Monday, July 28, 2014


This morning, when I turned on my computer, everything looked strangely huge. The icons were larger than normal, as well as the fonts. I right clicked on the desktop and saw the setting for the icons was small. What was going on?

About to panic and call Dell technical support, I decided to first do a restart. To my relief, everything returned to normal. Just in case a virus or adware had attacked, I ran Malware Bytes and the computer came out clean.

Apparently, somewhere along the line my mouse had stumbled into the wrong path and made the phenomenon happen. Not surprising, since that sort of thing bumbling happens quite often and I just click off what comes up and ignore it. Still, I was a bit concerned, wondering what had occurred. Had I hit some kind of shortcut key by mistake?

Since Google is my friend, I did a Google search. The solution was to right click on the mouse, choose resolution and make sure the resolution was at the highest setting. Well, I'd almost gotten it right by clicking the icons setting, but that would only have changed the icon appearance, not everything.

Somehow, going on my merry way, I'd changed the resolution setting and not paid attention. At least now I know what happened and how to fix it if it happens again.

What about you? Has anything strange happened with your computer, and how did you fix it?

Find all of Morgan Mandel's mysteries, thrillers,
and romances at her Amazon Author Page:

Excerpts from all of Morgan's books are at:

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Guest: Jan Christensen with TRICKS OF THE TRADE

I'm delighted to host my old friend, Jan Christensen today! She not OLD, we've just known each other in cyberspace for quite a few years now. She's an excellent writer and she's revealing how she does some of her magic for us today. Pay close attention! (Links and bio are below.)


No, not that trade. The writing trade. I have a few tricks about writing novels to help you keep track of those pesky details. And some in particular for those who write series. Some of these hints can even work very well for short stories. Since Kaye and I write so many of those, I don’t want to leave them out. These tricks help me both save time and feel organized. I hope you’ll find at least some of them helpful for you, too.

The second thing I do after starting a new story, short or long, is to open another document for notes about that story. This has become a catchall for me. Here are some of the things I include, after first naming the document: “Title of Story notes.doc.” (I put my titles in caps for the story itself, and the notes document in small letters to tell them apart easily.) Here’s what I include in the notes doc:

·         If I don’t have what I consider a good title yet, I list as many as I can think of, adding to it until I’m done with the story unless something seems perfect before then.
·         I make a table for character names. The first column is for simple number. As I introduce a character, I put it in the table in order of when the character showed up in the manuscript so I can find it more easily later, if I’ve resorted the table. The other headers include First Name, Last Name, Age, Description, Car (but I don’t bother with that column for short stories), and Notes. When I first introduce a character, I take a minutes to fill in the info in the character table. That way I don’t have to look for it when I need it again and don’t remember what page it was on in the document. Also I can sort by when introduced, and by first or last name to make sure I don’t have a lot of characters whose names begin with the same letter.
·         Next, for novels, I have another table that I use as an outline after I write each chapter. Obviously, this won’t be needed for a short story unless it’s very long and involved. In this table the headers are: Chapter #, Day (of week) (if exact date is needed, can put that here), Time, Where, and Events. When I finish each chapter, I fill this out. This way I never get caught up with timeline problems. I’ve had timeline problems in the past, and it can be horrible to fix.
·         Underneath that table, I put in research. Often, I find something on-line I can just copy and paste there. I admit, I don’t do a lot of research, so this might not work for everyone. I make big, bolded headers for each piece of research so I can find it easily in the document. Of course, I can use the search feature to find it, too.
·         Last, I put in ideas for plot points after I’m about a quarter of the way through a novel. I don’t plot before starting to write, so by the time I’ve reached that point, I need to take a break and lay out some ideas of what can happen from that point on. I add to these as I think of them, and when I start to feel blocked, I go to that list and see if there’s something I can use.

So, that takes care of the notes file when I’m writing the story. After it’s finished, though, I continue to use that file. I now list all kinds of things at the top of it. Date of publication, where pubbed, if it’s a short story, ISBN numbers, links to it for on-line bookstores, the zine where it was published, and so forth. Anything I think will come in handy down the road.

For short stories I have yet another table to input where I sent the story. The headers for that form are: Where, Date Sent, Date Back, Time Frame, and Comments. In comments I note accepted or rejected. If I get a personal rejection, I might copy and paste the comments right in the table, if they’re not too long. If they are long, I put them underneath.

All this works tremendously for writing series. You can go back to any notes file to find out details about a character you’ve used before, or some research you did, or to jog your memory about exactly what happened when in an earlier book. If you’re more comfortable with printed material, you can make a notebook with each note’s file to flip through when you need it.

It can be odd what turns up. For example, I use a character in the Tina Tales, Professional Organizer books, who loves to use odd, funny words and clich├ęs. I have two pages of funny words in my note file. For that one, I copy and paste it for each new note file so can quickly find one when needed. Words like cattywampus, gobbledygook, higgledy-piggledy, and kerfuffle. Words that even spell checker doesn’t like.

I think if you’re an author who does a lot of research you might find a better way than my way of dumping it all into the notes file. But I do think it’s great to have everything else in that one file. Easy to find, all available with the click of a key or two on your keyboard.

That said, I’m always open to other systems, and would love to read any hints anyone has in the comments. Happy writing! And organizing.

BIO: Jan Christensen’s published novels are: Sara’s Search, Revelations, Organized to Death, Perfect Victim, Blackout, and most recently, Buried Under Clutter. She's had over sixty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society, where she was just elected President. She also writes a series of short stories about Artie, a NY burglar who gets into some very strange situations while on the job.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Conference Crazy

As you’re reading this, I’m probably at the day job, trying to tie up loose ends before I take off to San Antonio on Wednesday. I’m excited for my first (non-drive thru) trip to Texas.  I've already promised myself a trip to the Alamo as soon as I arrive.

The conference is the Romance Writers of America national convention.  I’ve gone twice before, but this will be my first time published, agented, and partied. J So I’ll actually have something to do on Thursday evening this year.

Why do I go to a conference that takes a big bite out of my book budget? Networking. Here’s where you have easy access to editors, agents, fellow writers. The relationships I've made over the internet strengthen with a face to face meeting.  And of course, writers are also readers. I’m doing two signings while I’m there, one to support literacy, and one for the free books given away at conference.

In addition to parties and free books, the conference has amazing workshops. I’ll be focusing on branding, building my career and character development this year. My brain will come home full and fried, not just from the Texas heat, but from all the things I’m going to learn.

Once I’m home, I have one more trip on my to do list for 2014. I’m heading to Indianapolis for Magna Cum Murder in October.

So if you’re out and about at either of the two conferences, grab my arm and maybe we can grab a drink together.  Coffee or beer, it doesn't matter. I’m just happy to be climbing out of my writers cave for a few days.

Do you attend conferences? What do you love most about them?


10 days until the release of MISSION TO MURDER - pre-order here

In the California coastal town of South Cove, history is one of its many tourist attractions—until it becomes deadly…

Jill Gardner, proprietor of Coffee, Books, and More, has discovered that the old stone wall on her property might be a centuries-old mission worthy of being declared a landmark. But Craig Morgan, the obnoxious owner of South Cove’s most popular tourist spot, The Castle, makes it his business to contest her claim. When Morgan is found murdered at The Castle shortly after a heated argument with Jill, even her detective boyfriend has to ask her for an alibi. Jill decides she must find the real murderer to clear her name. But when the killer comes for her, she’ll need to jump from historic preservation to self-preservation …

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Spreadsheets, Schedules and Writers

by Janis Patterson
Okay, I’ll come clean. I’m a spreadsheet junkie. I use spreadsheets for everything – keeping track of chapter lengths/daily writing deadlines/publishing schedules/royalty payments – just about everything except what to have for dinner and when to do the laundry. While accurate and useful spreadsheets can be a pain to set up, once they’re in place they help my usually scattered mind keep at least a minimal grip on what’s done and what has to be done. Some of us need all the help we can get.

In my latest publishing blitz the spreadsheet has proved incredibly helpful. Nine books released one every two weeks over four months makes for one unbelievably complicated project. Every book is in a different place with editing, the formatter and the cover artist.

After almost being lost in an avalanche of sticky notes, scribbled-on napkins, various emails and an admittedly imperfect memory, I started a spreadsheet. One line per book, and – currently, which might change! – 34 columns of actions to be taken. Add a rainbow of color-coding, and I can almost see each book’s progress and current situation at a glance.

Of course, it would have been so much easier to start out with this system instead of having it grow organically. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to be digging around in a basketful of sticky notes, scribbled-on napkins, various emails and an even more than usual undependable memory in order to make an accurate history. On the other hand, though, there was no way that starting out I could have predicted half the things that happened and/or were necessary.

It has been an interesting journey.

I cannot recommend enough that anyone who wants to get organized in any field of writing think about spreadsheets. There are writers who keep track of the flow of their story – POV characters, turning points, various character traits – all kinds of things. I haven’t gone that far yet, mainly because my writing style is different. I just write with only the sketchiest idea of what is going to happen – a minimal skeleton of a story, if you will – and as for my characters…! Most of the time they simply walk in, announce their name and tell me to start writing. I could no more change them (major characters, that is – not one-line walk-ons) than I could learn to speed-type accurately with my toes. And – I say this from sad experience – Heaven help me if I try to change their name from the one they like. One time I tried that and the character simply shut up. Wouldn’t do or say anything and was unbelievably obstinate until I started calling him by the name he liked. Then the book went like cream and was one of my best sellers.

So – spreadsheets can definitely be a writer’s best friend. I would be terminally confused without them.

Now – an update on my publishing blitz. Yesterday was Release Day for THE FAIR AMAZON, a traditional Regency Romance. On July 30 my release will be THE JERUSALEM CONNECTION, a contemporary romantic suspense. Here’s a peek at the cover for THE FAIR AMAZON –

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Experience with Giving Away a Book on Kindle

Because I'd been reading so much about the give-aways on Kindle, I decided to try it myself. The theory behind this practice is if you have a series and offer on free, those who like the book will buy others in the series.

I chose Angel Lost which is #7 in the series for a couple of reasons--it is one of my favorites and I love the cover.

I chose the dates for it to be free then submitted it to many sites that promote free Kindle books--many sites were free, some charged a few dollars, and I also used BookBub which is expensive, especially for mysteries. BookBub has thousands of subscribers. One thing I didn't know is that it takes time for them to approve your submission and the date you wanted it to be promoted. I had a bit of a problem with the scheduling. Because of the cost, I probably won't use them again.

The last time I checked with my publisher, nearly 52,000 had been downloaded and 107 were purchased.

What I hoped would happen did, and sales increased with the other books with the first one in the series, Final Respects, selling 92 and all the other titles anywhere from 30 plus to 20 plus. Because I'm with a publisher, of course this will not end up being a whole lot of money. And during this time period, no print books were sold at all.

(And aside: What I'm noticing even at in-person book sales is people are asking if the books are on Kindle and not buying the print books like they used to.)

For two days, the book was #1 in Kindle freebies and #1 in police procedural freebies.

Another plus in many ways is the big increase in reviews for Angel Lost. Fortunately, most of them are positive, but there are some interesting ones.

A couple have given away important plot points. (Probably I'm the only one who will ever bother to read all the reviews.)

Some don't like it because they called it a Christian book. I didn't write it as a Christian book--but there are characters who go to church--a devout Catholic, some who pray. Just like people I know. The fact that there is an angel who appears on a store window seemed to offend a couple.

One criticized me for leaving some plot points hanging. (Did it on purpose.)

Others loved the book for the same reasons that were criticized.

What I've decided is that this proves that readers are all unique in what kind of books they like and dislike.

It took a lot of work to do the necessary promotion.

Will I ever do it again? Not any time soon--but I do hope I've gained more readers for the series.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guest Blogger and Heir Hunter Janet Simpson

I'm welcoming Janet Simpson today, whose first novel has just debuted! She has an interesting story to tell, but first, here's a bit about her.

Diminutive English rose, JL Simpson, was stolen away by a giant nomad and replanted in a southern land filled with gum trees and kangaroos. She quickly grasped the meaning of G’day and mate whilst steadfastly refusing all attempts to convert her to Vegemite.

She loves sharing tales about unexpected twists of fate. Holding on to a steadfast belief every obstacle can be overcome, she spends her moments of solitude creating adventures where mystery and mayhem collide.

Make Mine an Heir Hunter

The last time I was in the UK on holidays I got hooked on a TV show called Heir Hunters.  My sister is big on family history and has spent hours, days, weeks, months, and possibly even years, of her life dedicated to finding out about our ancestors. It was cool to get updates and find out we were related to some Russian dude, or that one of our forbears worked with Sir Isaac Newton, but it all seemed a bit pointless.

When I saw Heir Hunters it was awesome, it was family history gone wild.  Teams of dedicated researchers scramble to find the heirs for deceased estates and sign them up to help them claim their rightful inheritance, for a fee of course.  People made a living doing this and with the introduction of the show the number of businesses hell bent on making a fortune from heir hunting exploded.

I had read dozens of mysteries and written romantic suspense novels but the idea of a book based on an heir hunter was new and intriguing. In order to write such a book I would be forced to do the ‘R’ word, research. I have to admit I’m not a big fan. I love books set during World War Two but the thought of all the research such a story would involve leaves me a reader and not a writer. However, if I wanted to write an heir hunter mystery it had to be done.

My sister was the obvious place to start and then I decided to join the Heir Hunters Association in the UK. I lurked on their forum and posted questions which people were happy to answer. Their newsletter was full of great advice and if I ever happen to manage to organize my trips back to the UK for a time when they are running a master class I will be first in line.

I figured I was safe and clear, flying under the radar until I got an email from the man who runs the association. Nothing sinster. Nothing horrible. A simple request for me to get in touch with him. They were working on a project with overseas beneficiaries and were looking for someone in Australia to work with them. Eeek. I was a fraud and they were on to me.  I emailed back a full and frank confession that I was no heir hunter, I was a writer researching for a book. The response came back almost immediately. He was intrigued and wondered if I would let him know when and where my book could be purchased so that he could include it in the newsletter.  The book, Lost Cause, came out on the 3rd of July but I haven’t emailed him yet. There is something scary about the thought of people who actually hunt heirs reading my book.

Daisy Dunlop thinks heir hunting will be an adventure. The man charged with ensuring her safety thinks it will be murder.

Daisy Dunlop loves a challenge but heir hunting is supposed to be easy. She can deal with anything her new job throws at her, except the bullets, bombs and working with P.I. Solomon Liffey. Her husband's best friend is supposed to be looking out for her, but when she uncovers Solomon’s biggest secret he's the one who needs protection.

 Here are places to connect with Janet:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lazy Summer

We just got back from a camping trip over the 4th.

Camping, talking, indulging in a few adult beverages, and riding ATV's.

It was heaven. We even had a visit from Bert the raccoon. Or actually several visits.

This is our first Missouri/Illinois trip since we moved from Idaho and it was wonderful. We're even making plans for another trip.

So what about you? Are you a hotel guy or gal with all the bells and whistles? Or do you like the big outdoors (with an air mattress)?

NYT bestselling author

BTW - GUIDEBOOK is on sale for $2.00 - Not sure how long it will be on sale, but check it out. MISSION TO MURDER book two releases the end of the month. :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Randy's Back

Randy Rawls

        Don't know if anyone noticed, but I've been AWOL a few months.  Back in December, I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer and, since then, have been involved in some really nasty treatments.  The good news, though, is the chemotherapy and radiation were completed 6 weeks ago, and I am gradually recovering from the side effects.  So, I'm back to pounding the keyboard.  But, enough about that.
        Mark your calendars for the dates February 26 through March 1, 2015.  After three years "out there," SleuthFest, sponsored by the Florida Chapter of Mystery of America, is returning to its natural home in South Florida.  I am thrilled that once again we will be presenting SleuthFest at its best.  And to commemorate its return, the planning committee has landed James Patterson as Guest of Honor.  Yep, the same Patterson that turns out NY Times bestsellers like Toyota produces automobiles—in huge quantities.  As if Patterson isn't enough to interest any mystery/thriller writer/reader, we'll also have as the Florida Guest of Honor James W. Hall.  The top seller in the business and one who has made career of writing hits and teaching others how to do it.  Find that any other place.
        So, lock in those dates.  Registration isn't open yet, but I can tell you the DoubleTree by Hilton in Deerfield Beach, FL will host SleuthFest.  This is the same place we had SleuthFest for several years before it moved "out there."  They always roll out the red carpet for attendees. A good and educational time is guaranteed.
        I look forward to seeing you at SleuthFest 2015.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

… And The Adventure Continues

by Janis Patterson

There are times I think I might be crazy.

Then there are times I know it.

Like now.

I’ve been published in novel-length fiction since 1979 (am I dating myself?) and while I never really worked at it as I should have (too busy traveling the world and having fun); still I’ve amassed a fair backlog of out-of-print books. Most are romances of one stripe or another written under my Janis Susan May name, as that’s where I began. Most have been metaphorically under the bed for a long time.

Fortunately, I managed to get most of the rights back before the current trad-pub rights grab, and was able to get more back from a publisher that some fear has been acting less than honestly. (Blogged about this adventure back in January…) There are more I’m still working on, and some I know that because of restrictive and wily contracts I will never ever get back.

So, what to do now with the books I do have the rights to? In this present climate, the obvious answer was republish them myself. I had released a few with pretty but inexpensive pre-made covers as ebooks only last year, and while they did okay there was no way The Husband and I could retire on the proceeds. A couple of nice dinners out, perhaps, but anything more – no.

My late father always said “If you’re going to do something, do it the best. Period.” I figured what could I lose besides some money, so I tracked down a fabulous formatter and a spectacularly gifted cover artist. Since the book had been published with a then-major house it didn’t need editing, but I went over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb, tweaking and smoothing and putting in front matter and back matter, making it ready for the formatter. I got a fantastic cover and – a dream of mine – made it available in paper as well as electronically. FAMILY OF STRANGERS, a traditional Gothic romance, is now available and doing rather well.

However, it took over a month to get it ready to upload. I wanted to get the rest of the books out faster, but being the Queen of Procrastination, I fiddled around with them, doing something on this and something else on the other… and getting nowhere.

Realizing that the best way to get things done was to prioritize, organize and hit them straight on, I decided on a business plan and made a schedule. I sent the schedule to my artist and formatter, and – after their exclamations of shock – they agreed it could be done. My MasterCard began to weep in sheer terror. I’ve tried to convince it that quality will pay off, but it still shuddered every time I came near.

I made a spreadsheet of everything that has to be done – it’s now at 26 separate steps for each book, which shocked me, but there’s no way I can overlook anything. I made a checklist for what goes into an ebook file and what goes into a print book. I’ve created Word and My Pictures files for each book. I created a publishing name (Sefkhat-Awbi Books) and got a DBA from the county.

And I work. Hard. The Husband has been very supportive, taking us out to eat quite often and not saying a word when the laundry pile reaches Matterhorn proportions or I spend the evenings in my office working even after a full day at the computer. I haven’t written a fresh word in several weeks, but my responsibilities to each book are well ahead of schedule.

My poor MasterCard is almost on life support, but that will change. I hope.

So what is this vaunted schedule and why am I crazy for doing it? I plan on releasing a book both in paper and electronically every two weeks between now (actually 30 June) and 30 October. And I think I can do it. (Sound of fingers crossing.) Will keep everyone updated.

Commercial : PASSION’S CHOICE, a sensual romantic time-travel to the dangerous, scandal-ridden court of the woman Pharaoh Hatshepsut circa 1458 BC was the 30 June release. On 15 July I plan to release THE FAIR AMAZON, a traditional Regency romance.

Caveat : Writing books is a lot more fun than publishing them. Trust me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Fun and Informative Panel

This is the Central Coast Sisters in Crime panel. I don't live on the Central Coast, but I belong to this chapter (and two others--none near where I live.) I'm delighted and grateful that the CC SinC group asks me to participate in many of their events. Hubby and I love going over there, we're friends with the members, and it give us a chance to get away.

From left to right: Paul Fahey, Tony Piazza (the president), me, Sue McGinty, Susan Tuttle, and Victoria Heckman.

Our topic was the various phases of publishing. Paul talked about blogging, Tony, Sue, and Susan mainly discussed publishing in the "old days" and self-publishing. Victoria was our moderator and kept us moving. I was designated to speak about e-publishing, but in the end, Victoria had me comment and what the others had said.

Because so much was said about self-publishing, I discussed why I have chosen to remain with the two publishers I have. Main reason? I barely have enough time to write the two books a year (two series means two books) and promote them.

I also spoke a bit about my experience with offering a free book in the series and what has happened since. I'll talk about that in another post.

It was a fun day and a glorious weekend!

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith