Monday, June 27, 2011

I Am Brave

I’m going to do some bragging. Not about my books, although some have received awards. No, this time I’m bragging about myself. I’m brave. That’s right brave. Because I’m an author, I’m brave. I hear coughing and sputtering. Surely I’m joking. No. I have several reasons to back up my claim.

Let me qualify my statement. These facts do not apply to the well-known authors. King, Grisham, Patterson, et al. They have staffs, big bucks from publishers, and each has a fan base automatically buying the next product. They don’t have to be brave. They’ve made it. I’m talking about the mid-list and lower authors.

All right, here’s my proof of bravery. First, we work alone. A solitary existence, sitting at the computer typing our novels. A nod here to those who resist computers and still write by hand. We have day jobs, grabbing time to write when all other “distractions” can be put aside. Or we’re retired and have the time to devote to our trade. We are not able to sustain ourselves merely on book sales. Other sources of income are necessary to provide food for the table.

Secondly, we have no staff. We write, edit, and search, on our own, for publishers (or agents - knowing we have a million to one shot). Then, if we’re fortunate enough to be published, we have to market, handle the finances, the taxes, schedule book appearances, and visit money-strapped librarians to convince them our books should be on their shelves. We must seek out a famous author who will agree to give us a blurb supporting our masterpiece. Without contacts this not an easy task.

Then we have to blog. Every day. Some of us are reluctant to blog because it’s so time consuming. But a blog gets your name out there, hopefully to thousands of anxious followers.

Another act of bravery is allowing our work to be read. An editor will tear apart those painstakingly selected words. Ripping out entire paragraphs, and exclaiming how useless your favorite chapter is. At least 99% of the time a query to an agent for representation is a recipe for rejection. How many times can you absorb sending out a query only to receive a form letter with a flat no thanks? That is, if you get any answer at all.

Then there are the disasters of setting up a book signing at a Barnes and Noble where no one shows up. You spend gas money, time away from writing and grab an unhealthy lunch at a fast food place. Then you find out no one has assigned a place for you to set up your display. No matter, not a single person visits to buy the book and then hungers for your autograph. The only human who stops asks where the restroom is. Oh, I’m sorry. Scratch the Barnes and Noble signing. If you’re not one of their accepted authors because your publisher can’t afford to swallow the required cut of the book price, you can’t appear with them.

Is this not bravery? Only the brave will continue. I’m the knight in tarnished armor, trekking down the literary trail, jousting with windmills and tasting Big Macs. I foresee a shining castle on a hill that loves authors. No qualification of nobility other than that a book has been published. When I cross that drawbridge, I will notify all my author brethren. Here is the place to bring your volumes. I’ll shout from the top of the turret.

Okay, back to work, my liege.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I need your help

Dear Gentle Readers,
I am looking to you for help in coming up with a title for a short story collection that I plan to publish at the end of the summer. The collection will be published as an ebook and will feature eight of my previously published Val Lyon mysteries. Val is a Honolulu-based private eye. She is an ex-cop and an ex-professional basketball player. All of the mysteries have something to do with sports. In some of the cases, Val is involved as a participant; in others, she is a hired investigator.

Here is my offer. Everyone who suggests a title in the comments section will receive a copy of the ebook when it is published, which I expect to be in September. Here are the eight stories and a short summary of each.

Wahine O Ka Hoe. Val is part of a team of paddlers participating in an open ocean canoe race. When one of the team is killed during a treacherous channel crossing, Val must determine if it was an accident or murder. The setting is the channel between the islands of Molokai and Oahu.

Drop Dead Zone. Val's first skydive is lethal for her instructor who suffers a horrific double malfunction of his parachute. Was it an accident or did someone plan the malfunction? Setting–Honolulu.

Home Wreckers. A professional women's basketball team beats their opponents on the opponents' home courts. Off the court, they engage in bed-hopping. Their winning streak comes to an end when one of the players is murdered. Setting–Los Angeles.

Kill Leader. Val is guarding a champion beach volleyball player who has received death threats. When the threats escalate to an attempt on the player's life, Val must find the attacker before he or she strikes again. Setting–Oahu.

The Big Dance With Death. When an assistant basketball coach of Val's alma-mater is killed in a car wreck, Val steps in to take her place and help the team reach the NCAA tournament. She finds that March Madness is more than basketball fever. Setting–Northern California.

Teed Off. When a young woman plunges to her death from a hotel balcony, Val is hired to determine if she jumped or was pushed. The woman's brother believes she was hounded to her death by a wealthy distributor of golf equipment. Setting–the island of Kauai.

Horns. A breeder of champion rodeo bulls wants Val to find out if someone is hijacking prized bull semen. The victim is a seventeen-hundred pound bag of aggression named Terminator and the primary suspect is a rodeo clown. It seems like a cut and dried case until Val becomes enamored with a bull rider and the clown dies. Setting–the island of Maui.

Ripper. A teenage surfer disappears leaving only a surfboard that was bit through by a shark. Val must find out what happened to the girl. Setting–North Shore of Oahu.

So, to repeat my offer, suggest a title for this collection and I will send you a copy. The book will be available in September.

Thank you in advance for your suggestions.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian-eye blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Promoting, Marketing, Branding, Platform

This past Saturday I gave a talk on a Writer's Platform at a small independent bookstore at the request of the writers' group that meets there. I'm up for talking about most anything. If I don't know about the topic, I can always research it.

While researching I found that a writer's platform is closely related to promotion, marketing and branding.

If you're writing non-fiction, of course the platform would relate to why you were the person (your background) to write that particular book. This could be the same for you if you're writing a book about a police officer protagonist and you are or were a police officer.

I write about law enforcement in my mysteries: In the Tempe Crabtree series, Tempe is a female resident deputy--and no, I never was; and in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, I write about the members of a police department and no, I never was a police officer. What I wrote in my query letters way back when I had to write them was that I lived in neighborhood and was friends with many police officers and their families, I've gone on ride-alongs in a big city and small towns and I belong to the Public Safety Writers Association whose members are involved with all the different branches of law enforcement. So that could be part of my platform.

Promoting and Marketing are similar. Many publishers today ask for your promotion or marketing plan right along with your query. What is it you plan to do to promote/market your book? One acquisitions editor I know always Googles the querying author's name to see if he or she has a presence on the Web and this is part of her deciding factor as to whether she will recommend the book and author to the publisher.

Promoting might be more of what you actually do on the Web to let people know about your book: A webpage, Facebook, Twitter, other social networks, and listserves.

Marketing could also include the more in-person events you do: book signings and talks at bookstores, library appearances, speaking to local social and service groups, having a table or booth at book festivals and craft fairs, etc.

And then there's branding--isn't that also a part of what I've already been writing about? And it all boils down to name recognition. It's getting your name out there so people know you are an author and recognize your name and hopefully will want to buy your books.

There may be a better way of defining each of these terms--what do you think?


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Scene of the Crime

Lowell, Massachusetts is full of grit and pride. Once a thriving mill city, it fell on hard times and bounced back again. It has a network of canals that used to float barges that took cotton to the mills and left with bolts of cloth. In the early 1900s perhaps a dozen ethnic groups toiled there, each living in its own neighborhood. Asians came along starting in the 1980s, adding flavor to the stew. Wang Laboratories was a big presence in the city once, and it played a role in attracting Asians to the area.
A Cambodian strip mall in Lowell 

Many of the neighborhoods are old, and if they aren’t necessarily run down, the shine is off the paint. There are plenty of multifamily dwellings including three-and four-deckers, with small shops on the corner selling cigarettes and lottery tickets. Over a couple of years, a storefront might go from being the Happiness Restaurant to Uncle Fred’s Used Appliances to Casa de Dios with a large purple cross painted over the door. The neighborhood called The Acre is one of the city’s toughest, and it’s been a haunt for my characters in both Getting Lucky and Little Mountain.

My research included a police ride-along, a citizen police program, a visit to the county morgue, even a day helping a group of volunteers clean out the canals. Lots of strange things get thrown into the canals, including everything from trash to stolen goods to dead bodies. On downtown Merrimack Street, I ate lunch at a Cambodian restaurant where the waiter took my order and went back to cook it. He was the owner and the only employee.

Not all of the interesting detail I observed has made it into my fiction, nor will it. Lowell is a nicer city than my brief description suggests, but it is a fine venue for fictional miscreants.

How important is the setting for other mystery writers? I’m sure this varies from one tale to the next. Do you find it important to get the details right, or is the plot all that really matters?

I hope you’ll visit all the great blogs on my tour. Please post a comment for a chance to win an ebook or signed paperback copy of one of my novels. And thanks for visiting!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tale spinning

What if? That question is one of the most effective tools in the fiction writer’s tool kit. What if the South had won the Civil War? The implications would thunder through the rest of time. Would slavery have disappeared—and be replaced by what? Would the South have stayed out of World War I, handing victory to the Kaiser?

Or what if you and your spouse learn, after raising a happy brood of children, that the two of you are siblings who’d been separated at birth? My writers’ group hated that idea—ugh, disgusting, vile. But oh, the spins your tale could take! Divorce? Sure, then what? “Kids, we have something to tell you”?

If a FedEx driver shows up at your door with a package containing your best friend’s ashes, you might get a comic romp like When Pigs Fly (which was my what-if take), or the dark and brooding mystery I’d initially imagined.

What if two strangers exchange glances and smiles on a bus and then try to find each other online? This happened to a friend of my son. Using very little information, the guy and the gal both tried to find each other on Craig’s List and succeeded in a classic “meet cute” featured in The Boston Globe. But what if one of them were hiding a disturbing past—or present?

Everything in our lives has a ripple effect, an infinite series of consequences and what-ifs. If you’re looking for story ideas, you could start with your own life, however boring you may find it, and imagine a detail that’s different. Certainly having the phone or doorbell ring is a great departure point. Who’s calling? What do they want? What if you want them to go away, but they won’t?

Take a blank piece of paper and write an idea—just a word or two—in the middle.  Around the idea, write possibilities  that might stem from it. And what does each of those possibilities suggest? And so on. You may quickly find the branch that you want to pursue, and now you have the germ of a story. New ideas may sprout along the way, but if you ever get stuck, ask yourself “What if___?” and fill in the blank.

And what if you stopped by my blog? It may not change your life, but then you'll never know...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Facebook has arrived

Every author I know has a passion for writing. And many who are not authors love to write. I adore book reviewers who take the time to comment on a book they love – or hate. (The hate part naturally would not include my books.) I often like critics who unabashedly present their opinion. Letters to the editor in local newspapers many times have repeat scribes. Often people in distress find help by journaling. Gets the stress off one’s back.
Now comes Facebook. A social network where everyone is a writer. Opinions flourish and meaningless conversation floods the network. If you’re a friend, these tidbits invade your mind and clutter your Home page. Does anyone really care that the temp in Oxnard is going to be 95? Why is this phenomenon so important? It has become almost a necessity for some. The first thing in the morning and the last thing friends do at night is to share with everyone. “Night all, I’m tired and I’m going to bed.” You also may see a post like this: “I will C U 2morrow. LOL.” I fear we may be heading to a second language consisting of totally incoherent mumbo-jumbo to those of us who actually paid attention in Miss Snow’s third grade English class.
I am advised that as an author I need to be on Facebook. I need a presence. I need to make many friends. Guess the more friends I have, the better author I am. Stephen King has more than 2.3 million people who “like” him. Unfortunately for James Patterson only just over 37,000 like his books. Thought he was more popular than that. Tess Gerritsen has over 70,000 liking her page. I’m a bit behind at just under 600, but I’m pecking away.
Believe me, I’m not slamming the Facebook people. They had a brilliant idea and ran with it. The American dream. But the importance this site has garnered in many people’s lives is, in my opinion, idiotic. If the powers at Facebook see this I’ll probably be unliked. I wonder if that could cause a problem?
The Salzburg Academy of the University of Maryland studied a group of volunteers and found that quitting, among other things, iPads, iPhones, and Facebook cold turkey can produce symptoms similar to addicts withdrawing from drugs. Are you kidding me? Who will be the first to come up with a Facebook patch?
The fact that so many are tickling computer keyboards, and all the other electronic devices currently known to man, is fascinating. A plethora of addictive games have arrived at Facebook. But what is being ignored and left behind? These will easily devour hours away from loved ones, your faithful dog, eating meals and following Dancing With The Stars. Somebody has to come up with an antidote – and soon.
By the way my Facebook page is

Sunday, June 12, 2011


by Earl Staggs

I know that heading is grammatically wrong, but an old song popped into mind, and I can't stop humming it. I'm sure you know the song. It goes. . .

But I digress. That's not what I'm here for.

I'm here to say I don't normally review books. I don't consider myself good at it and avoid it whenever possible. But when I'm asked to review a book written by a writer I know and admire, and the book title has "Murder" in it, I'm tempted.

So it was with Jean Henry Mead's MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, and to my complete surprise, enjoyed writing a review.

And here it is.

A Logan & Cafferty Mystery/Suspense Novel
By Jean Henry Mead
Oak Tree Press April 2011

I don’t expect an amateur sleuth novel to start fast. I expect to spend time getting to know the protagonist, get a feel for the setting, and maybe get to know another character or two before the story moves forward. That doesn’t happen in MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE. Jean Henry Mead kicks it off in high gear and doesn’t slow down. This is the kind of novel I enjoy.

I also enjoy a book in which the primary characters have a chemisty between them, but I'm not beat over the head with it. In MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE, Dana Logan and her sidekick Sarah Cafferty have it. Though they're completely different in nature and personality, they have a tight and loving bond, and you sense it between the lines as soon as they interact. That's good writing, folks.

The story begins with Dana behind the wheel of her motorhome, making her way carefully along I-40 in Arizona on a rainy night, with her best friend Sarah asleep in the passenger seat. A sporty Mercedes convertible speeds past with a large red pickup truck close behind it. Dana wonders why they’re going so fast and if the second car is chasing the first one. Around the next curve, she sees the convertible off the road and down a bank. She climbs down to investigate and finds a young woman dead inside. She hears gunshots and hurries back to check on Sarah. Sarah is okay, but the pickup is parked behind the motorhome and the driver has shot up the rear tires. The driver may have planned on shooting Dana and Sarah, too, but an eighteen-wheeler pulls up and he races away.

The driver of the rig is a large woman known as Big Ruby. After they call 911, Ruby volunteers to take Dana and Sarah into Flagstaff, or “Flag,” as the truckers call it, where they’ll be able to get someone to replace the tires on the motorhome. When they pull into a truck stop, they spot the red pickup as it speeds back onto the highway. Ruby wants to take Sarah with her and follow him. Sarah saw the killer’s face and can identify him. If they spot him, they will report his location to the authorities. The three of them feel he shouldn’t get away with murdering a young woman like that. Dana will take care of the tires and meet up with them later.

The chase is on. Ruby contacts other truckers on her CB and enlists their aid in keeping track of the killer. Truckers have their own language, of course, and there were some fun conversations tossed back and forth between the over-the-road drivers.

Before their trip was interrupted, Dana and Sarah, both sixty years old, were on their way from Sacramento to Wyoming. Dana’s late sister left her an elegant mansion there, and they plan to make it their home. Back in Sacramento, the pair found themselves involved in several murder cases. Now they consider themselves amateur sleuths, or “murder magnets,” as Walter Grayson calls them. Walter is a Sheriff they knew back in California. Walter is also in love with Dana and wants to marry her. Dana thinks highly of him, but after two husbands, she’s sure she doesn’t want a third.

Dana returns to the motorhome with new tires and someone to put them on and finds police and emergency vehicles there. She learns the murder victim was Lori Murphy, a twenty-seven-year-old woman only married for two months. With the motorhome back on the road and wanting to meet up with Ruby and Sarah, Dana badly needs coffee and stops at a restaurant. When she gets back on the road, the killer is also in the vehicle. Apparently, he is determined to leave no witnesses to his crime. Dana's only hope is to crash the motorhome, leaving the killer unconscious while she makes her escape.

From there, the chase takes many roads and many turns, with Dana and Sarah chasing the killer, who also seems to be chasing them. Sheriff Walter Grayson arrives to help and so does Dana’s daughter, Kerrie, a newspaper journalist from Denver. They soon learn Lori Murphy’s death was only the tip of an iceberg, and everytime they turn over a lead, they find several more. Before it’s over, Dana and Sarah are nearly drowned in a flash flood, are kidnapped, and are nearly killed. There are more bad guys than originally thought, and they’re caught up in something much larger than the roadway murder of a young wife.

I won’t describe all they go through. That would cheat you of the opportunity to experience along with them the dangers Dana and Sarah face. I will tell you that before it’s over, there is more shooting, more bodies, and some large explosions as the people behind the whole thing try to kill Dana, Sarah and Kerrie to keep them from finding out who they are and what they’re up to. They almost succeed in a suspense-filled ending to a well-plotted and well-written mystery.

Reviewed by Earl Staggs

Now how did that song go? "...and my love does it good...Wo ooo, wo ooo. . ."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mysterious Dogs

by Jean Herny Mead

Cats are usually associated with mystery novels, but dogs find their way into mine, from Bert, a retired police dog in Diary of Murder, to Miranda, an Australian Shepherd, who chews furniture in my first children’s novel, Mystery of Spider Mountain.

I’ve always had at least one canine in residence since Brenda, a small bulldog that I shared with four younger brothers. The list grew to include a large variety of mixed breeds, one of whom was named Brillo, because the lovable terrier resembled a scrubbing pad on legs. He once jumped with muddy feet into a car full of white-habited nuns, but that’s another (embarrassing) story.

Then there was Prince, a small mixed breed, who learned to dig under a wooden fence to roam the neighborhood. In a matter of months there were a number of puppies in our area that closely resembled him. When I had him neutered, Prince literally disowned me for months

For a while, we raised Shetland Sheep dogs. The Sheltie is a beautiful, hyper breed that resembles miniature black and white collies, which I’ve always longed to own. We then adopted C.J., whose kennel name was Countess Juanita de Sangria because she came from New Mexico’s Sangria Mountain area. A lovely cocker spaniel, she contracted cancer at the age of 12, and we drove her to the Colorado Veterinary Teaching Hospital every five weeks for chemotherapy. She did quite well for 18 months until we lost her. And as all pet owners know, it was heartbreaking.

We then adopted Mariah, an Australian Shepherd, who served as the model for Miranda, the Hamilton Kids’ furniture chewing dog in the Mystery of Spider Mountain. Mariah only chewed the legs of our new dining room suite and has an almost human quality about her. She’s the only dog that ever owned us who can out-stare you. Most canines will look away after five or six seconds, but Mariah can hold her stare for a full minute without blinking. It makes me wonder whether she’s an incarnated ancestor.

Dogs all have distinct personalities and quirks of their own, which can be successfully incorporated into novels. Although Bert, my retired German Shepherd police dog, appears in the second novel of my Logan & Cafferty mystery suspense series, he’s only mentioned in my new release, Murder on the Interstate, because my two 60-year-old feisty women sleuths were visiting a friend with six cats. That could have generated plenty of conflict but would have detracted from the book’s main theme of homegrown terrorism. But you can be sure that Bert will be bailed out of his kennel in my fourth Logan & Cafferty mystery novel, Magnets for Murder.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When is it ready?

Revise until it's published.

That's a piece of advice I was given many, many years ago when I started writing. I've heard it many times since. I'm sure you have, too.

I follow a personal rule of revising every submission before it goes out. I was following this rule recently while preparing my latest novel for submission to a publisher who had requested it. After seventeen drafts, I figured there wasn't much I would need to do on it.

Boy was I wrong.

There must be a special type of ghost that messes with writers. This ghost removes commas from where they should be and adds commas where they shouldn't. It takes tightly written sentences and makes them wordy. It abducts strong words and inserts their weak cousins.

My first drafts tend to be loaded with what I call seeds. Seeds are plot elements or character traits, sometimes even characters themselves, that I drop in to see if they will grow into flowers or weeds. Most of them become weeds which need to be pulled in revision. The trouble with weeds is their resistance to pulling. That bit about the Beretta was pulled seven drafts ago. Why is there still a reference to it?

Seven drafts ago, I thought this was ready. Agents and publishers did not agree. They sent it back for more revision. It's clear to me they were right or I wouldn't now be working on the eighteenth draft.

How do I know a story needs more revision? One way is to give it some time. I give the story a rest for a few weeks or a month so that, when I return to it, my eyes will be fresh. The sucky parts are easier to see when the eyes are fresh. A second way is to give it more eyes. I let somebody I trust read the story and tell me where it needs work. It can't just be anybody, however. It needs to be someone who understands plot and character, who understands sentence structure, and who knows grammar and punctuation. It's not easy to find someone who's good at all three, so multiple sets of eyes might be necessary. Finally, I let somebody else decide on publishing it.

I haven't yet made the jump into self-publishing because I'm not confident the book is ready. So, if any of you have published your own books, how did you gauge the quality of your work? What do you do to help you decide if the book is ready for publishing or if it needs more revision?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fringe Benefits

One of my favorite books in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series is Fringe Benefits about a very bad cop. The only place to read it is on the Kindle. Fringe Benefits

I actually knew a police officer who had many of the traits as the anti-hero in my book though he wasn't "quite" as bad as his fictional counterpart. He was the one who I pictured in my mind when I wrote about him.

This is the book that introduces Officer Gordon Butler, the poor guy who nothing seems to go right for--and what happens to him is a real wing-dinger. Things don't get much better for him in later books either. Next year I'll have an entire book about him because people really like poor Gordon despite the cloud of misfortune that hovers over him. When Gordon was looking for a place to live, one of my friends caught herself wanting to offer him a room to rent. He's also a bit of comic relief in later books.

Not all the past books are in e-book form yet, I discovered while looking for links. But I do try to write each one as a stand alone so any can be read without it being a problem. In this series it's pretty easy to do since I focus on different members of the Rocky Bluff P.D. in each book.

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith

Monday, June 6, 2011

What's Your Website? Or, Don't You Have One?

With money short these days, some authors have given up their websites in favor of blogspots. Others still keep both, like I do.

I must confess my poor website was neglected for many months. Today, I bit the bullet and performed some basic revisions, offering simple and updated selections. At present I've chosen not to link them to my vast array of pathetically old pages. Later, I might decide to clean those pages up a bit and add their links on a Miscellaneous page to show my progression as an author, or maybe I won't. It depends how busy I get on other projects.

Anyway, here's the link to my website, if you care to check it out -

What about you? How often do your update your website? Or, Don't You Have One?

Please share your website or blogspot in the comment section, and let us know how faithful you are to updates.

Morgan Mandel

Get Killer Career
for 99 cents on
Kindle & Smashwords

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mysteries and group writing

Morgan's progressive mystery exercise reminded me of an effort my old writer's group tried a few years back. There were nine or ten of us, as I recall, and we decided to break up into teams and collaborate on a set of murder mysteries we'd collectively refer to as Enigma. I was the "leader" of Team 3, which meant I had responsibility for keeping the crew moving along in a certain agreed-upon direction. Other than that, we did a lot of winging it, seeing how far we could go with only the most general of plots, and each writer tugging the story in his or her own direction. Each team seemed to have an imbalance, with one or two people doing most of the work. But we'd plug away with our stories, reading chapters to the whole group every other Friday.

It was often a chaotic process for us, but mostly happy chaos. Our team created an insanely bright computer genius who could and did hack into other people's computers, got thrown out of Harvard and sent to prison--and he was the hero. We all had a hard time with our stories, and none of the teams finished. In our case, we had a rogue computer trying to destroy humanity, and we cooked up the idea of its hurling missiles into skyscrapers. We were working through this around 9/11, and the freakish similarity spooked us. We were having a tough time making the story work anyway, and the reality of the World Trade Center was too much for us.

The experience taught us a lesson: Although people have occasionally collaborated successfully, writing is indeed a solitary process. We create our own world and take responsibility for it. We are the masters of that world, for however long it lasts. Just as it's said that no man can serve two masters, no story can serve two masters.