If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our May author interviews: Marla Cooper-5/3, Rhys Bowen-5/10, Cindy Brown-5/17, Martha Reed-5/24, Sherry Harris--5/31.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in May--Paty Jager-5/6 and Maren Anderson-5/13. WWK Saturday bloggers write on 5/20--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 5/27--Kait Carson. E. B. Davis blogs this month on 5/30.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.”

In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on October, 18, 2017. Look for the interview by E. B. Davis here on that date!

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Music: Another Tool in the Writer’s Tool Box

I love music! As a baby I sat on the floor and twisted, “dancing” to the music before I could walk. At one time I played both flute and piano and enjoyed listening to classical music while ballet dancing en pointe. (It’s amazing what we can do when we’re young!) Now I use music as a tool in my writer’s toolbox.

If I need help with pacing, I pick a song that represents the speed at which I am trying to write. Once, when I attempted to write an energetic and frenetic scene, it just wasn’t working. I tried drinking caffeine for an energy boost to force the pacing, but it became jagged with big swings instead of steady with natural ups and downs. Frustrated, I listened to different types of music such as disco, rock and rap and finally found a British New Wave song. I played it numerous times writing to match its rhythm.

For a scene in a contemporary mystery that took place on a runway filled with fierce, strutting models wearing luxe clothing, I wanted the tone to have an edgy, contemporary feeling. I used Block Rockin’ Beats by the Chemical Brothers with its pounding electronic rhythm to inspire me. (After finishing, I took ibuprofen and a nap.)

Music helps me to get into a specific emotional state, too. Some days my mood affects what I’m writing and it’s important to stay with the mood of the story, not how I’m feeling at the moment. When I want to write a happy scene but am in a bad mood, I choose upbeat music that makes me smile or that brings back a fun memory. I’ve heard that a few writers listen to Barry White while crafting a love scene to get into that emotional state.

Similarly, I use music to maintain continuity. When I want to match the tone and mood of something I wrote the previous day, I make a note of the songs and play them the next day.

Also, listening to music that feels like my character’s essence helps me write more believable dialogue. When I strive to write a strong female voice I might listen to Joss Stone, Jill Scott or Janelle Monáe. For a superficial young male voice I play songs like Runaway Baby by Bruno Mars.

Sometimes music can be more effective than talking. Singer Aretha Franklin sang her way out of receiving a parking ticket. She was dining with friends in New York City when she saw an officer ticketing her car. So, Ms. Franklin serenaded the meter maid then autographed an envelope instead of a ticket.

It can also save lives. According to the BBC, in 2005 a nine year old English boy emerged from a coma after his mother played a song by his favorite band, Green Day. The song was American Idiot.

Recently, I learned that some authors share their music playlists so readers can feel a book’s intended mood. Fans enjoy it since it adds another dimension to a book. (I know--one more thing for writers to do.)

In the interest of sharing, here is my playlist while writing this blog:

I Love Music – The O’Jays
Don’t Stop the Music – Yarbrough & Peoples
Music – The Beautiful Girls
I’ve Got the Music in Me – Kiki Dee Band

Do you listen to music while you write? Do you use it to help you write?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Delivering One-Liners


When my husband and I were first married BC (Before Children), we got the half-baked idea to move back to our hometown in Pennsylvania. We missed our families and the countryside. To seal the deal, we bought an old farmhouse.

Every weekend, we’d travel from Virginia to Pennsylvania to renovate the house. At the start, we thought we would be moving into the house and living there, so the renovation work became far more extensive than if we had been fixing it up to sell it. In the end, we realized that there were quite a few reasons why moving wasn’t a good idea and were happy our plans didn’t work out even if we had put far too much effort into the renovation.

We loaded the doors onto my husband’s truck and took them back to Virginia so that during the week, I could strip the old paint and restore their beauty. Since they were handmade, solid doors, I felt the effort was well worth the labor and time. They were beautiful by the time I finished. But other tasks in the house were in situ chores.


The entire house was finished in old plaster, and a lot of it was in sorry shape. When we tore down a wall to open compartmentalized space, we found that the original owners were poor folks who insulated the walls with newspaper. The newspapers dated the house’s age to 1916. The headlines featured WWI and the women’s suffragette movement.

Much to my surprise, the editorials on the suffragette movement focused on the question of who would raise the children—a question we still struggle to answer—when I had imagined fearful, domineering men trying to hold on to their power (although I’m sure there was some of that and some of the other inane arguments justifying inequality). The opposition arguments were better than I expected because their priorities on children were at least valid. I took some of the advertisements from the newspapers, kept them and had them framed.

One night, after we’d been working on the house for several months, we were slap-happy with fatigue and started knocking plaster off the ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms. My husband worked in one bedroom, and I worked in another. Even though my husband is a building contractor, to this day he favors new construction because renovation is a dirty mess.

I’ve always loved champagne. My husband, wanting to reward me for my perseverance, bought me a cold bottle, but he forgot that we had no glasses, not even a paper cup. With no alternative, I opened the champagne and drank directly from the bottle. Since we were young fools with a lot of energy, we continued to work. Perched on a ladder and armed with a hammer in one hand and the champagne bottle in the other hand, I knocked off old plaster, which rained down on my head and covered me in grime, when my brother-in-law came up the stairs to see how we are doing.

I hoped and prayed, and then he answered my prayers by asking, “What are you doing?”

Of course, I replied, “I’m getting plastered.”

Do you orchestrate one-liners for your characters? Has life afforded you the opportunity to deliver any good one-liners? Let me know. I’d love to hear your stories.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tight Writing


He hesitated a moment before shrugging his shoulders, finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesture, suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomach.

If I were to read such a sentence in a book—and it was not intended to be an illustration of inelegant writing—it would be the last sentence I read in that book. I would rant to Jan about poor editing and read something else. I don’t expect to find so many egregious errors in one sentence in anything I choose to read. A gradual accumulation of such errors scattered throughout a book has the same ultimate effect on my reading pleasure: it convinces me that the author is not a fine writer. At some point, unless the story was really good, I’d give up and choose something else to read. Even if I got through that book, I’d never read another from that author.

As the title to this piece suggests, my prejudice is for tight writing over loose, sloppy stuff. I fill my first drafts with the type of errors I’ve illustrated. I catch them as I self-edit, but invariably introduce a new problem or two. My penultimate step before sending a manuscript to readers (or to agents and publishers) is to eliminate my excesses.


I have a list of individual words I overuse, redundant or inactive phrases I unthinkingly write and other faux pas I regularly commit. I use Microsoft Word’s search function to find them; then I try to fix each one.


Try 2:

He hesitated a moment, before shrugging his shoulders,shrugged finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesture, suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomachspewed vomit on her feet.


This edited version is tight. It might even be too tight and need fleshing out with powerful action or description. For example, in reviewing the edit, I probably include a description of the “inelegant gesture” to show what it was, rather than telling of its existence. However, with the initial edit I eliminated many of my pet peeves.

All hesitations are for a moment. It is impossible to shrug anything other than one’s shoulders (although one can shrug into clothes). Two delaying tactics may be one too many, but a third is tiresome (and one can only nod a head). ‘Finally’ occurs in the middle of the sentence. It is not his final act; puking his guts out is.

‘Quite’ is superfluous, and if you require the emphasis, use a more descriptive modifier. ‘Suddenly,’ rarely is. ‘Threw up’ is ugly, but not very active; ‘spew’ paints a more vivid picture. The ’all over’ doesn’t add anything (we didn’t think he vomited a single dainty drop on one toe, did we?) particularly when we are told the vomit didn’t completely cover her shoes.

Kill weak modifiers such as ‘almost’ and ‘entirely;’ give specificity. The phrase ‘that she wore that day’ has too many ‘that ‘modifiers. We can assume she wore the shoes and the action did not occur over a multi-day period. Eliminate contradictions and irrelevancies. We want to know why he vomited and what her reaction was. Stomachs are not wealthy or impoverished; save ‘poor’ to describe those without money.

I commit other atrocities in early drafts, but I’ll save you and not describe all my crap writing (N.B. not all OF my crap writing). After I beat my blunders into submission, the final step I take is to reread the manuscript and discover errors I introduced in fixing the last batch of problems.

When you read, what sets your teeth on edge? When you write, what sloppy habits must you fix in your editing?

~ Jim

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Making a List and Checking It Twice


I’m a big believer in using all the help technology and professional writing books and programs can give me in writing. I’ve tried using all kinds of workbooks, charts, and forms in working on a novel. I’m even exploring Scrivener-type software programs for use in writing my next book. I’m hardly on the cutting edge, but I’m also not one of the “if it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me” types. Still, sometimes we look around and find simple everyday solutions to our problems, and it would be silly not to take advantage of them.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found in writing a novel is the simple, old-fashioned list. If you’re like me, you use lists to remind you what you need to do during the day, what you need to pack for a trip, what you need to buy at the grocery store, and dozens of other mundane projects, large and small. It’s easy to assume we need something more sophisticated for this complex novel (for novels are all more or less complex) that we’re trying to hold in our heads and build on paper. However, I’ve discovered that simple lists can help in several ways with making that story in our head a reality in print.

First of all, I keep running character and place lists. I write a mystery series. When I wrote the first book, Every Last Secret, I was creating all the characters from scratch, as well as all the places in my fictional town.  I wrote personality and appearance sketches for each character, but in addition, I made a list of each character as s/he appeared with a few words to note key characteristics. I did the same for places in my made-up town. This meant I could look up the full name of walk-on characters easily when I needed to much later in the book. It meant that I could easily look up the important details of the buildings on the campus and the shops on the town square as my protagonist, Skeet Bannion, walked past them or into them.

These lists tripled in value when I started the second book in the series and now the third. No one will have brown eyes in the first novel and baby-blues in one of the later books. Old Central, the 19th century castle-like mansion on the Chouteau University campus, will not morph into a 1960s Bauhaus box of a building.

Next, when I’m plotting ahead, simple lists come to my aid again. I’m a combination of outliner and follow-the-writing plotter. I like to know where the next 25-50 pages are going, plotwise—or to think I do, at least. I do this by making a list of questions that I need to answer about the book. In the beginning, I have lots of questions. The answer to only one or two may give me enough to start the next several days’ writing. I stole the idea of asking myself questions and answering them in writing from Sue Grafton. She posts to her website journals that she keeps while writing each novel, and in these, she often asks and answers these types of questions. I took it a bit further by trying to make long lists of questions that needed to be answered, which often, in turn, add more questions to the list when they are answered.

Answering the questions tells me where the story wants to go, but these lists also help me keep the subplots straight and make sure they tie in directly to the main plot, and they keep me from overlooking some detail or element that will create a plot hole or other disruption for the reader. These questions can vary from broad ones, such as “What is the book’s theme?” and “How can I ratchet up the excitement and stakes in Act II?” to more detailed, such as “What clue does Skeet get from this interview?” and “What’s on Andrew’s desk?” Such question lists come in handy during revision, as well.

During revision, I make yet another kind of simple list. As I’m reading the manuscript straight through in hard copy, I write down a list of questions as I go. I notice a weak spot and ask myself, “How can I let the reader know how much Jake meant to Skeet, as well as Karen?,” “Should I have Skeet attend Tina’s autopsy?,” and all too often, “Reads competent enough, but where’s the magic?”

After going through my lists of hundreds of big to tiny fixes and changes to make, and either making them (most) or listing by scene where in the book to make the fix (for major issues), I sit down to wrestle with 5-15 major problems from almost but not quite minor to huge and complex. This final list is my guideline through the swamps of revision. The issues on this list require changes that thread throughout part or all of the book. Trying to do them all at once or even to keep them in my mind all at the same time would bog me down—perhaps forever. Listing them and working my way one item at a time through that list helps me to keep my focus even while dealing with very complex situations that must be woven in and out through the length of the novel.

In short, simple lists make the complex task of writing a novel doable for me. What about you? Do you use lists in your writing? Are there other tools you use for keeping track and keeping focused as you plot, write, and revise?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review of Books, Crooks and Counselors by Leslie Budewitz


Review of Books, Crooks and Counselors by Leslie Budewitz
Although I found no disclosure requirement in the law, I wouldn’t want you to dismiss this review with prejudice or to feel that I was negligent, so in the interest of full disclosure I admit that I had high hopes for Books, Crooks and Counselors by mystery writer and attorney at law Leslie Budewitz even before I read it.  Still I allege this review is as much pro bono as pro se. 

Books, Crooks and Counselors won the 2011 Agatha Award for the best non-fiction award of the year. It is a 2012 Anthony and Macavity Nominee.   I considered those “solid clues” whether or not a court would accept them as evidence. But after reading the book, I can recommend it ipso facto.  Albeit the author covered a wide range of legal procedures and definition, nevertheless  in the process she included examples of the concepts discussed which kept things interesting.  For real fun you can watch the latest movie of the week legal thriller while thumbing through the book and counting up the mistakes.

Of course checking your own work before you present it to anyone else can help you avoid making those same embarrassing errors.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy


Those of us who live in the often frigid north look forward to summer "when the livin' is easy." No more coats or boots. No more shoveling snow or driving on icy or snow covered roads. No lengthy dark nights. We look forward to those long, warm, sunny days with flowers blooming, birds singing, vacations, shady walks through the woods, fishing, baseball, picnics, amusement parks, sun ripened tomatoes from the garden, corn on the cob and other pleasures associated with summer that go back to childhood memories.

The time of year that seemed so perfect last winter when I was using a hammer to break ice out of the ponies' water buckets is here, and life is blissful, right? Well, not quite. Now I'm hauling buckets of water to my ponies several times a day. After too much rain this spring and early summer, we're now in drought conditions. Instead of pleasantly warm days,there have been many hot humid days with heat advisories, and I hate hot muggy weather, maybe even more than the cold. It saps my energy. And all that rain we had earlier? Well, the weeds are thriving even though my potted plants, hanging baskets and the new plants I planted this year need lots of water to thrive or even stay alive. I can't worry about the perennial gardens, they're too extensive, but I am watering my vegetable garden every day and praying for rain.
                                                                          
 I can wear sneakers for my morning walk in the woods instead of boots, and it's pleasant not plodding through mud or snow, and Maggie doesn't come in the house with muddy paws. The birds aren't quite as vocal as in spring, but there are still bird sounds so those morning walks are perfect. Not quite. Because of the dry weather the mosquitoes aren't bad right now, and that's good, but the deer flies are horrendous. Their buzzing around my head both in the woods and any where near the pond make it miserable, especially when they bite.



Speaking of insects, my nemesis has returned early this year. Japanese beetles. Every year I patrol my garden, sometimes twice a day or more, knocking them off into a jar of water I carry. Roses, grapes, beans and my 'Harry Lauder  Walking Stick' bushes are their favorites. So far there aren't as many as other years yet. When I get a fair amount in the jar, I feed them to my hens. They love them.

                                                             

Last year my vegetable garden was a disaster. Too much rain left me with few tomatoes. Not enough to can. And groundhogs ate almost everything else. This year my vegetable garden is thriving. I've already picked half a dozen ripe tomatoes, not counting the cherry tomatoes I eat off the plants. My tomatoes plants are laden with green and ripening tomatoes. They're a month early. Perfect. I'll be able to can lots of tomatoes for the winter months. Well, maybe not. I'm heading off for a two week vacation with siblings just when I fear most of them will be ripening. It's the same with the cucumbers I was planning to use to make bread and butter pickles. At least I've already picked all the peas and a lot of lettuce, and the beans will probably wait until I return. I'm picking and freezing blueberries now, but many more will ripen when I'm gone.

              
 
My siblings planned a July vacation so we'd be back in time to harvest and can our vegetables, at least the three of us in Ohio who plant vegetable gardens. Who was it that said, "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray?" Ending on a positive note, my hundreds of daylilies are absolutely specatacular, the BLT's I'm eating are delicious, and the vacation with my three sisters, brother and brother-in-law will be great fun. They always are.

What do you enjoy about summer - or not?









           

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Illogical English Language

I'm going to channel my inner Gallagher today.

Don't worry, you don't need protection from watermelon chunks . . . I'm talking about when Gallagher points out the absurdity of the English language.

In my day job, there's a cafeteria where the daily specials get posted on a chalkboard.  The people who run the cafeteria are not from this country, so English is a second (or maybe third) language for them.  Because of that, sometimes the board will say that a Ham and Chedder sandwich (or something similar) is available for lunch that day.  While that seems minor, when it says we're having Sweat & Sour Chicken for lunch, the problem becomes very unappetizing.

But I don't see it as their fault.  E-a-t is pronounced "eet," so it makes sense that they would think s-w-e-a-t sounds similar.  It's our lexicon that's messed up.

When I lived in Prague, I took a course so I could teach English as a Foreign Language (or EFL).  As part of the class, we had to do some on-hand training with actual Czech students (both children and adults), to learn firsthand the difficulties that we might encounter in our new careers.  It took me a very short while to realize I wouldn't be a good EFL teacher, because I wasn’t able to answer the questions that students would ask for clarification purposes.

Like, why is t-h-r-o-u-g-h pronounced "threw" (which is another word that means something completely different), but r-o-u-g-h is pronounced "ruff?"  And b-o-u-g-h is different still, as "bow" (which is another homonym).  During my training, whenever the students would ask me these quite pertinent questions, all I could say is "It doesn't make sense, but that's the way it is." 

Now, maybe I would've been able to find the "proper" answers if I had done more research into the etymology of words, but I didn't even fully understand my mother tongue, so I felt very inept in trying to teach it to someone else.  I’ve heard that English is one of the hardest languages to teach, and I believe that. There are so many exceptions to nearly all of the rules of our collective vocabulary that it’s hard to tell someone to just accept them without question, when the words in their native tongue follow that language’s rules quite precisely.

Even now, all I remember of my education was that we were told to memorize the pronunciations of the words, and not question them.  There’s even that childhood rhyme “I before E, except after C . . .” that’s used to teach us how to spell.  And even that rule has some exceptions to it.

*Side note, why do you remove the "o" from "pronounce" in order to make a "pronunciation?"*

I'm sure I don't have the answers to these questions, and it would probably hurt my brain to try to figure them all out.  I just have to keep on my toes when reading my company's daily lunch board, and make allowances for the kooky rules of English.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writer Watches Westerns

I learned my first lessons about writing from watching TV westerns as a kid. Probably the most important was that there were people putting words on paper that turned into TV dramas. I was astonished when my father told me that. Hey, maybe I could be one of them. I began to think of the shows as little plays and I learned from what I saw. I began to understand story arcs, character development, and local color.
Westerns gave me my first taste of historical accuracy. Sky King had an airplane and Roy Rogers had a jeep. They weren't trying to portray the golden age of cowboys. The Lone Ranger and Paladin were firmly set in a specific period and you never saw a modern appliance. Women's clothing was a dead giveaway. I would set something in the 1870s in my mind, only to have a woman walk through in a calf length skirt and giant shoulder pads. Many shows tried to be ambiguous about the time period. Men's clothing never changed. Women wore riding skirts that came into fashion in the 1870s and are still popular today.
I was a bit older when I learned about the classification of characters. Of course there was the hero, the victim, and the bad guy, the triad which makes up the modern crime story. Most of what I write revolves around these three people. But I began to recognize shadings of all these characters and came up with my own classifications.
The Good Good Guy was the hero. He could do anything always for the best motives. He was self-sacrificing, handsome, and kind. He generally treated women as fragile creatures who needed protection. Marshal Dillon was the ultimate good guy. And he knew how to ride a horse. The Bad Good Guy was the devils advocate who, while a friend or supporter of the hero, acted from base or selfish motives. The banker really did want the rail road to come to town even if it destroyed the farms of the poor. The rancher professed the good of the town while secretly plotting to get the water rights. The coward gave in to pressure from the bad guys to spy on the hero. He was selfish, cowardly, and generally not a nice person. The hero likes him because the hero had a big heart or because the hero expects him to grow up and become a man. Little Joe on Bonanza sometimes played this role by behaving impulsively or stupidly. Then the family had to rescue him.
The Bad Bad Guy was the evil doer, the man who rustled cattle, hurt women, stole money, burned down farmsteads, and terrorized the town. He got his comeuppance by the end of the show. Or he may have been the Moriarity of the West, to appear often as the root of crime like Dr. Loveless in Wild Wild West. The Good Bad Guy was on the side of evil, with a yen for the good side. The whore with the heart of gold, the young man led astray by the BBG, who may be a relative. He may rat out the BBG, or switch sides. He frequently end up dead by the closing credits. It's hard to come up with an example here since they most often ended up dead. Any suggestions? Because westerns were short the whole plot had to fit into a measured story line. Most of the elements weren't well fleshed out, which made them evident to a beginning writer. In time I learned to turn the two dimensional brother of the villain into a real person who didn't have to be killed to make the plot work. I've been re-watching some of these on the Western Channel, and sure enough they are no more subtle than I remember them to be. I can pick out the four characters as soon as they appear on the screen. But now I am learning other things by watching them. I seem to spend a lot of time assessing the riding ability of the actors.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Creating A Short Story

It starts with a flash. I hear a voice or see a character. This is usually indicative of a schizophrenic bout, but in my case, it means I’m creating a short story or the first scene in a novel.

The concept can be my own or if there is a call for a particular theme from an editor/publisher, given. A given concept can be anything from holidays or settings, a picture or feeling, an experience, but I’ve found that publishers stay away from specifics so that writers can apply the concept within their own genre and subgenres. With or without a concept, a flash in the form of a voice or character presents itself. I usually have an idea or two already floating around in my head. But without relating it to a conceptual framework, it has no shape.

Crime, my framework, leads to a question. When I first hear or see a character, I ask if the character a predator or is a victim. To determine this, I must visualize the character, which means listening to that voice and attaching physical characteristics to it, age, sex, physique, the look in their eyes. If I have a visual of the character, I have to make them speak, which, like the eyes, gives me a feel for their soul. Sometimes, the character is both predator and victim, a real situation in the world. The big fish eats the little fish and the little fish eats a smaller fish, etc. Yes, it’s a basic, base question starting on an animalistic level. The strong conquer the weak. It’s survival. When I feel a character, I assess the character’s intelligence and personality because in humans, physical weakness isn’t necessarily the determining factor.

If the character is a predator, I ask what type of crime the he or she would commit. If the character is a victim, I ask to what crime the character would succumb. To make this determination, I have to provide more character details, such as socioeconomic status, profession, demeanor, level of success, personality, disabilities. Is she a killer, or an embezzler? Once I determine the crime, then I relate the character and crime to the concept, and the plot follows given whatever theme I’ve created or been prescribed.     

In short, I start with characters and then develop the plot given the characters’ traits.

How do you start writing, and how do you create characters?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Understanding Amazon’s Book Pricing


I must confess, I don’t understand Amazon’s book pricing. I never felt a need to understand it before Master Point Press offered my bridge book for sale on Amazon’s website. As a baseline, the price listed on the back cover of One Trick at a Time: how to start winning at bridge is $18.95. Amazon first listed it for a preorder price of $12.67. Wow, I thought, anyone can order my book for less than I can get it from the publisher with my 40% discount, taking into consideration that Amazon ships free on orders over $25 and my publisher charges for shipping.

As consolation, I did receive my books almost six weeks before anyone could buy them on Amazon. As soon as Amazon actually fessed up to having the book in stock (7 available! – hurry, order soon) the price increased to $14.37. Two days later they had nine books available and four days after that their inventory doubled to eighteen. Now why, I asked myself, would they order my book in dribs and drabs? I’m sure they have a stocking algorithm, but since I don’t get daily sales statistics from Amazon, I don’t know how many they have actually sold. Incidentally, during this period Barnes & Noble had the book listed for $13.50.

I forgot to look at Amazon’s prices for almost two months because I was migrating between winter and summer homes, playing in several bridge tournaments and giving bridge lectures (oh, and hoping to sell a few books). When I remembered to check, Amazon’s price had jumped to $18.59; Barnes and Noble listed it for only $16.87. Someone must have clicked on the link Amazon has to “tell us about a lower price,” because within a week Amazon lowered their price to match Barnes & Nobles’. As of this writing, Amazon’s reported inventory is down to six books.

Incidentally, Amazon lists other sellers of the book besides themselves. At some US retailers you can buy the book, purportedly brand new, for $11.48 plus $3.99 S&H, which comes out to less than Amazon’s price. If you are looking to really enrich someone, you can pay as much as $32.51 plus $3.99 S&H!!

As I wrote the first draft of this blog, Amazon’s listingfor Catherine Coulter’s Backfire (An FBI Thriller) showed an expected release date of July 10, 2012. The hardcover list price is $26.95 and the preorder price was $16.17. The Kindle edition, which was released the same date, was available for preorder at $12.99. I’ll follow this best-selling author’s novel for three months to see what happens. If it’s interesting I’ll report on it in a follow-up blog around late October.

If you have a traditionally published book on Amazon, do you have any clue how they decide to price it?

~ Jim

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bullying the Bullies—Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right


I intended to write this week’s WWK blog about something else, but this takes precedence. I won’t be adding graphics because I can’t think of any that wouldn’t trivialize this situation. 

There’s a disturbing trend involving Goodreads reviewers and authors, and I think it’s something we all need to look at and think about where we stand on it because it’s going to be happening more and more—until sooner or later one of us on Writers Who Kill or one of our blog-reading faithful are going be sucked into the whirlpool.

Warren and I have made joking comments a time or two on this blog about Amazon and Goodreads reviewers who trashed our books because of trivialities such as not liking the cover or the name of the protagonist and then at the end of the review mentioning that they didn’t read the book. To an author, of course, these kinds of reviews feel terrible, sitting out there forever on the internet, but as a professional, you just suck it up and shrug your shoulders. Maybe make a joke on a blog by authors with lots of authors who read it. Notice what Warren and I did not do, however. We did not post hostile or defensive comments on these reviews and get in a fight with the reviewers. We did not link to the reviews to send out our fans to comment and tell them they’re crazy and awful people. Above all, we did not search the internet to find out their real names and personal info (including children, physical location, etc.) and post it to the internet, encouraging our fans to stalk and bully them because we felt bullied by their reviews.

Common sense, right? Common decency, certainly. However, a site has sprung up to do just that. (I won’t post a link to it or any of the supposed GR bullies’ reviews and comment streams because I don’t want to send traffic to either side of this, but if you want to see for yourselves, just Google “Stop the GR Bullies,” and they’ll all pop up.) Their stated mission is to “stop the GR bullies.” What they’re actually doing, however, is bullying the Goodreads bullies. They keep their identities hidden, but of course, what goes around comes around, and soon someone will be posting their personal info on the internet to incite people to go after them.  One woman identified as a GR bully on this site has received threatening phone calls at her home. Hello? Could we have a little sanity here, folks?

This is not to say that some (a tiny percentage, I think) of the reviewers on Goodreads aren’t bullies in some ways. And I’m not talking about the reviewers Warren and I mentioned. Those reviews were bad reviews but not bullying reviews. I’ve seen some nasty, mean, profane, personal-attack-on-the-author reviews on Goodreads. It’s the internet, folks. It often brings out the pathetic teenager in some of us. Responding to bad reviews is simply not good professional behavior. The Amazon and Goodreads sites are sites for readers, not really for authors. They have a right to dislike our books. They even have a right to dislike us. We don’t have a right to “punish” them for not liking us or our work.

As more and more of the review function in publishing moves to the internet, we will see these things more often. It seems to be mostly a problem with self-published authors, though I have read of a couple of experienced, traditionally published authors responding hostilely to bad reviews. One of the self-published authors these Goodread reviewers attacked grew so upset that she swore off writing in a long public post. I felt sorry for her pain as I read the post, but I believe she may have made a good choice.

Writing professionally is a career, a business. As one of my friends on the Jungle Red Writers blog put it, “Writing is not for sissies.” Most of us who’ve been traditionally published (and this includes by the many fine small presses that help keep literature alive in this country) have had our skin toughened by years of form rejections and nasty comments from potential agents and editors. Writing is one of the hardest jobs out there in terms of the emotional punishment we take. Even after we’ve been published, we run the gamut of poor (or no) reviews or lack of sales or our publisher may drop us, often for something over which we have no control, such as their decision to stop publishing the genre or sub-genre in which we write. It happens. 

I know a successful male writer whose once-acclaimed, hardnosed private eye novels suddenly weren’t wanted by publishers. None of them. PIs were out, he was told, and he couldn’t sell under his own name any longer. So he took a woman’s pseudonym and started a very successful cozy mystery series. Now, that’s a professional. Every door slammed in his face. He probably drank, yelled, cussed, whatever his personal reaction to devastating news happened to be. Then, he picked himself up and reinvented himself. Check out the careers of a lot of successful writers, and you’ll find stories like that.  What he didn’t do was take out a contract on the editors who dumped him or send stalkers after them or anything like that.

I think we each need to have a conversation with ourselves to ask, “If some amateur reviewers ganged up on my book or me on Goodreads or somewhere else, how would I handle it?” I think the possibility of people not liking their work or themselves or, worse, being mean to them had never occurred to these folks, so they were sideswiped and reacted foolishly on impulse, guided by their emotional pain. Let’s be ready. We’re all on the internet, and it could happen to one of us next. Perhaps, if we’re prepared, we can be the mature professionals that we really are.

What do you all think about this phenomenon? What would you do if your book was attacked by one or a group of these reviewers?