Monday, February 28, 2011

Second Time’s the Charm

roses1It’s been almost a year since DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD came out, and I’m ramping up for the release of KILLER ROUTINE in April.

Here are five things I’ve learned promoting that second book:

1) It gets easier. You’ve been through the process once, so you know the time requirements and the effort needed to accomplish all those “nebulous” marketing tasks. You’ve made a ton of mistakes the first time around that you’ve, ahem, learned from.

2) It doesn’t get any easier. Sure, you’ve learned from all the mistakes you made the first time, but there are plenty of opportunities to make more mistakes. Those contacts you made last year have moved on to different jobs and you’re stuck trying to grovel your way onto conference panels and bookstore shelves.

3) The “debut” blush has worn off. Instead of smelling like that prized rose, you just smell. The added interest that seems to surround debut authors has waned. People like to discover the next great thing, and after your first book didn’t hit the bestseller list, you’re simply another writer hawking his latest release.

4) You’ve said it all before. Or at least much of it. So you need to find different—fresh—ways to say it all over again. Who wants to sound like a broken record (for those of you who don’t know what a broken record is, try Wikipedia)?

5) Promotion can be a bottomless pit, a giant sucking black hole that will swallow every last bit of your time, energy, and money if you let it. Just sayin’


So, what other tips and tidbits do you have when it comes to promoting your second (or subsequent) books?



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inkspot News - February 26, 2011

Inkspot's Beth Groundwater will be spending time on-line in March to debut the March 8 release of Deadly Currents, the first book in her RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. Her Goodreads Q&A discussion group will be open from February 28 - April 9, and she will answer reader questions there. Beth's Virtual Book Tour will take place March 1 - 27. To see where she'll be each day, check out the schedule. Comment on her blog posts to be entered into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I live in New Jersey, and we’re always getting dumped on by one thing or another -- from toxic waste in our streams to dead bodies in our marshlands. For years everyone believed Jimmy Hoffa was buried in cement under the goal posts at Giants Stadium. Yes, the New York Giants (as well as the New York Jets and New York Nets) all play in New Jersey. We’re so dumped on that we don’t even get to claim our own sports teams. I guess they didn’t want to be the butt of jokes, so when they moved across the Hudson, they kept their old names. By the way, Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty, is also in New Jersey. I suspect Lady Liberty didn’t like being known as a Jersey girl. The entire country dumps on us. Thanks in part to late night comics and Hollywood reality TV shows, we’re the nation’s dumping ground.

However, what usually doesn’t get dumped on us too frequently is that cold white stuff from above. Yes, we get snow in New Jersey. Our annual snowfalls total 18”-30” over an entire winter. The statewide average is 24”. Not this year, though. Since the day after Christmas, we’ve been hammered with one storm after another, so many that I’ve lost count, but I think it’s about a dozen at this point. And many of them dumped a year’s worth of snow on us in one storm, the granddaddy of all being a storm that dumped 32” on us.

32”!!! When did New Jersey move to the Midwest? I spoke with someone in Minnesota recently, and we’ve had more snow this summer than they’ve had! Just so you know I’m not exaggerating, check out the two and three story snowmen built by residents a few blocks over from me.

I’m writing this blog post a week ahead of time because my WIP is giving me problems, and it’s better to write something than nothing. I’d dump Anastasia in the middle of a snow storm (What I don’t do to that poor woman!), but this particular book is set in July, and I couldn’t figure out a realistic way to get her down to the southern hemisphere.

Anyway, it’s actually 64 degrees outside today. We’re having our annual January thaw at the end of February, and I’m finally seeing pavement and grass for the first time since December 26
th. It won’t last, though. This little tease brought to us by Mother Nature disappears tonight when the temps will once again plummet. Chances are we’ll have another snow storm dumped on us by the time you read this.
Lois Winston is the author of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in her Anastasia Pollack crafting mystery series. Learn more about Anastasia at her blog and about Lois at her website.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

High Tech to the Rescue of Independent Bookstores?

Keith here
Of the 200 Borders stores across the company that are closing, I’ve done signings in half a dozen. That makes the chain's bankruptcy just a little more personal. I recently spoke to the proprietor of a large independent bookstore near where I live in Palo Alto. I suggested that there was some consolation -- at least Borders’ problems would be good for his store. He disabused me of that notion, saying that after getting stiffed for tens of millions of dollars by Borders, publishers are tightening up on credit with his store and other independents. He doesn’t need another problem given the threat posed by e-books to his book-and-mortar store.

So is there any future at all for the independent bookstore? Today, the independents, along with Borders and Barnes & Noble, are becoming less booksellers and more book showrooms. People wander through these brick-and-mortar stores, look around, and then go home to buy print-and-ink copies of their choices from Amazon or, alternatively, they buy downloads from Amazon or another e-book retailer. This is no secret. Booksellers at brick-and-mortar stores tell me looky-loos in their store shamelessly admit they are looking to find a good book so they can go home and purchase it over the Web. But here’s the critical point: these looky-loos prefer seeing books on shelves and talking to booksellers who know their stuff as compared to trolling through websites to look for a book to read. The problem with their preference, of course, is that there will be no book-and-mortar stores to shop at if people just come to bookstore to look without buying.

Google is making a first effort at addressing this problem. Google eBooks permits independent bookstores to offer their e-books on their websites today. (See here for example.) The store then gets a cut of the sale. Of course, buyers can also download books directly from Google’s own site. The portent may be promising, but even here in Silicon Valley not too many people are bothering to go through the bookstore sites. Still, here’s what I suspect is coming and, if it’s not, it should be. People who are checking out the shelves in an independent store will just point their iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android phone, e-book reading device at the book they want and have it instantly downloaded. The device will interpret the new generation barcode with the squiggly lines that’s already being used on billboards and magazines to send potential customers to websites, maps, videos, and such. (It's just to the left of the bottom of the Mountain Dew bottle in the ad to the right.) The e-book will be downloaded right then and there.

And guess what? Most of those devices have GPS software built in. That means Google eBooks or other e-book suppliers will know exactly what bookstore the purchaser is standing in and can pay a commission to the store. This way the store is compensated for acting as a showroom staffed with bibliophiles. By the way, with this approach, a user of Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader can just point it at a book on the shelf at a B&N and have the book ready to read, too. The model doesn’t work for the leading e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle, because Amazon doesn’t want you buying a book or e-book from anybody but them. On the other hand, a model where readers can download an e-book instantly while holding the print-and-ink version in their hands will begin to give Amazon a run for its money.

So, here’s the future. You'll go to your independent bookstore and point and click. Poof. An e-book is on your reading device even before you leave the store. Instant gratification. Rumor has it that the American Booksellers Association is working to make this all a reality. I can’t wait.

Above that's my #3 trying to download Marcus Sakey's latest.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where am I?

by G.M. Malliet

My new mystery series, debuting in late September 2011, is set in a mythical village I call Nether Monkslip, near the English Channel. As I wrote the book and my story and setting began to evolve, I did something I've done with all my previous books: I began scribbling a rough map to help me picture the village in my own mind. I found it helpful to indicate what went where, and which character lived where.

These are by no means accomplished sketches. They're pretty awful, in fact. When it comes to drawing, I'm operating at about the third-grade level. But when I submitted the manuscript to my editor, I included a PDF of my strange little map. I figured it would help orient her to the story. And I half hoped a good artist might be enlisted to turn it into something usable for the book. This had happened in the past: My second St. Just book contains a schematic of a Scottish castle, and my third, a drawing of the grounds of St. Michael's College, Cambridge.

I heard no more about the map for a long time. I finally asked about it, and learned it hadn't yet been green-lighted. These things are an added cost, and few publishers these days are looking to pile on the expense. Then a couple of weeks ago, the okay came through (yay!) and rough sketches of the village began arriving by email. And yesterday, something close to the final sketch arrived.

Let me tell you: The map is utterly and completely captivating. Just charming. The artist has done exactly what I hoped he'd do: Produced a drawing that makes you take one look and say, "I wish I lived there." That he could do this based on my sketch is a miracle. But the process did involve several email exchanges in between versions, exchanges that went something like this:

Me: We're going to need a hedgerow or a fence or something so the cows don't fall in the river.
Artist: Okay.
Me: Could you take the lid off the church?
Artist: Hmm?
Me: The lid. That little pointy cap thing. Those were usually later additions to Norman churches. The Victorians have a lot to answer for.
Artist: Okay. Anything else?
Me: The menhirs are too regular. They need to look like bad teeth with a few crooked or missing. And could we have some tombstones in that churchyard?
Artist: Sure.

This went on for quite awhile. His patience was remarkable. I had lived with this thing inside my head so long that I knew exactly what the village looked like, and any deviation from that vision really bothered me. That he captured it so perfectly even on the first run is, again, a miracle.

I mentioned this map on Facebook yesterday and several people dropped by to say how much they loved maps in books, and family trees, and diagrams, and all the rest of it. These are considered old-fashioned touches but to me they're not. We live in an almost entirely visual age. It's probably time to bring back the "old-fashioned" touches that pull the reader into the story--for village traditionals like mine, and for hard-boiled PI novels. What say you all?

G.M. Malliet
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Photos of idyllic English villages (Cerne Abbas in Dorset; South Poole in Devon; Kingham in Oxfordshire) from

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Change Blindness and the Perfect Mystery

by Julia Buckley

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

In this interesting little video produced by NOVA, it is demonstrated that people with "change blindness" don't notice a major difference in something right in front of their eyes.

This reminded me of many mysteries I've read in which characters (and, consequently, the readers) miss the fact that one character is eventually represented by someone else, and no one is meant to notice the difference, because therein lies the secret to the mystery. Agatha Christie did it more than once; I also recall a wonderful Mary Stewart novel which used the same sleight of hand.

Further, I thought of some more modern writers who have used this technique, but I won't name them for fear that I will be spoiling their plotting.

But is "change blindness" a real phenomenon? Or did this little set-up create a too-unrealistic situation?

Would you, for example, fall for the same thing?

Try taking this test:

My favorite part of the sleight of hand technique (or "change blindness, if you like) is that it makes the eventual solution so inevitable that the reader says "How didn't I see that before?"


Have you used this in your writing?

What's the last thing you didn't recognize that was right in front of your nose?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yeah, Right

I am fortunate to be married to a very smart guy and this year we celebrate 25 years of marriage. Wahoo! Big party on the coast of Maine if you are in town.

OK, so what does this have to do with you writers and aspiring writers out there? Well, I had the good sense to marry not only a smart guy, but an attorney. And not just any attorney, but one who would go back to law school after many years of practice to get an LLM (legal mumbo jumbo for an advanced degree) in Intellectual Property Law. And this affects you -- yes, you! -- because I'm going to share something he just discovered for me. FOR FREE!

(First, let me say that it was pretty fun when the kids were small to say that Daddy was getting an IP degree. You can imagine the jokes we got to make! Hee hee.)

Anyway, back to "our" discovery. I wrote a book back in 2000 that has sold pretty well and that I revised and was released again in 2007. The other day we opened the royalty statement and lo and behold, my e-book sales had surpassed the print. My husband noted that I was being paid 15% for those books, but when he checked my contract with the publisher, it stipulated payments for books the company sold, and books the company sold to other distributors, and said any remaining or "digital rights" would be 50%. Hmmm! The other interesting thing: my contract stipulated that when this book is out of print, the rights to the book revert back to me. All rights. Obviously it was negotiated back in the day when "out of print" meant something, because there were no digital options.

In real estate we learn about the bundle of rights that can transfer with a property. There are water and air rights, rights-of-way, and other instruments that benefit a property, as well as easements, covenants, and other restrictions that can limit that bundle. In intellectual property, it's sort of the same thing. Rather than the rights to ownership of a townhouse or Queen Anne, these are the rights to property of the mind.

It's a tricky new world out there, because with each technological advance, all the boundaries shift. Keeping on top of it all is a challenge. Are you paying close attention to the bundle of creative rights you are giving away when you sign a contract? Do you really want to sign away film rights? Are you ready to give away digital rights in perpetuity? Do you have the right to reproduce parts of your story yourself?

Many of us are not legal eagles or even business types, but we need to know this stuff nonetheless. If you have questions about your rights to your published work, let me know, and I'll pass them along to my IP guy. He's very good and I happen to know where he lives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Inkspot News - February 19, 2011

Inkspot's own Alan Orloff has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel for his debut book, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. Congratulations, Alan!

Japanese rights to G.M. Malliet's first two St. Just books, DEATH OF A COZY WRITER and DEATH AND THE LIT CHICK, have been sold to Tokyo Sogensha.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Very Cold Week in Steamboat Springs

I just love living in Colorado! Along with whitewater rafting, hiking, and biking in the summer, I enjoy skiing in the winter. And, I get to write about those activities in my mysteries (skiing is in To Hell in a Handbasket). Recently my husband and I spent a week in Steamboat Springs with another couple who are long-term, close friends and avid skiers like ourselves. Here, Neil (in the beard) and I flank our friends.

We had great conditions the first two days, Sunday and Monday. We even found some fresh powder to track up and did some tree skiing. We took an excellent free tour of the mountain on Sunday with our ski ambassador, Don, to get oriented.

Then the temperatures plunged below zero, which is my lower limit for when I'll go out skiing. So, Tuesday, when it was below -20, we all stayed inside in the condo, and I stayed in Wednesday also. The other three ventured out Wednesday afternoon when the thermometer inched above -10 degrees. During the time I stayed in, I was able to write some of the posts for my Virtual Book Tour for Deadly Currents, which will take place in March.

By Thursday, it had warmed up to above zero and we were all out on the slopes again. That day, Billy Kidd (in red below), a former Olympic medal winner and director of skiing at Steamboat Springs, taught a clinic, and we listened in. We finished off our last day of skiing on Friday with a stroll through town that evening to see the exhibits featured in the First Friday Art Walk. We sampled the food, beer & wine, too!

It was a great week and great fun. Where was your most recent vacation? Would you recommend it? During these doldrums of winter, let's share stories of fun and/or sunny places!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Right Brain or Left?

AOL posted a ten question quiz to determine if you’re a right brain or a left brain thinker — then a few jobs to consider based on your results.

I took the quiz and discovered I’m an even split. No wonder I never chose a career, just a college major. The rest was serendipity.

I’ve worked in human resources…and in sales/marketing. But I think I could have been happy as a grant writer…or a librarian. Left, right. Right, left.

No wonder I’m never totally satisfied with any career. But I like writing fiction and making things up as I go. So, right brain thinker, right?!?

For fun, take the quiz and share your results. After I took the quiz, I offered to do some grant writing on a volunteer basis just to see if I like it. Maybe the quiz will give you some new ideas, too. Overall, how useful do you think this type of quiz is?

Here’s the link:"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Darrell James

I am often asked how I came to be a mystery writer. The assumption is usually that I must have wanted to be one all my life. Truth is, it never occurred to me, until late in life, and until someone else brought it to my attention. (Though I always admired those who wrote the stories I loved).

I suppose I have to say that I had always been in search of something. Just what, I was never sure.

Then, sometime in the mid-nineties, on a whim, my wife and I took a community college class on acting. “It was something to do,” we told ourselves.

As part of our course assignment, each of us was given the task of writing a one page monologue on a southwest character that we were to perform on the last day of class. I went about it without a clue what I was doing, creating a character named “Necktie”.

Necktie was the old west equivelant of a modern-day skid-row derelict. He lived under the wooden boardwalks and porches in a fictional mining town called Last Hope, Arizona. He panhandled the street and worked odd jobs to pay for his daily drink. And was known to be good with knots. Often preparing the ropes for the gallows, whenever the need arose. His name was derived from the hangman’s noose he wore around his neck, to showcase his talents.

Darrell as Necktie

On the last day of class, we all came in costume and delivered our monologues with all the skills we’d derived from eight weeks of diligent study. After class everyone told me that my character, Necktie, was definitely the best. More imaginative and interesting than all of the others. Whether it was true or not, the accolades afforded me a great deal of pride.

I can’t say that I immediately jumped into writing. (All great ideas need time to percolate, you know.) I went on to perform in numerous community theatre productions, and eventually my wife’s skill and interest in acting took us to Los Angeles and Hollywood. (But that’s another story.)

What stayed with me was the swell of pride and thrill of achievement I got (and still get) thinking about my first character, Necktie. Little Necktie, with all his foibles and antics. And, on some daydreaming afternoon, when the time was right, the kettled-idea of becoming a fiction writer finally came to a boil.

I have written numerous characters since that time. Some thirty short stories, four novels and an original screenplay to date. My story of the little priest, Father Vega, comes to mind. So does the, not so little, Little Earl from Motherhouse. And there are more favorites. And will be more to come.

My novel, Nazareth Child, scheduled for release in September of this year, features the determined, young, missing-persons investigator, Del Shannon. Del is my latest secret love. But, no matter how many characters I have created, or might create in the future, none will completely hold the same place on the mantle as Necktie.

Necktie was my first and for that he will always be remembered fondly.

What about you? As a writer, still remember your first character? As a reader, still remember the first character to capture your heart?

No, not Shakespear!
Darrell as extra in
film Posse, Mardi
Gras scene.

Nazareth Child is forthcoming in September from Midnight Ink. This debut novel sends Del Shannon on a quest into the clannish hill country of Kentucky to find the mother she’s never known. There the infamous faith healer, Silas Rule, seems to hold the secrets to the past. Is her mother alive or dead? And can Del survive the truth? Look forward to a lasting relationship with the girl who doesn’t back down from danger.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Small Life In A Big World

In the past few weeks, while watching the change of power in Egypt, other protests in the Middle East, and the tap dancing of our own government as it weighs both short-term and long-term ramifications of current events, I was often reminded of one of my favorite movie lines:

“I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?”

The above line is typed into an e-mail by Kathleen Kelly, the book store owner played by Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.

World news makes me feel very small. In my nearly six decades on this planet – an infinitesimal speck, if even that, in the overall scheme of things – I have witnessed the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. Watched in horror as a space shuttle exploded on TV in real time. Viewed thousands of New Yorkers fleeing for their lives as two giant towers toppled to the ground. I have watched race riots on TV both as a kid and as an adult and saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’ve followed the news as one regime after another fell to or prevailed over protesters, as one dictator took the place of another, as wars were fought and use of nuclear weaponry threatened.

When hurtling towards my next book deadline or juggling several large projects at the office, it’s easy to think of current events unfolding half a world away as not being relevant to my life. After all, my life is small. Valuable, but small. But in doing that I am not being very wise and certainly not very brave. What happened in Egypt will have a bearing on my life. It may not be immediately evident as to how, but it will and does matter. Each time history takes a sharp turn, even us little guys going about our lives cloaked in bored contentment will eventually feel the ripple.

If there is one regret I have at this moment, it’s that I wish I were brave enough to tackle some of life’s more serious issues in my books. Sure, I battle weight prejudice in my Odelia Grey mysteries, but I mean topics I could really sink my teeth into, writing words that would leave readers breathless and evaluating their own beliefs.

I wish I were brave enough to upset the apple cart, stand on it and yell another favorite movie line, this one from Network:

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Note: Alas, this is my last blog enty for Inkspot. I have been on this blog for years and have enjoyed it greatly, but with growing demands on my time, I have decided to bow out and let a fresher face take my place.  You can continue to read my occassional blog posts at Criminal Minds and at Babble 'n Blog.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hearts and Flowers and Cupids… not.

It’s Valentine’s Day, when flower and chocolate company CEOs rub their hands like Scrooge drooling over his bank book.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when my husband brings home flowers and pays me sweet compliments while giving me a neck rub. However, all that frolicking through the fields and sappy poetry and watching the rain slide down a window while mooning over your lover’s absent face? Blargh.

In the interests of full disclosure, I think I did read a romance… once… when I was snowed in and had already gone through every other book in the house.

I’m a sexual tension kind of gal. I love it when the “couple” isn’t. When they bicker and tease and steal a kiss, but an hour later are making pointed comments about the other’s choice in blind dates. Maddie and David in Moonlighting, for example. Their dialogue was enchanting. Booth and Brennan in Bones. How I want those two to get together, yet the writers keep finding new ways to ramp up that tension.

Of course there are the classics: Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday. Cary Grant was a master with both Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell. I didn’t care if Grant and Russell locked lips as the closing credits rolled, because getting there was an hour and a half of bliss.

Then there are two of the classics: Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Congreve’s Love for Love. I’ve loved both these plays since I was a swooning over David Cassidy. (What? It was the 70s. The pickings for pre-teen girls were slim.) Only when I started writing did I realize that I’ve been a fan of sexual tension longer than I realized. Poor Cyrano never gets the girl, and Valentine only gets Angelica after five convoluted, witty, sometimes-frustrating acts.

So, fellow readers and writers, what’s your choice for The Day of Romance? The traditional Romance-with-a-capital-R or the “will they or won’t they” kind? Perhaps a mix of both, depending on you and your ssweetheart's mood? Whatever it is, Happy Valentine’s Day, and watch out for heart-shaped arrows--unless they're made of chocolate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts on Writing Longhand vs. on Computer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I grew up writing reports for school in longhand. When I really wanted to make a report fancy, I used a typewriter.

Computers in high school and college were rare. The odd Apple IIE was in the county library or the school’s lab. The computers bombed a lot and the printers were unreliable. I stuck with my Brother typewriter that had the capability of remembering a line of text. I could look at the line and correct it on the tiny screen before it printed out.

When I was an intern at a London magazine in college, I was given the assignment to report on spring fashion. The editor wanted it later that afternoon. There was no internet then (no internet that was accessible to regular people, at least), so I looked out the window at what people were wearing and wrote it into the story. I jotted it down in longhand on paper, then typed it up.

In fact, that’s how I wrote everything—on paper before copying it over on the typewriter.

When I started novel writing, I naturally gravitated to paper. I found it very disorganized, though—I wrote out of order sometimes and there were scenes that needed to be in other parts of the story. And frequently I knew I was writing stuff that was helping me know a character better, but it was material that was going to get axed before the last draft. I used lots of highlighters and actual scissors to help me organize my scenes.

It didn’t take me long to realize that to write faster and reach the deadlines that were starting to mount up, I needed to switch over to a computer. Besides, I’d frequently lose the different pieces of paper that my story was on.

I learned how to be creative on the computer. But I kept revising on paper. I’d print out my manuscript (which is a lot of paper, if you think about 270 or so pages, single-sided) and then I’d take the manuscript with me everywhere. I’d pull it out of my huge pocketbook and edit it while waiting for school to let out, etc.

I do think that sometimes reading on paper can help find errors that reading on a screen can’t. But still—it was a really slow process. I’d have to turn pages on the manuscript, find the change on the page, find the spot on the computer, make the change…and then make sure I’d marked that I’d made the change or else I’d forget where I left off. It was also expensive and a waste of resources to print out that much paper…and I’d keep printing new versions of the manuscript to reflect changes. I switched to revising on the computer.

My struggle and eventual switch to mainly-electronic writing made me especially interested in a post on A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing. It involved a study (VANWAES, L., & SCHELLENS, P. (2003). Writing profiles: the effect of the writing mode on pausing and revision patterns of experienced writers Journal of Pragmatics,) on typing vs. longhand. You can read the study yourself, but I’ll quote a few of the findings (directly from Livia Blackburne’s blog:

1. The computer writers took half as much time to write the first draft than pen and paper writers.
2. The computer writers wrote texts that were approximately 20% longer.
3. The computer writers had a more fragmented writing process than the pen and paper writers.
4. Computer writers made 80% of the revisions in their first draft, as compared to pen and paper writers, who made only 50% of revisions in the first draft.

The authors observed that pen and paper writing seemed a more systematic and planned out process. This makes sense because it's harder to make a change on pencil and paper. With computer writing, you can just start writing and make changes as you go along.

This was similar to what I’d found with my own writing. It might have been nicer to write on paper (in many ways, I find it more enjoyable), but it sure is a whole lot quicker to write on the computer.

My writing friend, Hart Johnson, ran an informal survey on her blog a while back. She was curious about the ages and backgrounds of writers who wrote longhand, vs. those who wrote on the computer. She found that the writer’s age was a factor (anyone who grew up on a computer was obviously going to find writing on a computer more natural) but also what else the writer did on a computer—if their day job was really uncreative, they might associate the computer with the non-creative day job and write longhand instead.

Do you write longhand? On computer? Or both?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jigsaw Puzzle

By Kathleen Ernst

When I posted last month, I was on my way to a weeklong writing retreat. I wanted some serious quiet time so I could think about book three in my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series. As I settled into the cottage I’d rented, I noticed a jigsaw puzzle left for vacationers. I hadn’t done a puzzle for years, but it brought back happy memories.

Anyway, the week flew by. When I got home, a friend asked how many pages I’d written. “About twenty,” I told her. She seemed surprised. I think she’d expected me to produce a lot more.

The thing is, I wasn’t mid-book. I spent most of the week reading and scribbling ideas for the new location where book 3 will be set. Since my books have historical themes reflected in modern crimes, I needed to compile a list of possible topics given the area’s history. It’s a long list---lots to choose from.

As the quiet days went by, it occurred to me that starting a new novel is like starting a big jigsaw puzzle.

puzzle confused

Start by dumping out all the puzzle pieces. Throw away the box lid, because you don’t know what the final picture will look like. Then take handfuls of pieces from half a dozen other puzzles and toss them on the pile too.

Now, try to make some order from the mess! Most people start by finding their edges---the foundation for the novel. (For me, that meant clarifying where Chloe is, when she’s there, and why she’s there.) Next, get the corners in place. (I set parameters by identifying the possibly-criminal historical themes that resonated with me the most.) Finally, start playing with the remaining pieces, grouping them by color and texture, looking for patterns to emerge. In time it will become clear that some pieces don’t belong.

Right now, my forward motion is slow. I know that as I move forward, though, the pace will pick up. When I write the last few chapters, only a few puzzle pieces will remain, and it will be clear to see exactly where they should go. And finally, the last missing piece will pop neatly into place. Woo-hoo!


Then I’ll give myself a few days to tidy my desk, and start the process all over again. It’s even more fun than the real jigsaw puzzles I did as a kid!

Images: Renjith Krishnan/;

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What’s in a website? Would that with which an author advertises smell as sweet in any other format?

Yes, I’m updating my website. It’s not something I like to spend money on, and the promotional part of this writing business has never fit me well, but it’s time. If you visit Wayback Machine, you will discover that my first website (2006) looked like this:


No, that’s not Dorothy Hamill, and yes, I tried to make my website mirror Carl Hiaasen’s (he’s since updated his). I figured, at the time, that it was the “funny author” prototype website. Probably you’re thinking that’s odd because it has a leafy morgue feel, overall. A leafy morgue with Dorothy Hamill as the mortician. Don’t judge me.

Looking for something brighter, I updated to this website in 2007:


I take full credit (blame) for the above layout. I wanted a strong feminist feel (note the “woman” symbol as page divider), and I also wanted to convey that I intended to write across genres (the feminist stick lady wears a different hat on every page; I know--subtle like an axe). Seven mystery novels later, I chalk up my cross-genre dreams to the same delusional tendency that has me hang on to those size 5 Levis that will fit if I ever find a time machine or am lucky enough to lick a tapeworm.

Last year, in honor of my first three novels being reissued with new covers, I had my boyfriend, who is a wonderful graphic designer (but, it turns out, allergic to Dreamweaver), create this site, my third update:


I love his design. However, because the web software ended up handing him his own ass (let the records indicate that he fought the good fight), the site is really just a bunch of photos of pages rather than a true website. That means I can’t update ANYTHING, from my author info to my books to my events page. Bring on Beth Tindall, website designer extraordinaire, mystery fan, and Most Reasonable Woman I Know. She’s going to work with Steve to make me an uber-site, completely focused on the Murder-by-Month series, and dynamic. The new site’s go live date is March 1.

Which brings me to my question for you: what IS in a website? In other words, what do you like about the websites you like? What brings you back? What’s your favorite feature on your site (include a link so we can see what you mean) or what author site is your favorite (also include a link)? Join the conversation, and help me! Please. You see what I’m capable of when left to my own devices. Without your help, this could be my future:

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Cricket McRae

A while back a young friend of mine told me about a persuasive essay she had to write as a school assignment. Waving her hand dismissively, she said, “You know, all that ethos, logos, pathos stuff.”

Well, yes. I did know about that “stuff,” though certainly not from high school English class. I’d come across it during my years as a geeky philosophy major in college. Ever since that conversation, the notion of how Aristotelian rhetorical technique applies to fiction writing has been floating around in the back of my mind.

Because apparently I’m still a geek.

Still, fiction writers do have to be persuasive. They have to convince readers the story they’re telling is not only possible and realistic, but important enough to care about. That’s at the very least. Sometimes a tale can go much further – to inspire, educate, or comment on social or political issues, for example.


Ethos appeals to the ethical character of the reader and/or relies on the character of the author. Especially in mysteries, the goal is to catch the bad guy and bring him to justice. An occasional variation on that is to allow the killer to escape because his actions were ethically, if not lawfully, sound. Protagonists must have a value system to which we relate, even if it doesn’t precisely echo our own. Heck, even antagonists have to have a value system that makes sense, though it’s often in moral opposition to ours. Ethics are always part of the drive behind a murder investigation.


Logos appeals to rationality. A logical argument uses reason, syllogisms, statistics and the like. But a piece of fiction has to make just as much sense as rhetorical argument in terms of logic. To be believable, characters have to act in a consistent manner. They must respond to situations as we expect them to based on their previous behavior. Or, if they don’t, the reason they don’t has to make logical sense. Works of fiction that involve world-building – fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, etc. – have to be logical down to the last invented detail in order to be believable. And too much coincidence is illogical, so realistic cause and effect should drive the plot.


Pathos appeals to the emotions. Writers have to be careful about overuse of pathos, not only because it’s considered cheap and underhanded (advertisers use A LOT of pathos to get you to buy stuff) but because it’s a delicate balance. It’s easy to be ham-fisted, especially if the author makes the mistake of telling the reader how they should feel. But in the hands of a skilled storyteller, pathos is probably the most important way to engage readers, keep them thinking about the book (or short story, or poem) long after they’ve finished it, and get them talking about it to others.

An author can’t make a reader feel, though. All we can do is create characters whom readers care about, put them in situations where the reader wants them to prevail, and then present realistic and relatable challenges and difficulties. People care most when they identify with someone. Sympathy is one kind of pathos. A deeper level of pathos involves engaging the reader’s imagination to the point where they are actually feeling what the characters feel. That’s what we want. Never mind that the characters are fictional.

It’s a glorious, circular, tricky business, indeed. As an author do you think about how you persuade readers via your writing, or does it just happen in the course of telling your tale? As a reader are you aware of being persuaded by a story? Do you seek out fiction that makes you feel a certain way?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Danger! Change Ahead

by Deborah Sharp

In Frisbee-flat Ft. Lauderdale, the 17th Street Causeway bridge to the ocean soars sixty-some feet above the Intracoastal Waterway. It's south Florida's version of a mountain.

On a recent bicycle trip home from the beach, I watched as my husband sped down the bridge. I brought up the rear, riding my brakes the whole way.

''Slow down,'' I yelled. ''Be careful!''

My voice was lost in the wind as he flew down the concrete span, jumped the curb, and pumped his fist in the air like a 15-year-old in a BMX race. It struck me as a pretty good metaphor for our marriage. A globe-trotting TV reporter, Kerry is the risk taker. A leap-before-looking type. I'm the worrier, cautious and careful. I'm always ready to apply the brakes and end the ride, should any risk appear suddenly in the road ahead.

When I turned 50 ... uhm, a few years ago ... I resolved to break out of my life-long habit of holding back. I decided to do one thing a month that terrified me. Not necessarily bungee-jumping or sky-diving, though I did climb into a small plane for a flying lesson. The challenges I set were more emotionally risky; more threatening to my shy, spotlight-shunning self. Singing karaoke. Performing on stage. Visiting a nude beach, my Lutheran conservatism be damned.

I met these self-imposed goals for six months, a period I dubbed The Half-Year of Living Dangerously. It was liberating to shake up my dull, middle-aged life, though I hated almost all of the challenges as I was doing them. It only felt good once they were done. Well, except for the nude beach. After that, I picked prickly grains of sand for days from crevices I didn't even realize I had.

Anyhow it's been ... uhm, a few years ... since I've done anything similarly risky. I'm back into a rut so deep I'm just barely peeking out over the edges. Meanwhile, a mystery writer friend in south Florida just announced she's chucking her college-teaching job, taking off alone on a small sailboat, and plans to write from the world's exotic ports-of-call. Risky. Scary, especially without the cushion of a spouse with health insurance and a good-paying job.

I look at some of my fellow authors at Midnight Ink and elsewhere, trying all sorts of new endeavors: writing second, even third series; doing stand-alone books in completely different genres; ending successful runs with well-loved characters to move on to new writing challenges. They're not riding their brakes. They're not coloring inside the lines. They're not afraid of getting too close to the edge and plummeting over.

So, enough. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to shake things up. Maybe it'll be the writing. Maybe I'll try to do a comedy routine on stage. Maybe I'll travel someplace where I don't know the language or another soul and spend a week on my own.

How about you? Are you a leaper or a brake-rider? Any risks you'd like to take, but haven't?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Things are happening at about three thousand miles an hour these days.

Strange things, like the Snowstorm of the Century Across America, a crazy continuation of weather irregularities that have lambasted the US, and in fact much of the world, this past year. Snow where it doesn't snow, rain when it's supposed to snow, and building collapses from the weight of it all. Earthquakes, floods, extreme temperatures. Cholera, despondency, hunger.

Mubarak, riots, agents of change and agents of harm. Civil unrest, the cry for democracy, bloody participants and journalists alike. Joblessness, hopelessness, desperation leaking from the soul of a country. Full body scans, health care battles, shootings in the parking lot of a grocery store. At some point insanity has become the status quo. I feel like I'm living smack dab in the middle of Billy Joel's song We Didn't Start The Fire.

So I thought about that. There is just one word that encompasses all of this craziness: and that word is change. That trite old addage is still viable: nothing ever stays the same. Evolution, revolution, grow or stagnate, live or die. It happens in nature and it happens in humankind.

We as writers definitely have no lack of subject matter to cull stories from.

To write, is for me, a way to express my creativity and share some humor and make people smile in the face of the often harsh realities of life. But writing is also an escape, not only for the folks who pick our books up, but for me as well. I write to escape, to create an environment I can control, as much as I write to entertain. It goes beyond the "I write because that's what I do," or "I have to put words on the page because I'm strangely compelled to."

I think one reason I write is to try and slow the world down, the world that is whipping by me faster every day. It's my small attempt to make order out of chaos. And when I can make someone laugh, pull a person out of their troubles and make them forget for just a little while, it's all worth it. Worth the sometimes solitary torture of the blank page and characters who refuse to behave.

So. Why, really, do you write? Why do you spend hours, days, months at a time alone, pounding the keyboard? What truly, compels you to share your words, your worlds, your fictional friends? Is it about trying to control inevitable change or more about the freedom to allow change to happen as it needs to? What do you think?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hey! You in the back. SHUT UP!

thumbs_upMany (most?) writers I know have a little voice in the back of their heads, pestering them with questions, nagging them with doubts. Is the novel good enough? Will an editor like it? Will readers like it? Will your spouse like it? You call yourself a writer?

It’s not the muse talking; it’s the muse’s crazy uncle who got dropped on his head as a child.

Sometimes the questions seem valid, rational. Is the pacing good? Have you portrayed the protagonist as a sympathetic, multi-layered individual whom people would like to spend some time with? Are you sure you want the sidekick to say that?

Other times, the questions are of the extreme sort: What if you only sell eight copies? What if nobody shows up at your launch party except the old lady who shows up at every book event for the free refreshments? What if they arrest you for wanton and heinous destruction of trees?

Usually, I just tell the voice to shut the heck up. (Like my children, sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t.)

Obviously, if I trusted my judgment more, the “voice” wouldn’t be raising so many questions in the first place. I might add that, at least for me, the uneasiness grows at certain points in the writing process. It’s definitely heightened when a manuscript has been submitted somewhere, or during the time right before a book’s release when the reviews start trickling in.

There’s one question I can’t seem to ignore, no matter how hard I try: Is the book any good?thumbs_down

As anybody who’s ever read a book or gone to a movie knows, “good” is subjective. One person’s good is another person’s “meh.” But it’s still a question that hangs around my neck like a turkey vulture.

Are my books any good?

My wife thinks so (usually). My mother thinks so (often). My critique partners offer their suggestions/ideas/criticisms (and excellent ones they are), but they don’t give an overall stamp of approval (too caught up in the nitty-gritty, I suppose. I mean, they’ve seen all the warts and blemishes along the way—and who could possibly put all that ugliness out of their mind?)

After a book’s acceptance, my editor thinks it’s good (I hope).

But still, I’m not swayed. All those people know me personally and/or have a horse in the race.

I don’t think I’m fully convinced (check that—I’m never fully convinced), something I’ve written is any good until a completely impartial person weighs in. Actually, I don’t think I feel at ease until a dozen impartial reviewers declare that my book doesn’t stink.

That’s why I was heartened by the first impartial review of KILLER ROUTINE, from Kirkus Reviews. The pullquote:

“Orloff generates considerable suspense en route to a conclusion most readers won’t see coming. Good-hearted characters…make this premiere of the Last Laff series a winner.”

So, that’s one down. Eleven more to go.

And you, in the back, SHUT UP!


ALSO, I had the good fortune to be asked to participate in an awareness/advertising campaign for The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. My picture is appearing on Metrobus ads, and I’m having a Where’s Alan? book giveaway contest involving DC mass transit, a camera, and my face. Check out my blog here for details and a peek at the ads.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011


ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN has been on bookstore shelves for about a month now. I’m ecstatic over the reviews I’ve received so far and feel like I’m experiencing a never-ending Sally Field moment -- They like me! They really like me! However (hey, you knew there was going to be a “however,” didn’t you?), every once in awhile Google Alerts will send me to a link that makes me cry, “Ouch!”

These “Ouch!” moments are usually reviews from readers, not professional reviewers, and they make me wonder. Why would someone continue to read a book she obviously didn’t like from the outset? Why buy it in the first place? My book is a trade paperback. The retail price is $14.95. If I’m shelling out that kind of money for a book, I make sure it’s a book I want to read before I hand over my credit card. I not only read the back cover copy, I read at least the first few pages, if not the first chapter, before getting in the check-out line.

Even if readers are buying a book online, they have the ability to read a bit of the book before purchasing, if not from the online retailer, then from the author’s website. Most authors will post an excerpt of their books on their websites.

Maybe the reader received the book as a gift and didn’t have the ability to exchange it for something more her taste. Regift it, I say. I guess I just don’t understand why someone would take the time to read a book from cover-to-cover that she’s decided by the end of the first chapter she doesn’t like. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that the reader is suffering from OCD and is incapable of not finishing the book, no matter how much she’s disliking it. And I suppose the slam of a review is my punishment for her inability to stop reading something she doesn’t want to read.

Or maybe I’m the odd person here. What about the rest of you? Do you feel compelled to finish every book you start, or do you only continue reading a book if you’re enjoying it?