industry figures are hard to come by and often contradictory. Schiffrin's figures are from 2007. A lot has happened since then. Ebook sales have increased exponentially, The iPad and Kindle have made it easier for authors and independent publishers to sell directly to consumers. Is it working? I just went to the iBook store and pulled up the top ten best sellers. Nine of them were published by big publishing companies. Four of the top ten were published by, you guessed it, Penguin--the company that says the direct-to-consumer model doesn't work. Apparently, it works great for the big publishers, not so great for the indies.

I am not anti-ebooks or self-publishing. My first book was published in 2001 as an ebook by a small publisher and is still available in the Kindle store. I'm planning to self-publish a short story collection soon. But my latest work is represented by an agent who is trying to get it published by a big publisher because I want it to be one of the 20% of titles that are dividing up 80% of the sales.

So in answer to the question about whether or not an author needs an agent, I say it depends on how much of the sales pie you want to share and how many you are willing to share it with. Keep the 80-20 rule in mind. Eighty percent of book sales are controlled by twenty percent of the titles which are published by large publishers.  I don't foresee that changing anytime soon. Do you?

Mark Troy

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Internet Promo Do You Like Best?

Recently a comment was left on a post I made on another blog asking me the question what of all the Internet Promo that I did seemed to be the most effective--or what did I like best?

My answer was that I really didn't know because they are all so interconnected.

I love blogging as anyone who has been following me probably has already figured out.
I post the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays here. Every Tuesday, I blog at and I try to post every day on my own blog, Marilyn's Musings and I just signed on with Criminal Minds at Work for periodic blogging.

From time to time I post on my publisher's blog.

The entire month of July I was on a blog tour. Everyone always asks me if they work. All I can tell you is I get a lot of exposure because I promote each of them a lot and I've noticed that my Amazon numbers go down while I'm on a tour.

And you probably wonder about Facebook. I love Facebook--not sure how much good it does promotion wise, but I think it's a lot of fun and I've made friends and found old ones by posting on Facebook--and I also am connected to a lot of my relatives through Facebook.

I Twitter, but I usually do it through which delivers whatever I post to all the social networking sites that I've signed up for.

One thing that's important about blogging is when you've blogged somewhere, to go back and check periodically to see if anyone has left a comment or question on the blog that you should respond to. If you're guest posting somewhere, be sure to leave a comment thanking you host for having you.

I love having people guest post on my blog--but one thing that I've noticed is that not everyone knows that all the information they want on the blog needs to be sent to the host: Your own name for instance. Yes, I've had people sent me a blog post via email with an address that doesn't include the person's name and the name is nowhere in the body of the email. Not too smart if the post is promotion of some kind. And if the person has a website--and if she or he is an author--that certainly should be included.

I always ask for .jpg photo of both the person and the book cover and sometimes I don't get either.

As the host, it is really a pain to have to pull information out of the person who wants to be on your blog. It also would be nice if the person spell checked their post--a typo or two is expected--but goodness, when you can't figure out what a sentence is supposed to mean, that's pretty sad.

So, what about you? What Internet promo do you like best? And do you have any pet peeves?


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who has a kindle? Who doesn't? By Morgan Mandel

I broke down and ordered the Kindle3 and am quite psyched up about getting it. I've already bought Marilyn Meredith's kindle edition of Lingering Spirit. Someone who has a kindle had mentioned on an egroup that she had ordered tons of books before her kindle was delivered and they were all on there when it arrived. That sounded pretty handy, so I tried it. Actually, so far Marilyn's is the only one I've paid for. The others are freebies.

This is coming from someone who has a large TBR pile of traditional books, which I plan to read one of these days. (g)

What about you? Do you have a kindle or plan on getting one? If you have one or pre-ordered the latest, what do you like about the kindle?

If not, why don't you like the kindle?

Morgan Mandel
Link to my books on kindle