Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Little Press That Could

By Pat Browning

It’s been almost a year since a brand new small press got off the block running with a reissue of my mystery. Now the Krill Press catalog lists four mysteries, with a fifth due in December. Not bad for a press that started out as a bright idea.

Looking back on a whirlwind year, I came across my January guest post on Helen Ginger’s blog:

I’m reprinting it here as an example of how easy it can be to deal with a start-up press. But first, here’s the current Krill Press catalog:

 ABSINTHE OF MALICE by Pat Browning.
Old crimes come back to haunt a small California town. Penny Mackenzie, Lifestyle reporter for The Pearl Outrider and a cast of unforgettable characters find their lives turned upside down after chance discovery of a skeleton in a cotton field leads to murder...and romance

THE WELL MEANING KILLER by Miranda Phillips Walker.
A maniac is terrorizing Baltimore. "The Wishing Well Killer" is discarding his victims like they were the kitchen trash...stuffing their bodies in plastic garbage bags and throwing them down abandoned wells in the Maryland countryside.

 LITTLE BLUE WHALES by Kenneth R. Lewis.
A sadistic killer stalks the summer beaches of Oregon and the only cop who can stop him is about to let him get away with murder, in this adrenaline rush thriller where the most dangerous secrets to keep...are the ones you don't know you have.

 THE BIG GRABOWSKI by Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton.
When the body of an unscrupulous land developer washes in with the tide, there are more suspects than mourners in the quirky town of Devil's Harbor, Oregon. For Molly Donovan, the murder creates an opportunity to use her crime reporting skills.

Coming in December: COUNSEL OF THE WICKED by Roberto Kusminsky.
Prominent surgeon and ex-Navy Seal Gerson Asher embarks on a harrowing journey from the broad avenues of New York to the back alleys of Buenos Aires in search of stolen WW2 art treasures, Nazi war criminals, and the killers of his grandfather.
Here's my nod to other reissued mysteries, and a blow-by-blow account of getting my “new” book out into the world, and the revisions I made during the process. From "Straight From Hel" January 2009:

ITEM: Dec. 5, 2008
From the New York Times top 20 sellers in Paperback Mass-Market Fiction. Of the 20 top titles, three are reissues:

THE MANNING GROOMS, by Debbie Macomber. (Mira, $7.99.) A reissue of two novels: “Bride on the Loose” and “Same Time, Next Year.”
FOUL PLAY, by Janet Evanovich. (Harper, $7.99.) A veterinarian hires a woman who has lost her TV job to a dancing chicken, then helps her prove her innocence when the chicken disappears; a reissue of a 1989 book.
LOVE BY DESIGN, by Nora Roberts. (Silhouette, $7.99.) A reissue of two novels from 1989: “Loving Jack” and “Best Laid Plans.”

ITEM: December 2008
FULL CIRCLE by Pat Browning, revised and reissued by Krill Press as ABSINTHE OF MALICE.

That came out of the blue. It was a three-month ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl, and I’m still dizzy. Krill Press is a micro press in Oregon, with a multi-tasking publisher who puts the pedal to the metal. As in:

SEPT. 1 -- Krill Press was formed, more or less in the mind of said publisher, after the idea was kicked around in an Internet group we both belong to.

First bump in the road: He asked for a Synopsis of FULL CIRCLE, which I self-published in 2001, and also one for my half-finished second book, working title SOLSTICE. I started to sweat out that horror of horrors, the synopsis, for not one but two books.

SEPT. 6 -- Publisher said forget the synopses. He was reading FULL CIRCLE and liked it. He had already read the first three chapters of SOLSTICE on my web site.

SEPT. 14 -- Publisher loved FULL CIRCLE, suggested bringing out an “updated, refreshed 2nd edition” with a new title and new cover. Offered me an advance. I fell over laughing when I read the proposed new title, ABSINTHE OF MALICE, and saw the jazzy, sexy new cover proposed. But the more I thought about it, the better I liked it. We jumped right into proposed changes and details of a business relationship.

SEPT. 17 – We signed a two-year contract for publication in trade paperback, E-book and other electronic download formats, and Amazon’s Kindle.

SEPT. 24 – Advance check. I printed out a copy suitable for framing.

Second bump in the road: Publisher wanted manuscript by E-mail, in Word. I couldn’t find my computer file anywhere. I did have a printout of my iUniverse proof sheet from 2001. Nothing to do but make a new Word file by scanning in that proof sheet, one page at a time. More than 200 pages, one – page – at – a – time.

OCT. 26 – Publisher finished book block and e-mailed it to me for proofing. Last minute updating of cover blurbs and reviews for Krill Press web site, which was still under construction.

NOV. 3 – Book uploaded to printer (Lightning Source). Publisher signed contracts with Lightning Source and Ingram Book Group to have book distributed in Canada, the UK and Europe.

NOV. 6 – Lightning Source sent proof copy to publisher via UPS 2nd Day Air. Publisher made plans for virtual launch party on NETDRAG podcast.

NOV. 7 – Pursuant to my notice of cancellation of contract, iUniverse gave me written acknowledgment and washed their hands of it. It’s no longer listed on their web site.

Ongoing blip: FULL CIRCLE is still listed for sale by online booksellers and will be until they get rid of their last copy. If I could afford it, I would buy them all up.

DEC. 4 – I had copies of my brand new book on hand for a book signing at the local library.

Krill Press is promoting ABSINTHE OF MALICE in every known market. It’s displayed on Google Books, as far afield as an Italian library. has it displayed for sale in the UK, Germany, France, China, Japan … It’s print-on-demand but the publisher, bowing to marketplace realities, offers a heavy discount to bookstores and makes it returnable. He’s sending sell sheets and queries to Internet book review sites.

The publisher is doing his share and then some. I’m more of a hand-seller: “Pssst! Wanna buy a good book?”

It’s an ill wind, as the saying goes. Having to scan the book a page at a time gave me a chance to polish it up, tighten it up, and generally shape it up. It also gave me a chance to rewrite a couple of key scenes.

One has to do with my protagonist, Penny Mackenzie, a baby boomer whose first love shows up after a long absence. I had written her as a bit of a schlump, in a rut. The publisher picked up on a short scene where she whacks off her hair and throws her dowdy duds into a wastebasket. He took it a step further, seeing her as a woman whose long-suppressed vanity reappears when her old flame shows up. I rewrote the scene to fit the sassy, sexy new book cover.

The other has to do with DNA testing of an old bone. When I wrote the book in 1999-2001, DNA testing was fairly new. I misinterpreted a news article I read about a portable DNA machine developed by the military for battlefield use. Since then, of course, I’ve learned that DNA from old bones is mitochondrial DNA, passed down only through female ancestors. The test destroys the bone, making it impossible for a character to run it through a portable machine and then replace it in the police department’s evidence room. I feel a lot better for having rewritten the scene to reflect the differences in DNA, keeping a character from subjecting an old bone to the wrong kind of testing.

While all this was going on, my work-in-progress was shoved to one side. Now I’m picking up where I left off four months ago. Touching base this week with a friend, I mentioned that finishing the second book is essential to the success of the first one. His e-mail reply is taped to my computer monitor.

He wrote: “And if I were you I'd finish that second book. There's only so much promotion you can do without turning into a used-car salesman, and there's hardly anything worse than a used-car salesman who only has one car to sell.”
Words to live by!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rick Mofina

by Jean Henry Mead

International bestselling Canadian novelist Rick Mofina says that writing has been a lifelong affliction. One of the world's leading crime/thriller writers, Rick's work is what James Patterson termed "tense, realistic and scary in all the right places."

Rick, your extensive journalism experience in Toronto and California must have prepared you to write crime novels. How much of your fictional crime is autobiographical?

A larger part of my news reporting experience involved working the police beat. It put me face-to-face with the best and worst of the human condition. I was expected to write about it. I was expected to derive some sense out of horrible incidents that made no sense at all then present it to readers on deadline. Sadly, the true horrors that happen everywhere everyday seldom end well. If they end at all. This is something I bear in mind in writing crime fiction. I try to apply the fundamental code of most crime fiction, which is the restoration of order to chaos. And I try to start with a ‘grain of truth’, to build on a solid foundation for a compelling story.

Novels allow you to drill deeper. To probe a person’s thoughts. Journalistic objectivity, in that sense, goes out the window. Journalism still allows you to convey many things against impossible deadlines. Still, some of the best writers, and copy editors who help them, are found in newspapers. But crime fiction allows you to go deeper into characters, themes, and the actual soul of a story. And maybe on that level you do get closer to some universal truths.

For example, a news story in good hands can convey quite powerfully how sickened a homicide detective is, say, over a child murder. But the novelist can take you further. The novelist can take you into the detective’s heart, make you feel what he or she feels witnessing an autopsy, or informing an inconsolable parent, or questioning a lying suspect, or grappling with their own anguish at night when their head touches the pillow and sleep is a fugitive.The opening of my first published crime novel, If Angels Fall, begins with a toddler being abducted from his inattentive father while they are riding San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System, known as BART.

Readers have told me that it reads as if I’d drawn it from a real case. I didn’t. The scene is entirely fiction. However, the seed for that moment of terror arose from a real moment of truth I experienced years ago while I was working at The Toronto Star, the paper that Ernest Hemingway reported for early in his career. The summer I was a Star cub reporter, a tragedy hit the city. A child who vanished under chilling circumstances was later found murdered.

Fear gripped the metropolitan area and the story screamed from page one headlines of Toronto’s major papers. In that climate, I was riding Toronto’s subway when I saw a father and his toddler. Dad was hidden behind the newspaper he was reading, one that happened to be blaring the latest on the tragedy. His little boy was toddling up and down the full length of the subway car aisle. The father was oblivious. The train would stop. Doors would open. Waves of commuters would rush in and out, even bumping the toddler. Doors would close. The train rumbled to the next station.The father was had no idea what was happening as the scene was repeated at the next station. Then the next. Then the next.

As I witnessed this, I became a little angry at the father for not watching his kid. Then I grew a little fearful as my imagination went into overdrive. If I were a crazy person, I could easily abduct that boy without his father noticing until it was too late.That moment haunted me until years later, when I fashioned it into the opening of, If Angels Fall, the book which introduces my ongoing series characters, San Francisco reporter Tom Reed and SFPD Homicide Inspector, Walt Sydowski.

I drew a lesson from that subway ride. By beginning with a seed of ‘reality’ I was able to shape a stronger story. It was in keeping with the universally accepted notion that writers should write what they know.

Was the novel you wrote about hitchhiking from Canada to California as a teen ever published?

I was 18 when I wrote it and it was largely drawn from the journal I kept while hitchhiking from my home east of Toronto to San Francisco, a kind of On the Road, thing. It was never published and never will be.

You’ve interviewed murderers on death row, covered serial killings and armored car heists as well as other horrific crimes. Did the real life violence and gore finally get to be too much? And is that why you turned to fiction?

No, not really. For me, writing has been a lifelong affliction. My urge to write reaches back to my earliest years when my mother read bedtime stories to me. She drew me into worlds that were sketched by the writer's words and brought to life in my imagination. This was wild magic.It had captivated me with such intensity that I was compelled to craft my own fiction based on the real things I'd observed. Like how my mother smiled when my father came home and handed me his big lunch bucket, with one cookie left in it for me. Or the way his hands were creased with fine threads of dried concrete as he unlaced his heavy work boots.

I observed the world I was in, and then created fictional worlds based on what I saw. Eventually my parents bought me a typewriter and one thing led to another which led to the sale of my first short story for $60.00 to a magazine in New Jersey. My father stared at that check for a long time, trying to make sense of what had transpired. At age 15, I was a professional writer. Or so it seemed. There was a lot to come; high school, university, marriage, a family and a career as a news reporter, which laid the foundation for me to become the author of several thrillers.

You’ve had some great reviews. Penthouse Magazine called you one of the leading thriller writers of the day. Do glowing reviews actually translate into book sales or do they simply pump up a writer’s ego and keep him writing?

I’ve been very lucky, honored in fact, with endorsements and publishers take notice, as do readers. Most readers, anyway. I think the jury’s still out on whether they translate into sales but they sure don’t hurt the look of a cover one bit!

Your first novel, If Angels Fall, introduced San Francisco reporter Tom Reed and homicide inspector Walt Sydowski, and was optioned for filming along with a following book, Cold Fear. Did you ever quit your day job to write full-time?

Options are not the same as the sale of full film rights. Options are merely a small payment to lock up rights to a book for a short time, so that the interested party can try gather more financial support to advance production. In my case, even though a script was written, the options expired. So no, writing is an uncertain way to earn your living and I am pretty conservative about things. I don’t think I’ll quit my day job. That’s what lottery wins are for.

What does your communications advisory job entail? And when do you find time to write fiction?

My day job entails providing advice on communications. As for finding time to write, well I rise about 4:00 am and review my previous day's writing for 30-45 minutes. Then during my 30-40 minute commute by bus to my full time day job. I make notes in long hand in the journal I create for the work in progress. I let those notes gestate in my subconscious during the day. On the return commute, I revisit the journal and update my notes. If I have enough energy in the evening, I will try to draft a few new sentences, or go for an evening walk with my notebook before knocking for the evening to watch TV and relax a bit. At bed time, I will review my journal notes and make new ones. On the weekends, I sleep in until about 6:00 a.m. I'll work in my home office turning my notes into sentences and paragraphs that grow into chapters. If I am travelling, I'll take my laptop and attempt to work while waiting for flights, aboard jets, in hotels during down time. I adhere to this routine, but it is only possibly because my family accommodates it. I am very blessed that way.

Tell us about your new series?

Early in September, 2009, my publisher MIRA released Vengeance Road, the first novel of my new series featuring crime reporter Jack Gannon. Gannon pursues the case of a murdered nursing student, the disappearance of a single mother, and their connection to a hero detective with a dark past. It will be followed in the summer of 2010 with The Panic Zone, book two in the Jack Gannon series. My previous series, another crime reporter series, is a trilogy published by Pinnacle. It begins with The Dying Hour. It was selected as a Finalist, Best Paperback Original, for a Thriller Award, International Thriller Writers (ITW).

The Dying Hour introduces Jason Wade, a rookie crime reporter with The Seattle Mirror, a loner who grew up in the shadow of a brewery in one of the city's blue-collar neighborhoods. At The Seattle Mirror, he is competing for the single fulltime job being offered through the paper's intense intern program. But unlike the program's other young reporters, who attended big name schools and worked at other big metro dailies, Wade put himself through community college, and lacked the same experience. Wade struggles with his haunting past as he pursues the story of Karen Harding, a college student whose car was found abandoned on a lonely stretch of highway in the Pacific Northwest. How could this beloved young woman with the altruistic nature simply vanish? Wade battles mounting odds and cut-throat competition to unearth the truth behind Karen Harding's disturbing case. Her disappearance is a story he cannot give up, never realizing the toll it could exact from him. The Dying Hour is followed by two other Jason Wade books, Every Fear and A Perfect Grave.

What’s the best part of writing and the worst?

The worst part is the loneliness of the craft. It is a solitary exercise. As for the best part, well, it’s not just one thing. It’s a number of things. Like writing the words “the end”, or hearing from readers, especially those who’ve enjoyed the story and have bought all your books, and have told others to buy your books. And I get a lot of nice comments, like ‘you kept me up all night,’ and ‘you need to write more books faster’. But one that stands out came from a lovely handwritten letter from a woman in Indiana. Seems she was on vacation in the west and bought my first book, If Angels Fall, in a used book bin for 25 cents. After reading it, she liked it so much; she cut me a personal check for the full cover price, $7.00, which she’d attached to her letter. She told me I’d earned it. I was blown away. I thanked her. And yes, I cashed the check, but I’ve kept a photocopy that I intend to frame some day.

Next to hearing from readers who enjoy your work and encourage you do produce more, for a writer there is nothing like the day when you learn your manuscript is going to be published. You’re walking on air for a while after that.What changes do you foresee in the publishing business? With respect to fiction, I don’t think reader demand for good stories will wane. I think the technical vehicle by which those stories are delivered will continue to evolve with portable digital devices becoming more common. I see them popping up more on buses in airports. I don’t think the traditional book format will disappear, much like with the hardcover and paperback formats we’ve seen the emergence of trade paperback. I think digital technology will emerge as another option, another choice and one that will become more popular with digital generations of readers.

Advice to fledgling crime/thriller writers?

It’s a tough business but above all it is a business whereby you aim to sell your product, your talent to craft a story. There are no magic beans, no secrets. You first of all must be honest with yourself and know whether you possess the intelligence, confidence, discipline and the talent to craft a story worthy of investment; investment of a publisher and readers in terms of their money and time.When it comes to writing a book, the product, the only person standing in your way to reaching your goal is you. Be disciplined and write every day. Don't talk about doing it, do it. If the next word you think after reading this is "but" as in, "but I don't have the time, or I have this or that going on" fine. Guess you don't have what it takes. There is never “a good time” to sit down and write that book. That is an excuse, a rationale for failure. Don't make excuses. Create sentences. Read who you like and study them. All the while ask yourself if you know the difference between "being" a writer and "wanting to be" a writer? It's the difference between dreaming and doing.

Rick's web site:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for Readers

By Beth Terrell

In one of this weeks' blog posts, Nathan Bransford asked his readers (I started to say followers, but that sounded just a little too messianic) what they were grateful for as writers. As you can imagine, the responses ran the gamut, from the ability to write to supportive spouses to paper clips. My list of things to be thankful for hasn't changed much since last year. I'm still grateful for my loving husband; the support of my mom, my brother, in-laws, and countless friends; our dogs (two papillons and a Tibetan Spaniel); my laptop; my terrific critique group; Night Shadows Press, the small press that believed in me enough to reissue my iuniverse mystery; and readers--everyone who has read my book and liked it, and everyone who hasn't read my book, but reads the books of my friends and my favorite authors, thereby enabling the publishing industry to keep on rolling, warts and all.

There is nothing like hearing from a person who says, "I read your book and loved it." One of my favorites came from a woman who said she was so anxious to see what happened that she was sneaking in paragraphs at stop lights. Another said, "When I'm not reading this book, I'm thinking about the people in it and wondering what they're doing." It just doesn't get any better than that.

We need the encouragement, because, as most of us know, few writers can make a living with their writing. I read somewhere that the average income of writers falls just above that of migrant workers. Thank goodness for the likes of Stephen King, Dan Brown, and John Grisham, who pulled the average up! Otherwise, we'd be at the bottom of the heap. One writer, responding to Nathan's blog, said she'd calculated her hourly wages and come up with a figure of approximately seven cents. It's hard to retire to Maui on that.

Then one day you're working out at Curves, and the chatter among the exercisers turns to books. The woman at the next machine, a woman you've never met and who has no idea you're a writer, says, "You know what book I love? I just read it, and it's terrific." And she names your book. You carry that glow home with you. Years later, you can still pull it out of your pocket and bask in it.

So on this beautiful (albeit chilly) Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to take a moment to thank you, the readers. You're the ones who make this crazy business work.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

By Mark W. Danielson

Perhaps more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is an emotional cornucopia. To many, it’s a family celebration where long-lost relatives bring enticing dishes to accompany the feast. To others, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade followed by hours of football is the highlight. For those dedicated to Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving is the prequel to the following day’s sales events. This year, some stores will be opening at Midnight, Friday morning, for those so inclined. No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving, this harvest festival has a special meaning.

Some believe the Spanish celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. The more prominent version dates back to 1621 where Pilgrims shared their bounty with Native Americans at the Plymouth Plantation. Thanksgiving is not unique to the United States, though. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, most likely because of their earlier winter. Regardless of its history or actual date, Thanksgiving was named so we can be grateful for what we have.

Of course, giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to a single day of the year. One of my best friends turns 94 one week from now. On D-Day, 1945, he was flying a P-47 fighter over Normandy. Today, he is still flying the twin Cessna he’s owned since 1965, takes overnight hikes in the Sierra Nevada, and plays tennis most every day. As a three-time cancer survivor, he truly gets the most out of life, and for nearly three decades, has been an inspiration to me. Whenever I ask how he’s doing, he says, “I’m still taking nutrition.” What a great stance.

Then there’s my dog, Maxx, who always wakes up with a smile. No matter what happened the day before, he’s ready to face today with tail-wagging enthusiasm. You can’t help but smile when you see him in the morning.

Of course, not everyone shares my buddy’s or my dog’s positive outlook on life. Plenty of people have physical or emotional pain that deters them from wanting to roll out of bed. One recent web comment said, “Holidays are really horrible with all the extra pressure . . .” The young woman who wrote that was referring to her mother who she believed had mental issues. Given the right circumstances, we could all feel that way, but it’s a sad attitude to have.

Some people have a difficult time attending family celebrations after a loved one has passed away – especially if their death occurred near that holiday. Holidays can be quite difficult for our soldiers who are deployed overseas, and equally hard on the homeless. If you are alone on a holiday, try reaching out to help others. By doing so, no one is alone, and new friendships can be made.

Since I’m rarely home for a holiday anymore, I give thanks every day for my health, my family, and my job. I don’t need a holiday to remind me of this.

Every day, we have the choice of making it a good or a bad day. I’d be lying if I said every day was gleeful, but I do try. The world would be a lot happier if we all gave thanks for what we have instead of complaining about what we don’t.

So this Thanksgiving, enjoy your homecomings. Talk to your friends and family members as though you truly love them, and hug them as though you may never see them again. Most of all, smile at a stranger and lend them a hand. Doing so will brighten everyone’s day. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Palm Sprung

by Ben Small

The wife and I just returned from several days in California, two in Palm Springs, two visiting relatives in Bakersfield and of course Men of Mystery in Irvine, one of my favorite book festivals.

The memory I will hold of this trip is of an empty Palm Springs. And I mean empty. Store fronts empty, streets empty, shops that hadn't closed empty, and restaurants... well, empty.

I could have put a lawn chair on the main drag and felt safe.

In those shops still open, we were the only customers. No golfers, no tourists, and this is supposed to be the high season. Our waiter, blaming everyone but Californians, lamented that the Hollywood types no longer come to Palm Springs; they go to Vegas. But I think Palm Springs' troubles go further than that. Despite nobody on the streets, nobody in the stores, and stores closing everywhere, the J-walking police were still handing out tickets. Sure, they need the money, but with no shoppers, no J-walkers, no revenues, one can only wonder where their salaries come from.

And the stores still open are desperate for customers. You wouldn't believe the sales. Some stores, the owner came outside, trying to draw us in. All we were doing was walking the no-crowd sidewalks, but our footfalls must have reverberated up and down the avenue. At just about every shop somoene came out to ask us in.

We thought it sad.

Normally I'd have said Bakersfield and Palm Springs were worlds apart, but on this trip, their downtowns looked like twins. Except I was not accosted by San Quentin paroles in Palm Springs. Seems San Quentin buses paroles up to Bakersfield and lets them go. According to the guy who hit me up for a buck, it's standard San Quentin procedure. He'd been through it before.

I was just glad I wasn't in Bakersfield during evening hours. I understand the released prisoners aren't so polite then. My niece said she'd had a gun stuck in her face at a traffic light just two weeks ago.

That couldn't happen in Palm Springs.

There's nobody there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Publishing: Anyone Can Play, Part 2

By Pat Browning

Debbi Mack is no neophyte when it comes to writing. She’s the owner of Mack Research and Writing, providing articles, reports, case studies, white papers and otherwise assisting businesses and organizations with communications needs. She has also done research for legal and reference publishers and attorneys.

Debbi is also a mystery author, whose published work includes a novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, a hardboiled mystery featuring lawyer/sleuth Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae, and a short story in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES I, an anthology written and edited by members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

IDENTITY CRISIS is in its second life. First published by Quiet Storm in 2004, then Quiet Storm went out of business. This year Debbi decided to resurrect it, and published it through Lulu. Being computer savvy she was able to set it up herself, so it didn’t cost her any money.

But her ups and downs with Lulu took patience and a sense of humor. For anyone who wants to know how it works, here are a couple of e-mails from Debbi explaining the whole thing. In her own words:

The experience with Lulu . . . hmmm . . . well, it took me a while to get through the process, because (first) I got sidetracked for a bit thinking I might go with CreateSpace instead. But for technical reasons, they didn't work out, so I went back to Lulu.

And maybe it's just me, but I was confused about how parts of the process worked. So I held off on buying a distribution package, because I didn't want to make a mistake. And anytime I had a question, it always had to be sent by email. (Because they don't do phone. Period.) And sometimes the answer wasn't terribly helpful, so I'd have to email and try for clarification. Which usually made things somewhat clear, but not entirely.

Then there was a cover issue I didn't spot until right before I published the book. They don't put ISBNs on one-piece covers. (If I'd only known . . .) The process wasn't exactly transparent. Or idiot-proof (as this idiot can attest to). At that point, the cover had to be broken down into two pieces. So some of the time lag was due to trying to navigate Lulu's process and dealing with the graphic artist who did the cover. He was in school a lot of the time, so it took him a while to get things done. I kept telling myself, patience, patience . . . you've waited this long, what's another few weeks or even months . . .

At some point, I finally uploaded the cover (months after the content had been uploaded) and bought the distribution package. And that was it. Except for one thing. The cover has "ISBN:" in the upper-left corner, but no number. I'd like it taken off. You can pay Lulu for these revisions.

I'm perfectly willing to do this, but . . . when I follow the online directions that are supposed to lead to a button that says "Purchase Revisions," guess what? It's not there. So . . . if it's the last thing I do, I'm getting on the phone with someone from Lulu to straighten this out. (I finally found their number! Ha! You can run, but you can't hide, Lulu.)

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, otherwise, not so bad really, considering it cost me nothing, plus Lulu took care of the ISBN and handles the distribution. I'd use Lulu again, now that I know what the heck I'm doing (mostly).

… there have been a few new developments, since I wrote that. I found out that Lulu couldn't change the cover. So--that part isn't accurate.

Another thing: I've been having difficulty getting my book into the distribution system (I bought the expanded package a couple of weeks after the book was published and there were some formatting issues to work out, which I did). After repeated inquiries, the head of distribution said I hadn't bought the expanded distribution package.

When I corrected her, she acknowledged her mistake, then mentioned the formatting issues, noting that I'd corrected them, but said I needed to buy a copy and approve it before it could be distributed. I forwarded her a copy of an order I'd placed for 100 copies (after the formatting revisions) and asked if *that* was enough to indicate my approval. :) That was today. Hopefully, we can straighten this out soon.

Also, I never did reach anyone there by phone. Basically, I went on Twitter and said, "Does ANYONE know how to reach a human at Lulu?" Lulu tweeted me back and I've been in touch with actual employees (someone other than the usual online support staff, that is) by email since then.

FWIW, I don't think my experience with Lulu is typical. I know others who've had no problem at all with them. (Lucky me. :))

Available in print from and online from Amazon

So … Debbi has it under control but Amazon is still struggling with it. Tonight I checked Amazon and found the old 2004 Quiet Storm edition still listed – for $56.98. The new edition is listed on Kindle for $1.59, with the old cover and a mix of old and new reviews. A happy note: Debbi says Kindle sales have been good.

Richard Hicks’ take on self-publishing is short and sweet. He has published several novels with Xlibris. But then Richard steers his own course, so to speak. He lives at Cardiff-by-the-Sea, thirty miles north of San Diego, and a sea breeze wafts through his fiction.

Here’s his bio from his web site at

I practiced law for twenty-six years, the last seventeen as the head of the business litigation department of a Los Angles law firm. I’d probably still be there if my wife hadn’t announced she was going to walk across the United States for nine months with an ecological group and that I could either come with her, or we’d “visit” each other. Three pair of shoes later I began. . .

Today, when not writing, my typical week looks like this: Helping victims of domestic violence get restraining orders (Monday), jamming on my ukulele with a hundred or so other obsessed members of the Moonlight Beach Ukulele Strummers (Wednesday), and sailing with my buddies in San Diego bay. (Thursdays). Oh, yes, since my wife quit cooking seventeen years ago, I cook.

Twice a year I charter sailboats (40 to 50 foot monohulls and catamarans) and sail in some exotic locations -- The Caribbean, South Pacific and Mediterranean. My love of the water and passion for sailing has inspired some scenes in my novels, and will continue to do so.

Xlibris is one of the early self-publishing companies. Since Richard continues to use them, I asked about his experience. His reply was to the point.

And while I've been happy with Xlibris as a POD publisher (they do a decent job, at a fair price, in a reasonable time frame), I think that all the POD publishers raise very unreasonable expectations for their customers, and are now trying to sell them very expensive marketing programs and materials.

I can't comment on non-fiction -- that's a different market -- but there is simply no way that any self-published fiction writer is going to sell more than a handful of books to the people on their holiday list.

I could go on an on … and in fact have given talks on this subject. I write because I love the process. I've had agents (one in NYC, one in Boston and one in Beverly Hills), and for whatever reason they haven't been able to get my books published by a traditional publishing house.

I'm not distraught about this. I love the process of writing fiction, and POD offers a way to at least get the manuscript out of my drawer and into print where it can be read by a small group of fans. That's probably enough fame (and no fortune) for me in this my second career.

Richard’s earlier novels are standalones but he has started a series of Enneagram mysteries. I just read the first one, MURDER BY THE NUMBERS: THE RIGHTEOUS ONE. I enjoyed it very much. It’s well written, and it’s so clean I thought he must have hired an independent editor. When I asked, he said:

“All of my novels have been line-edited by Dave King, a professional editor. I started working with him in 2000 and I've really learned a lot from him. The place where my novels sometimes need help is in copyediting. I've used a friend to help me with this, since I had already spent my editing budget on Dave King.”

MURDER BY THE NUMBERS is available in both hardcover and trade paperback. When I heard from Richard earlier this week he was on Chapter 35 of the second in the series.

Every author has a unique story when it comes to writing and publishing. Many, many thanks to Tom Sawyer, Debbi Mack and Richard Hicks for sharing theirs.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Publishing: Anyone Can Play, Part 1

By Pat Browning

This week’s news: Harlequin created a new imprint, Harlequin Horizons, for self-publishing. A spokesman said it was "a way to participate in the fast-growing self-publishing market … ” You can read the full New York Times article at

Meanwhile, back in California … there’s news from Thomas B. Sawyer, one of my favorite writers. His new thriller, NO PLACE TO RUN, was No. 1 on the list of Malibu’s Top Ten Books for the first week of November.

 The new novel is also featured in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (The Jury Box by Jon L. Breen):

“Thomas B. Sawyer: No Place to Run, Sterling & Ross, $14.95. Claudia Lawrence, twenty-four, is snatched from her happy life, along with her parents and teenage brother, when a secret revealed by a client to her lawyer father Bill lands them all in the witness protection program. The parents are murdered, and the kids go on the run, with government agents as the enemy. However you feel about 9/11 conspiracy theories, this is a model pursuit thriller, with mystery, menace, strong characters, and cross-cutting action managed with a screenwriter's flair. (Murder, She Wrote, of which Sawyer was head writer, was nothing like this.)”

Not bad for a guy whose first novel, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, was rejected by 22 agents before Sawyer lost patience and published it through iUniverse.

That was 10 years ago. I read the book on the iUniverse web site and was so enthralled that I ordered the book immediately. I’ve been a Tom Sawyer friend and fan ever since, and I still have that copy. It was POD – print on demand – when it was a whole new and almost universally scorned concept.

iUniverse was barely a year old when Tom published his book. I was part of an online group that – as I recall – was sponsored by iUniverse. The pros and cons of self-publishing were cussed and discussed. The more I heard, the better it sounded: quick turnaround for a book costing $99.

iUniverse also had a live chat room, the Café. On May 15, 2001, the guest was Thomas B. Sawyer, calling in from Malibu. I still have my transcript printout.

In the chat, Sawyer explained how he ended up with iUniverse. On rejections of his manuscript for THE SIXTEENTH MAN: “They ranged from, 'Your book doesn't work,' to 'I didn't love it QUITE enough to sell it, but I'm sure you'll find somebody who does,' to the capper from a major agent whose name will remain annonymous who said, 'I have yet to see a screenwriter who can write a novel, but you do show promise, so if you're willing to work with me, I'll teach you to write.' Fortunately, that's when I saw the ad for iUniverse.”

Sawyer added: “I also realize, having gone through this, if I had not been a professional of many years, didn't have a bullet proof ego, this stuff could destroy you... It makes me feel very sorry for the people who were vulnerable to it. You really have to believe in your work.”

Later that year, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Sawyer. Excerpts:

Wall Street Journal – November 13, 2001
Agents, Editors, Publishers – Who Needs 'Em?
By Matthew Gurewitsch

Thomas B. Sawyer is the author of the thriller "The Sixteenth Man." He is also its publisher, because he was too impatient to wait for a creaky, old-line house to do the job. And because modern technology made it easy for an amateur to navigate the world of typesetting, printing, binding and inefficient bookstores.

Two years in the writing, "The Sixteenth Man" was Mr. Sawyer's first novel after two decades in Hollywood, where as head writer on "Murder, She Wrote" he scripted 24 episodes and plotted some 80 more, collecting a cool $5 million in the process.

In the real world, Mr. Sawyer might still be angling for an agent. "I sit on panels at these conventions with novelists whose work I know," he marvels, "novelists with five or six well-reviewed, well-received books in print. And they have day jobs! In Hollywood, they threw money at me, and I thought that's what writing was. But in this country, unless you're one of the six authors who sell 94% of the books, you're in a world of nickels and dimes."

That was then. When I e-mailed Tom this week for permission to quote him on his experience with iUniverse, he added these comments:

“When I spotted an advertisement for iUniverse -- then very early in the history of POD -- and visited their website, I immediately saw that it was a new wrinkle in vanity publishing, a path I was unwilling to pursue. So I emailed them with my credits, logline and synopsis, said I wasn't interested in paying them, but that I might be willing to serve as their poster-boy for the professional writer who had chosen to thumb his nose at the system. They responded affirmatively 25 minutes later (call me ‘shallow,’ but I admit to being a pushover for that sort of thing).

“Am I glad I did it that way? Yes and no. The no-part: no bookstore sales. The yes: with the excellent inventive help of my publicist, Milt Kahn, and that of iUniverse, THE SIXTEENTH MAN became one of the all-time bestselling POD books.

“For my new novel, NO PLACE TO RUN, I ‘played the game,’ had an agent, sold it to a conventional house. It took two years to find a publisher, Sterling & Ross (the book is a bit subversive), and another 18 months for it to debut. Am I glad I overcame (‘suppressed’ says it better) my impatience? Yes. I am now ‘legitimate.’”

Tom turns out so much work one might wonder if he’s really twins. His how-to book, FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED, is one of three or four that I would never be without. He teaches writing, both online and in workshops. He and Will Holt wrote the book and lyrics of an opera. That’s not a typo. They wrote an opera – JACK –about the life of John F. Kennedy.

From the synopsis at Sawyer’s web site:“… the almost Shakespearean story of a complex, deeply conflicted yet loving relationship – between an obsessed, profoundly driven father, and his near-textbook second son – and how that young man, in overcoming those and other challenges, would ultimately provoke his own assassination.”

I have a 14-minute video of highlights from the 1995 production of JACK at the University of Oklahoma. It’s dazzling to watch and very moving. A detailed synopsis can be read at the web site:

Sunday, Part 2. Honest questions and honest answers about self-publishing from Debbi Mack and Richard Hicks.

Debbi Mack is the owner of Mack Research and Writing, providing corporate communications, web content, and white papers. She has just republished her first mystery, IDENTITY CRISIS, to good reviews.

Richard Hicks is a former trial attorney who has published several books with Xlibris. His latest novel, MURDER BY THE NUMBERS, is an Enneagram mystery.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crossing the Border

by Jean Mead

Drug detection has changed since I covered the Mexican border as a San Diego news reporter. At that time a tall chain link fence marched along the border with large holes cut in strategic areas. The border patrol acquired a small Bell helicopter to patrol the area in 1977, after 23 years on the waiting list, and I was fortunate to have been one of the first from a crowd of reporters to fly in the new chopper, along with a TV cameraman.

What we saw were hundreds of trails leading from the border to dirt hovels from San Ysidro to San Diego, where illegals lived while they looked for a job. Anyone who has driven to Tijuana remembers the long lines and equally long wait to cross back into this country because border agents are searching for drugs and other contraband.

One late night a dark blue van attempted to cross the border with a ton of marijuana on board. The driver might have gotten away with it if he hadn’t tried to run the border without his headlights. No drug sniffing dogs were employed at that time although I’m sure the scent of that much pot was detectable from half a mile away.

Smugglers hide their contraband in strange places--in tires, the engine bay, front and back differentials, seats and exhaust systems. So border patrol agents are allowed to completely dismantle a suspicious looking vehicle without benefit of a search warrant. Customs and Border Protection agents (CBP) are trained to recognize the slightest modifications to cars and trucks, and when they spot one, the driver is pulled over.

One Sunday my family piled into an old VW bug to make the trip from San Diego to Ensenada on the Baja Peninsula. We decided to take the old bug because car accidents south of the border are not covered by most American insurance companies, even if your car is totalled by a native driver. On the return trip, we were pulled over at the border because we were riding in a disreputable looking car. We had to stand by on the hot asphalt as agents conducted a thorough search. An hour later we were allowed to cross the border.

Now, drug sniffing dogs make searches easier for CBP agents. Smugglers, in an attempt to disguise the scent of marijuana, run it through a trash compactor and pack the 4 x 6 inch blocks in plastic garbage bags. Although the contraband used to be transported in large vehicles, smugglers currently use their own cars filled with friends or family members to disguise the purpose of their trips. They’ve also been known to smuggle drugs in motorcycle and bicycle tires.

In addition to marijuana, the Mexican border is the the main thoroughfare for cocaine traffic—some 90% that enters the U.S. from Mexico and Central America.

Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, American citizens must now carry a passport, passport card or RFID (electronic chip)-enabled ID. Prior to last June, only a driver’s license and birth certificate were sufficient identification.

If you’re contemplating a trip by car to Mexico, don't bring along the following items: pets without proof of vaccinations, more than one laptop, prescription medicine without a prescription, and firearms without a previously applied for hunting license.

Remember to have your I.D. documents handy and resolve to be both patient and flexible on both sides of the border.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our Nation Divided

By Mark W. Danielson

Currently, our nation is divided over our wars, health care, and the economy, and yet there is little vocal opposition. Compared to the citizens of the Vietnam era, we seem apathetic. As someone who grew up observing anti-war protests while working in Berkeley, I have spent countless hours wondering why the difference between then and now. My best determination is our concerns ended with the draft.

Today’s soldier/veterans receive far more support than those returning from Vietnam. However, few tears are shed over those who have died or were injured in the Middle East because these soldiers “knew the risks” when they volunteered their service. The death toll from our eight years in Vietnam was 58,159, another 2,000 missing, and 303,635 seriously wounded. The September 2009 Middle East Wars Report states that 4,343 lives have been lost and 31,156 seriously wounded in Iraq, and 746 lost lives and 2,238 seriously wounded in Afghanistan. Sadly, these numbers rise daily.

Since I’m targeting the change in our selective service policy as the key to our nation’s apathy, here are some notable facts to back up my claim. While one might believe a citizen’s call to duty dates back to the Revolutionary War, the draft for involuntary military service didn’t come about until President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act in 1940. The newly formed Selective Service Agency was tasked with filling armed forces vacancies that could not be filled through voluntary means. Local draft boards determined who in the 19-26 year old age group was to serve, and allowed deferments for college, special industry employment, and medical qualification. Conscientious objectors were permitted to opt for non-combat assignments. Little has changed in this regard.

The use of the involuntary two year service has varied since World War II. The draft ramped up when the United States became involved in the Korean War, and once again for the Vietnam conflict. On December 1, 1969, the Selective Service Agency changed the system to a lottery using birth dates to draft eligible people. The lottery gave advanced notice to those likely to be drafted so they could enlist in any of the services, or wait to be drafted. There is a misperception that minorities were drafted at a higher rate than non-minorities. According to Richard Kolb, editor of VFW Magazine, only 12% of those drafted were black, and the same percentage was killed in Vietnam. Of all service members drafted, only 50% served in Vietnam. Two thirds of the service members serving in Vietnam were volunteers. 92% of the draftees served in the Army. The remaining 8% served in the Marine Corps.

Anti-Vietnam sentiment dates back to 1945 when US Merchant Marines condemned the US government for using their ships to transport French troops into Vietnam. In September 1950, the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group to Vietnam was established in Saigon to supervise the issuance and employment of US military equipment to support French legionnaires in their effort to combat Viet Minh forces. By 1953, U.S. military aid had leaped from $10 million to over $350 million.

The 1954 Geneva Conference divided Vietnam into two countries. Senator John F. Kennedy later said in a speech to the American Friends of Vietnam that, "Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism Overflowed into Vietnam." When Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election, his inaugural address included a pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.” However, Kennedy's 1961 policy was that South Vietnamese forces must ultimately defeat their insurgent communist guerrillas on their own. He opposed the deployment of American combat troops to Vietnam, observing that "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences.”
America’s military involvement escalated in August, 1964, after the intelligence gathering ship, USS Maddox, was fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. After the USS Turner Joy was allegedly fired upon two days later, Congress was prompted to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Johnson the power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. Between 1961 and 1964, the North Vietnamese Army's strength rose from about 850,000 to nearly a million men. By comparrison, in 1961, the US had deployed 2,000 men, which rose to 16,500 in 1964. The March 2, 1965 attack on a US Marine barracks at Pleiku provoked a three year bombing campaign of North Vietnam.

1965 not only emersed the United States in the Vietnam War, it saw the first organized Anti-War protests with 2500 Students for a Democratic Society attending a teach-in at the University of Michigan with similar protests following at 35 universities. On November 27, several student activist groups led some 40,000 protesters to the White House, calling for an end to the war, and then marched to the Washington Monument. On that same day, President Johnson announced a significant escalation of US involvement in Indochina, from 120,000 to 400,000 troops.

In February 1966, some 100 veterans attempted to return their decorations to the White House in protest of the war, but were turned back. By March, 20,000 people protested in New York City. A Gallup poll showed that 59% approved of sending troops to Vietnam. Interestingly, 71% of those between 21-29 years old approved of the war compared to 48% of those over 50. On May 15, 10,000 anti-war protesters picketed the White House and Washington Monument.
On January 14, 1967, 20,000-30,000 people staged a “Human Be-In” anti-war event in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. On March 12, a three page anti-war ad appeared in The New York Times bearing the signatures of 6,766 teachers and professors. March 17 saw an anti-war group march on the Pentagon. Martin Luther King then led a 5,000 strong anti-war protest in Chicago on March 25th. On April 15, 400,000 people marched from Central Park to the UN building in New York City and 100,000 protested in San Francisco. A July 30 Gallup poll reported that 52% of Americans disapproved of President Johnson's handling of the war; 41% thought the US made a mistake in sending troops; over 56% thought US was losing the war or was at an impasse. On August 28, 1967, US Representative Tim Lee Carter (R-KY) stated before congress, "Let us now, while we are yet strong, bring our men home . . . The Vietcong fight fiercely and tenaciously because it is their land and we are foreigners intervening in their civil war. If we must fight, let us fight in defense of our homeland and our own hemisphere." 100,000 demonstrators protested at the Lincoln Memorial on October 21, 1967. Later that day, an estimated 30,000 marched to the Pentagon for a second rally followed by an all-night vigil. When undercover agents foiled a plot to airdrop 10,000 flowers on the Pentagon, the flowers were placed in the barrels of MP's rifles.

By February, 1968, Johnson’s handling of the war had fallen to 35% approval with 50% disapproving. The national media filmed the April 17 anti-war riot that broke out in Berkeley, California. The filmed response by Berkeley Police sparked reactions in Berlin and Paris. Anti-war protests taunted the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Tensions between police and protesters quickly escalated, resulting in a “police riot”. In August, the Gallup poll now showed that 53% believed it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. By November 1968, the 2 ½ year bombing campaign that had deluged the north with a million tons of missiles, rockets and bombs still failed to end the war.

By March 1969, polls indicated that only 19% of Americans favored the war policy, and 26% wanted South Vietnam to take over responsibility for the war. On October 15, millions of Americans took the day off from school and work to participate in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Crowds estimated up to half a million people participated in an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C.. The latest Gallup poll showed that 58% of the respondents believed the US entry into the war was a mistake.

In 1970, National Guard troops fired upon anti-war protestors at Kent State University killing four students and injuring nine others. A week later, anti-war demonstrators converged on Washington, D.C. to protest the shootings and the Nixon administration's incursion into Cambodia. Police ringed the White House with buses to block the demonstrators. On August 24, a van filled with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mixture was detonated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then on August 29th, some 25,000 Mexican-Americans protested in the Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles.

By 1971, avoiding service in the Vietnam War had become an issue in American politics. Politicians later criticized for this includes Vice Presidents Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. On April 23, Vietnam veterans threw away over 700 medals on the West Steps of the Capitol building. Antiwar organizers claimed that 500,000 marched, making this the largest demonstration since the November, 1969 march. On May 5, 1971, 1,146 people were arrested on the Capitol grounds trying to shut down Congress. In August, 28 people raided the Camden, New Jersey draft board offices. Of the 28, five or more were members of the clergy.

On April 19, 1972, in response to the renewed escalation of bombing North Vietnam, students at many colleges and universities around the country broke into campus buildings and threatened strikes. The following weekend, protests were held in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. By mid May, protests had spread across the country in response to President Nixon's decision to mine North Vietnamese harbors and renewed bombing. The December 24 Hanoi bombing drew harsh criticism from Sweden Prime-Minister Olof Palme, who compared it to Nazi Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s worst deeds, and froze diplomatic relations between the United States and Sweden until March 1974 after the war ended.

Involuntary military service ended with the Vietnam War. This war changed America in too many ways to count. Anti-War protests took place throughout the United States; many of them violent. National Guard members found themselves in the middle; trying to maintain peace and not let their personal feelings get in the middle. Music carried political and thought provoking messages. Many believed we were on the eve of destruction.

Readers can draw their own comparisons between Vietnam and our war in the Middle East. As a Vietnam Era Veteran and having retired from the military, I feel I’ve earned the privilege to state my opposition to our current war. I’m particularly disturbed by our administration’s plan to deploy an additional thirty-thousand troops to Afghanistan. But while I’m not alone in my opposition, few seem willing to speak out. How can our country survive an economic meltdown from this war and a proposed national health program?

Words persuade and stir emotion. I do not advocate violent protests or destroying property, but I do encourage people to send their voices to Washington in writing. Enough letters can influence. To our service members; I am honored to salute and support you. May you have a safe journey home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing at a Snail's Pace

By Chester Campbell

I’m in the process of working on my fifth Greg McKenzie mystery. So far it has been moving like a snail racing across the street. Matter of fact, I wrote something about creating the plot on my personal blog (Mystery Mania) back toward the end of February, and I'm now only a third of the way through the writing. I suppose the problem is still as I characterized it earlier: "the old gray matter, she ain't what she used to be."

When I began working on the plot, the first idea out of the box did not deal with character or setting or plot action. Well, setting, in one of its narrow aspects. We're talking about time. The series has been moving at a leisurely pace through the calendar. Designed to Kill took place at the first of November, Deadly Illusions followed with the first blush of spring (does spring really blush?), and The Marathon Murders sweated out the steamy days of August. So, I reasoned, the next adventure should occur at Christmastime.

Wouldn’t you know, in Greg years, it’s still 2004. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be quite 80 yet. However, it presents a few problems in keeping the details straight. For example, the plot involves professional sports. In 2004, the arena where the Nashville Predators NHL team plays was called the Gaylord Entertainment Center or "The GEC" (pronounced Geck). Now it is the Sommet Center. So in the book it's only referred to as the "arena."

Anyway, back to the plot. As a seat-of-the-pants plotter, I had a basic idea, but I needed a cast of characters to do the work. I didn't want to get stuck with doing all that work myself. I had my main characters, Greg and Jill McKenzie, my indefatigable pair of senior sleuths, but a bunch of people was required for them to bounce off of.

I quickly came up with job descriptions for four possible bad guys or gals. And just as quickly I spotted the one who really “did it.” I picked an age and began to delve into the person's background. What would make this an interesting character? How did the killer become what they were today?

Okay, this is a mystery, and I’m not giving you any clues. I did a lot of Googling and bounced around the Internet quite a bit to track down some facts. Hmmm, come to think of it, back when I first began searching for stuff online, Yahoo was the big thing. But you don’t hear of people Yahooing. They’ve been sort of left in the dust, I suppose.

The subject of the plot is not one in which I’m particularly well versed, so I also searched about for some basic information on the business. Since it involves a conflict between people involved in two different sports, basketball and hockey, I decided my best bet was to talk with a TV sportscaster. Both Greg and I interviewed Rudy Kalis, sports director at Nashville's Channel 4, WSMV.

So far, Christmas has been sort of incidental to the action, but who knows how it will play out. A Christmas party provided an opportunity for Greg to get some information he needed. I suspect there's more to come.

Sometimes I start a book before I’m ready with a full-blown plot by sitting at the computer and writing a first page. It may not be the same first page I end up with, but it gets the window open and the curtains blowing. That's what happened this time. And after five books, it's my first experience with a murder on page one.

So after eight months of dilly-dallying around, promoting the heck out of my latest book and finding places to sign and sell all five current titles, I'm faced with the necessity of locking myself up (would be nice, but won't happen) and knocking out another 50,000 words in the next couple of months.

Wish me luck. And let me know how you're doing on your latest masterpeice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Devilish Details

by Ben Small

As a writer, I pay attention to nagging little details, not only in my own scribbles but in the writings of others. And it's nice to see even the best can make mistakes.

Take Lee Child, for instance, one of my favorite writers, someone known for his attention to detail. Lee will describe how glass doors set inside rubber bumpers swoosh-suck when they open or close, whether or not that detail is important. And his character, Jack Reacher, notices that a woman on a subway is wearing a winter jacket when the weather isn't appropriate, that she has a faraway look and her hand is inside a baggy bag. To Reacher, in Gone Tomorrow, these details, along with the woman's mumbling and a stubborn refusal to meet anyone's eyes, plus a few other observations, suggest that according to Israeli checklists for detecting suicide bombers, the woman is planning on taking out part of New York City. Of course, Reacher is wrong, and instead, the woman is hell-bent on suicide, the cause of which becoming the story's plotline.

But Child sometimes makes mistakes. Do we care if Child is wrong about the construction or location of a building? No, of course not. But when his details are important to the story, one would expect he'd get them right.

Not always. Take the denouement of Gone Tomorrow, for instance. Reacher makes counting bullets a big deal. Thirty rounds in his machine gun, nine more in each of his two swiped bad-guy 9mm Sig Sauer P220s, Swiss-made, as he points out. But Child forgets that there are also two rounds left in the chambers of these guns. Frankly, I was surprised when Reacher decided to attack two butcher-knife-wielding Afghan-trained female terrorists with a knife, a Benchmade something or other, we're told, instead of loading the rounds he'd taken from these Sigs into his machine gun, or indeed, his decision to leave those two silenced weapons behind. But he makes a big deal of his round count, and then throws those rounds away.


Guess it's more exciting to stage a knife fight and carve up two women than to blow your assailants away.

Okay, I can buy that. But then why make such a big deal about the round count in the first place, and why get it wrong?

Doesn't make sense. Or maybe it does. Child lives in NYC, where only bad guys and cops can own a handgun.

And in Child's breakout, outstanding first novel Killing Floor, Child refers to a .22 caliber pistol, a low-end small caliber assassin's gun, as "22 gauge" and attributes its shot dispersion characteristics to a modern shotgun that would do credit to a 16th century blunderbuss. Yes, there are .22 caliber shotshells that can be loaded into a .22 caliber pistol, but the small size of the shell makes these peashooters suitable only for a rattler -- and then only at a distance that would rattle me. Moreover, his concept of evidence is weird: He considers the legitimate possession of a large quantity of a legal item as evidence of a crime.

I know: Picky, picky. But I once put a safety on a .38 snubby -- they don't have one -- and my editor has never let me forget it.

So I enjoy it when another author makes the same kind of mistakes I make. Especially when that author is successful and someone whose writing I really enjoy.

Heck, maybe if I make enough mistakes, I can be famous, too...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Paralysis From Fear And A Dancing Animal

By Pat Browning

Rabbi Ilene Schneider got my attention with her Nov. 11th DorothyL post on writer’s block. I think it describes perfectly what some mistakenly call “writer’s block” when they really mean “fear” – fear of failure, even fear of success.

Ilene really is a rabbi and she really has written a mystery – CHANUKAH GUILT, featuring – who else – a rabbi.

Her bio is fascinating. From a Google search:
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D. hasn't decided yet what (or who) she wants to be when she grows up. (She lives by the t-shirt logo: "I may grow older, but I'll never grow up.") In her current incarnation, she is Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia. (She was one of the first 6 women ordained as a rabbi in the US, back in 1976.) Interested in nature and conservation, she also is active in the New Jersey Audubon Society at the Rancocas Nature Center.

In addition to ordination, she has earned a few degrees over the years, all in different disciplines and none worth much in the market place. (BA in Publication from Simmons; M.Ed. in Psychoeducational Processes from Temple; Ed.D. in Foundations of Ed. from Temple; honorary D.D. from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for surviving 25 years in the rabbinate). She also began piano lessons for the first time in her life when she was in her 50's -- a total disaster (especially for the teacher), but fun.

In her spare time (which she finds by never cleaning the house), she's a birder and gardener, although her garden's almost as much of a mess as her house. (She believes in benign neglect: she plants it; if it comes up, great; if it doesn't, she tries something else. She lets nature do the watering, which is why everything in the flower boxes is dead, and refers to the weeds as "wild flowers and decorative grasses." When the weather's nice enough to garden, she's more apt to be birding.

She's been married for over 30 years, and has two teen-aged boys, making her part of the trendy group of "older" parents.

Ilene speaks for many writers when she describes “paralysis from fear.” I asked her for permission to reprint her DorothyL piece. Permission was graciously granted. Herewith:

What I have right now isn't writer's block so much as paralysis from fear. I got good reviews for my first novel and I'm worried the second in the series won't measure up. I know I just need to put tuches aufn tisch (Yiddish equivalent of the "Button Chair" -- great phrase, btw), because whenever I do, I'm able to produce quite a bit. But I'm always coming up with excuses as to why I don't have the time (or energy).

As for deadlines, I have very little self-discipline without external time limits, but I always meet deadlines. It took me 10 years to write my doctoral dissertation, but once the university told me it was now or never, I finished it in 4 months, 2 weeks before the deadline I had set myself for scheduling the defense, and 2 months before the university's deadline. Adams Media gave me a target date for Talk Dirty Yiddish, and even though I needed a couple of short extensions, I had that book written within a couple of months.

I did try to set myself goals - done by Malice Domestic, by Bouchercon, by Crime Bake, now by Sleuthfest - but so far haven't met them. Will I be done before February? Well, I did the dissertation and the Yiddish book in that time period, so, if I can convince myself it's an absolute deadline, maybe I'll find the motivation I need. (A contract from a publisher would be a major incentive ... any offers?)

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D.
Chanukah Guilt, Swimming Kangaroo Books, 2007
Nominated for Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007
One of 2007's Top Ten Reads,
Reviewers Choice Book, December, 2007, Reviewers Bookwatch,
Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek, Adams Media, 2008
"Such a breezy, engaging book, I should be so lucky to write." -- The Forward, February 20, 2009

Along those lines …

While cleaning up My Documents files, I came across a quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut (author of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE). In 2005 he was interviewed on the PBS program NOW.

Among other things, he said that “when we've destroyed the last living thing on earth, it would be poetic justice if the earth sent up a message: ‘It's done. People didn't like it here.’ And then he said, “We are here on earth to fart around. What the computer people don't realize is that we are dancing animals.”

I love the image of dancing animals. Maybe he's right. Maybe we should spend less time at the computer, and more time dancing and farting around. What do you think?