Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Navigating the Labyrinth

When doing anything in life you'll find there are people who want to give you all sorts of advice.  Just ask a new parent or anyone who wants to become an actor/actress.

The same is true in the writing world.  There are so many do this/don't do that scenarios that a person can go crazy trying to assimilate them all.  Furthermore, it would be impossible to do so, because the advice is going to be different depending on who you ask.

For instance, there's the whole adverbs debate.  On one side of the argument are those who will tell you to avoid adverbs at all costs, like they're some sort of poison for your writing.  But on the other side are those who think that, used in moderation, adverbs are a useful writing tool.

Then there's the argument over dialogue tags.  Some claim that a few different tags (shouted, whispered, etc) are fine, again used in moderation, while others think you should only ever use "said."

You'll even hear differing opinions about how to write.  Some are plotters and some are pantsers, and there are even some who use a little of both.  And in each case, I've met those who swear that one way is better than the other.

And then you've got the whole discussion on how to publish your work.  Do you only go the traditional route and find an agent?  Or maybe you try the Indie publishers.  Then there's always self-publishing on Amazon.

There's a lot more advice that I couldn't begin to cover here in one blog, and every writer will hear both sides to each argument, depending on the day and to whom they're speaking.  And it's not only fellow writers that you'll meet at your SinC meetings.  There are scads of books written by well-known authors designed to give you their tips and tricks on how to write.  Stephen King, Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich are the ones that immediately come to mind.

The problem is, how to navigate through these bits of advice and choose the path which works best for you.  It's very hard to say, because for every "rule" there's a person who's gone against that rule & done very well for him/herself.  JK Rowling is probably one of the best examples of that.  Even today, people argue over her use of adverbs & overuse of "said," but she's clearly doing okay for herself.

So, what to do?

Well, as with any advice, you need to keep the kernels that work for you, and ignore the ones that don't.  That's hard to do when you're just starting out, because you want to succeed, and you're being given this advice by published authors.  They've obviously done something right, but maybe it just doesn't sit well with you.  When that happens, try to remember that their "something right" was right for them.  It might not be right for you.

There's also the possibility that it's just not right for you at this time.  I've received advice in other areas of life that I've heard multiple times over several years, and it wasn't until I was in a certain place in my life that I was ready to follow said advice.  Maybe I'm just stubborn, or maybe I had to experience other things first before I was ready.

Bottom line, be true to yourself.  By all means, pay attention to every bit of advice you hear, because there are some gems of wisdom out there, and they're being given to you by people who want you to succeed.  But don't drive yourself crazy by trying to follow them all; there's no way you possibly could.

There is one piece of advice that all writers agree on, and I think it's the best one out there:  Write, Write, Write!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Where do you get your ideas?"

by Carla Damron, author of the Caleb Knowles Mystery Series

As a mystery writer, I’m often asked this question. It’s right there with, “How did you get your publisher?” and “Which way to the ladies’ room?” (That’s a question we authors used to get at book signings, back when there were these places called “bookstores”). I must confess though, I HATE to get the “where do you get your ideas” question.

I mean, it’s a reasonable query, and I don’t spite the asker of the question. But it makes me face something a little unpleasant about myself: I NEVER run out of murderous plots. I know plenty of people who need killing (by my pen). When I read in the newspaper about a chemical spill, I couldn’t help but mentally file it away under “Death by poison,” in the sick filing cabinet I have in my brain. I can’t walk through a hardware store without marveling at all the potential murder weapons. I once stood in front of a giant auger for a full ten minutes imagining a creepoid killer using it to bury bodies. (That thing had an eighteen-inch bit—who wouldn’t see its homicidal potential?)

And you don’t want to sit beside me on a plane. The poor guy who introduced himself to me and said he was an “environmental engineer” probably didn’t expect an hour of interrogation about what industrial solvents are the most lethal. When a friend described how his bone marrow treatment for leukemia actually altered his blood type, I sympathized, I celebrated his recovery— then pondered how a killer might exploit the change in blood type, especially if the police had old blood evidence on file. This is just how my mind works.

There are advantages to this little quirk of mine. When a good friend was horribly mistreated by a jerk on her job, I looked her in the eye and promised: “I will kill him in my next novel.” And I will—though it will be under a different name and gender. There is little I can offer my buddy who is going through a horrific divorce, but her ex and his mistress may add to the body count in some upcoming project. And that newspaper article about the coach who turned out to be a predator of little boys? Oh yeah. He’s going down.

Note: Fiction can be a very therapeutic outlet. (My husband says he feels safe as long as I keep writing.)

So the question “where do I get my ideas” isn’t one I struggle with. My problem is this: I have so many plots in my head, so many murders to write, I can’t possibly get to them all. I’m not a fast writer—it takes a year for me to complete a novel—so, if I’m to write every murder I have on my list, I need to live to be (have my calculator out, doing the math …) nine hundred and twelve years old.

I better start working out.

The next time I’m at a book signing, and a reader asks me where I get my ideas, I think I’ll smile politely and reply, “Been to any hardware stores lately?”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Unavoidable Genre Blending

I’m not a horror fan, but I find myself constantly running to Edgar Allan Poe as a reference in my writing. There are scenes in mystery writing that require elements of horror. Just as romance is a common element in mystery supporting a subplot, horror, I think, is the second most common genre that is blended with mystery. Not until I took a course in which I submitted my synopsis and the instructor commented on its horror elements, did I realize what I was writing. Consider writing the following scenes without an element of horror.

·      Your protagonist is being chased by the villain
·      Your unsuspecting protagonist finds a body in an unlikely place, charging the atmosphere
·      Your script includes the death scene from the POV of the victim
·      You present the mental state of villain, who is an unlikely murderer
·      Your protagonist realizes the identity of the unlikely murderer, someone who maybe near and dear.

When a writer blends romance or horror into a mystery script, he adds emotion. Mysteries are rather analytical by nature. The sleuth discovers facts, which leads him to supposition until he finds incriminating evidence or entraps the villain using a variety of methods. Action-adventure can be added, but aside from a rush of adrenaline, this ingredient adds little emotion. It may put a character in a dangerous situation, but when the danger is shown and experienced, horror techniques better demonstrate the character’s emotions.

Poe’s techniques are similar to what is now called “deep POV.” When writing a scene, the writer must get inside a character to show his visceral experience, real or imagined. Remember Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the protagonist can hear the victim’s beating heart, driving him crazy. Poe shows his protagonist’s deteriorating mental state, creating horror within his character and readers.
People love cheap thrills. Consider the concept of rollercoasters, which puts the rider in a position of helplessness and pushes the envelope of his physical safety. Near Halloween, thrill seekers watch horror films to experience poltergeists, ghosts, homicidal madman and demonic possession. Audiences are scared silly all the while being safely ensconced in a public theater or in their home. It is that anticipation, along with some hokie background music, that pushes people’s scare button and creates suspense.  

As a victim of a dangerous ride at a fair in my youth in which my physical well-being was put into jeopardy, I do not share in the thrill. I have no fascination with horror. But rarely am I attracted to books that don’t blend genres. When I find myself writing horror scenes in every book I write, rather than reinvent the wheel I depend on the originator, Poe, to teach me how to write these scenes.

What writers do you rely upon?   

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Whither Barnes & Noble?

Last week I analyzed how Barnes & Noble and Amazon priced one particular book: Coulter’s Backfire. It got me thinking about what B&N will need to do to compete in the future.

I need to make sure everyone understands up front that I am not a stock analyst, and anything I say is not intended to be any kind of a security recommendation. Okay, now with the legal safeguards out of the way, here are my opinions.

B&N has three product segments: bookstores, online books, electronic readers. Each has separate competitors, but one key differentiation B&N has over some of its competitors is that it has all three. Amazon does not have its own stores. Many tablet manufacturers don’t sell books.

Earlier this year, B&N announced a deal to partner with Microsoft on its Nooks. This introduces needed financing for B&N and provides Microsoft with stores where it can sell its products (an attempt to compete with Apple stores).

Prediction #1: dedicated e-readers will go the way of cars without A/C. While migrating from my northern home to southern this year I either left my Nook inside the house or (what I suspect) I put it on top of the car as I was loading the dog into the car, and it’s lying somewhere along the side the road. I liked my Nook a lot, but with a few free apps a tablet can do just about everything a Nook can, plus it can do a whole lot more.

Jim's Tablet with Kindle and Nook apps
Jan received a Kindle Fire tablet for Christmas and uses that as a reader plus. My son also has a tablet. Based on their experiences, I decided I would be better off with a tablet than repurchasing a Nook. I bought a Google Nexus 7 because I like reading in bed and a 7” screen is better than a larger tablet for my purposes. I’m delighted. I recently showed it to my mother who has an old Kindle and an older Nook; now she wants a tablet.

The Amazon Kindle makes you download third-party software in order to get a Nook app. If B&N opens up its operating system to make it easy to read Kindle books (and other formats as well) it will have a key selling point against the Fire. If it keeps a closed architecture, I predict it will go the way of the dodo. B&N should brand the Nook as THE device to use if you are a serious reader, regardless of reading platform, and they should allow an open operating system so users have unlimited app alternatives.

Prediction 2: B&N bookstores will ALSO sell books. Retail space is all about turnover, and bookshelves are terrible when compared to other things related to books. B&N has already eliminated shelf space to put in cafes and areas where dedicated Nook specialists assist you in choosing your Nook and helping you with technology issues. I suspect this will be expanded to other Microsoft tablets with staff similar to Best Buy’s Geek Squad to help buyers sort through the possibilities. In short, if B&N is to succeed they will need to add customer service as a buying differentiator to Amazon’s Kindle.

Apple, of course, already has stores to sell the iPad. The B&N difference can be to provide an open architecture rather than being locked into the Apple (or Amazon) brand. (Not that the Apple brand won’t continue to do well, but across the world, more people will look favorably at Android and Windows 8 operating systems and companies who do not limit how you can use your electronic device.)

Prediction 3: Unless B&N improves its online experience, it will become increasingly irrelevant in the book business. B&N failed where Amazon succeeded in becoming a shopping portal. However, it could still succeed by providing focused positive experiences to readers and authors. To compete with Amazon they need to provide something better than what is currently offered. On Amazon it is fairly easy for an author to add book reviews, additional information, cross-link books, etc. Not so on B&N. However, Amazon is not perfect. For example, it is difficult for authors to link books written under different names. Currently at B&N I can’t even get them to upload an image for my bridge book. (The “problem” they claim is that it is published by the world’s largest publishing company for bridge books, which happens to be in Canada.)

Amazon’s whole approach is to be the low-price provider. If two organizations try to play the same low-price game one goes bankrupt. Amazon has the far-deeper pockets, trying to beat them on price will not work for B&N. Instead, B&N could make its website the “go to” place for learning about authors and find ways to differentiate itself by providing additional content.

While I think the path is clear for B&N to succeed, here’s my final prediction: By 2020, B&N will no longer be selling books. The electronics division will be spun off and subsequently purchased by another tablet manufacturer.

What’s your crystal ball say?

~ Jim

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Interview with Marilyn Levinson

Marilyn, why did a former Spanish teacher decide to write mystery novels?

I loved writing ever since I was young. I started writing stories in the third grade. And, of course, I was an avid reader, devouring Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton, and Nancy Drew novels, sometimes two in one day. Then I took creative writing in my senior year of high school. Though I wrote a short story every week, the teacher was not at all supportive. I stopped writing fiction, and went back to it years later, when my sons were very young. Since I enjoyed studying Spanish, I decided that would be my major in college. When I was twenty-one, I spent an unforgettable summer in Mexico City. I believe there’s a strong link between creating fiction and communicating in another language. I still love speaking Spanish, and do so every chance I get.

How did your Twin Lakes mystery series come about?

I live in a gated community, though not quite as elegant as Twin Lakes. The idea for the first book in the series, A Murderer Among Us, began as a “what if” thought while walking through the community. What if my sleuth encountered someone she knew from her past, someone who had hurt her youngest sister and had driven her to suicide? Twin Lakes is an over-55 community. I decided to make my sleuth an active senior who recently lost her husband. With two grown daughters and their problems, and the possibility of a love interest, I was off and running—er, typing.

Tell us about your protagonist and your latest novel.

My romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, came out two weeks ago  with Uncial Press in eBook format. My heroine is Ardin Wesley, who has returned to her New Jersey hometown to settle her mother in an assisted living facility. Thornedale holds many unhappy memories for Ardin, especially those of her short but abusive marriage. She is eager to return to Manhattan, where she practices law. Then her promiscuous cousin is murdered, and Ardin finds herself eager to adopt her cousin’s daughter as she falls for her cousin’s widower, who also wants to adopt the child. Certain she’s not suited for love and marriage, Ardin faces her old demons, including her ex-husband as she dodges the many attempts on her life.

How did your “Best Indie Award of 2011” from Suspense Magazine come about? Why did you decide to go the indie route?

I’d sent A Murderer Among Us to the big six or seven in NY, but no one was interested.  I decided to send it to one of the epublishers, and Wings ePress took it. I’m not sure how my Best Indie Award came about, though I’m glad that it did.

Has membership in Sisters in Crime helped your writing career?

It has, in that I’ve made many good writer friends through Sisters in Crime, who have helped me in so many ways—from practical advice to plot ideas to which agents to query. After attending my first Malice Domestic conference a few years ago, I decided to start a Long Island chapter, which I co-founded with my friend, Bernadine Fagan. My two-year term of presidency is up the end of December.

Why did you decide to write children’s and young adult books as well as your adult mystery series?

I wrote children’s and young adult books first, while my sons were growing up. After that, I also wrote adult mysteries and romantic suspense. I’ve no idea why I write a book in one genre or the other. Right now I’m finishing up a children’s book—the sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok.

Are your books set in your home area of Long Island, New York?

My mysteries are all set on Long Island. I have a specific area or town in mind, then create my own locale. When writing Giving Up The Ghost, I envisioned high bluffs above the beach, like those in Rocky Point, but Chrissom Harbor is a fictitious setting.

Advice for novice authors?

Join writing groups. Be part of a supportive critique group. Most important, keep on writing and sending out your work.

How important is social networking and how much time do you spend on the Internet promoting your work? Your social media links.

Social networking is so very important. I spend a good deal of time on the Internet promoting my work—via emailing, Facebook groups, and Yahoo listservs. I tweet, guest blog, do what I can to get reviews for my novels. I’m never far from my computer.

You can visit Marilyn at: Her books are available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, including A Murder Among Us (Suspense Magazine Best Indie of 2011, Murder in the Air and Giving up the Ghost.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Bubble Wrap Politics

Bubble Wrap Politics

I recently had a conversation with a friend in New Zealand who commented that he had to be careful with what he said to Americans about the presidential election because people for both candidates are easily offended.  I think he’s right.  It seems to me that many people in both camps have locked themselves into a way of perceiving the election, and maybe the whole world, in a way that discounts any information or opinion that diverges from their preconceptions.  Many of us are like separate bubbles in a sheet of bubble wrap, i.e., we feel complete and whole. We don’t acknowledge our common connections. 

I believe the last time the American population was as polarized as now was shortly before the Civil War. 

Governor Romney’s error during the second presidential debate in stating President Obama did not immediately denounce the killings in Libya as, an “act of terror” could be a reflection of the current state of politics. Apparently there was, and may still be, statements on right-wing blogs that the President did not use that language until weeks after the tragic events in spite of the transcripts and videotape showing that he did. The actual statement was ignored because it did not fit the stereotype of the president as weak on foreign policy. 

Putting politics aside for the moment, logically why wouldn’t President Obama describe act of terror as acts of terror?  If Governor Romney had been president, I believe he would have used such language.  I can’t think of any past president of the United States who would not. 

Some time ago a friend of mine mistakenly said Governor Romney told the press he had not taken part in the war in Viet Nam because he was personally “too valuable.” to risk his life in a war he had supported.  I’ll give my friend credit for admitting and correcting the statement, which originated from a politically satirical source.  Of course, Mr. Romney didn’t say anything like that. Who would?  It went around as a rumor because it fit the stereotype of the Governor as an unusually privileged person.

I have heard comments suggesting that each contestant has a close personal tie with the devil.

It is comfortable and comforting to interact with people who share our values and beliefs.  It’s reassuring to interact and have our beliefs supported. But when we exclude people with other ideas and values we risk ending up with perceptions that are more idealized and/or demonized than realistic.

Do you agree?  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Events without a Scientific Explanation

Belief in ghosts, witches, vampires and zombies has waned from early years since science has debunked most of those beliefs. Although there are still people who claim to be mediums able to connect with those who have died, most have been debunked as charlatans. Most people wish they could hear from a departed loved one, so unfortunately there are always those who prey on grieving people.

After reading Kaye George's post about the little boy who could read minds, I thought about events in my life that has made me a believer in things beyond scientific explanations. The first happened after both of my grandparents had died and an uncle of mine and his son-in-law were fixing up the house so my cousin, Linda, and her husband could move into it. My uncle had left and my cousin's husband was cleaning up when he heard someone shout "Hey!" It came from the area of the basement stairs. He knew no one could be down there and left in a hurry. When he told his wife and imitated the shout, Linda immediately recognized it as our grandfather's voice. Her husband had never met him. Soon after they moved into the house, she went into labor with her second child and her mother came over to stay with the older child, still a toddler. When the child started fussing, my aunt woke up and lay there listening wondering if she'd go back to sleep. As she was lying there, she heard the back door open and close and footsteps in the kitchen. She immediately sat up and called out asking her son-in-law what her daughter had, boy or girl. There was no answer so she went to check. No one was there. Aunt Millie was not someone who was fearful or who would  have imagined something like that.

After my son died, his brother saw him standing beside our bed where he was resting one Sunday afternoon. John didn't speak and just smiled at him. Joey turned over and then turned back and John was still there smiling before he gradually disappeared. I had a dream in which John sat up and I exclaimed, "John, you're alive!" Then I asked him what Heaven was like. With much enthusiasm he told me it was wonderful. He was going on a train up into the mountains. Even though I believed it was a message from John, I didn't tell anyone because I didn't think anyone would believe it was more than a dream. However, the following summer my niece, Maria, was at a 4H camp when one night in the cabin, she talked about her cousin, John, who had died the past fall of cancer. Another girl spoke of a boy she'd met at the Cleveland Clinic and dated briefly the summer before. When she found out the previous fall that he'd died. Soon they realized they were speaking of the same boy. She told Maria of getting a phone call in her dream the night she'd heard he'd died. It was from John, and he told her the same thing he'd told me about the trip up into the mountains on a train. We hadn't communicated our dreams at all, nor did my niece know of mine. It wasn't until months later that I learned about this from her.

In 1989 I bought an old farm house that needed major repairs to make it livable. The elderly man, Chick Needler, who owned it before me had lived there 50 years and had died two years before I bought it. While my son and another man were working in the basement one night, both heard footsteps on the first floor. When they went upstairs to check, no one was there. After I moved in, out of the corner of my eye, I'd see shadows. I never mentioned it to my daughter, Mary, because I knew it would scare her. Besides I thought it was probably just my imagination. But one morning when she was eating breakfast at the kitchen table, she saw at the bottom of the steps in the room adjacent to the kitchen, a white form with a black line where a belt would be. It gradually faded away. After that time, she had two more experiences while lying on the living room couch half asleep in which she distinctly heard a man talking to another man in the place where the back door would have been before my son moved it. They were talking about tractor repair or something like that. Another time she heard someone riding a horse with a creaking saddle through the living room. Both times she was in that semi-sleep state where she was aware of the TV and traffic going down the road. Chick Needler had palomino horses; one that was quite famous.

Still not convinced? Fast forward to 1990. My mother had open heart surgery and died the following afternoon at 3:00 while most of my siblings and I were with her. When we called our Seattle sister to tell her mom had died, she asked what time it had happened. When she was told, she said that was when her watch had stopped. Coincidentally, my son had also died at three o'clock in the afternoon almost ten years before.

In the summer of 1993, I was on vacation in New England with two sisters. We were having a great time traveling up the coast through Massachusetts and Maine camping most of the time. One evening an overwhelming sadness came over me. I sat by the campfire and the tears wouldn't stop. Next day we went to Acadia National Park to play in the tide pools, something I love to do. Still the sadness wouldn't leave me. One sister suggested I call home. I called my son's house and my ex answered and said they'd had the Maine State Highway Patrol trying to find us. My six year old granddaughter had fallen out of a tree and was life-flighted to a Pittsburgh hospital after going into convulsions during an x-ray. She was now in a coma. Unknown to anyone, she'd had a brain tumor that ruptured. Her mother, my daughter Susan, had been crying for me. My sisters took me to the nearest airport, and I flew to Pittsburgh to be with my daughter and granddaughter.

Am I a psychic? No. Do I believe in any form of witchcraft? No. But I can't explain the above events in any scientific way. As for Chick, I think he's moved on. At least I don't think anyone but my dog and cats are habitating my house with me. Well, except for an occasional wild critter.

How about you? Have you had any unexplained supernatural events in your life?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ten Questions for Kaye George

Kaye George’s Immy Duckworthy series, Choke, Smoke and now Broke gets better with every book. But read them in order or you’ll miss a lot of fun. Immy continues to develop her PI skills while taking an online PI course and tries to solve cases. In this novel, Immy’s house keeps getting broken into, which is only one mystery she must solve. If you haven’t read the series, you’re in for a treat. Find out why…“the bull semen has left the building.” Welcome back to WWK, Kaye.    E. B. Davis 

1. Where do you start the action in Broke and why?

Immy leaves her office to give you a taste of her all-important (to her) job as PI file clerk and sets out house-hunting with Jersey Shorr of Shorr’s Real Estate. Renting a house and moving out of her mother’s single-wide are the actions that put everything else into play, so that’s where it has to start.

Also, the old, broken-down house is almost a character. I grew fond of it.

2. How does Immy discover her new relatives? You left their characters open as if the verdict is still out. Will those characters appear in future books?

She discovers an uncle she didn’t know she had, Uncle Dewey, by finding him sleeping in the bed of the house she decides to rent. (There’s a dead body in the bathroom--Dewey’s old cellmate--and Dewey looks good for the murder.) He’s a vagrant at that point, newly released from prison. Immy is angry at her mother for not telling her that her father, who died years ago, had another brother, but Hortense never wanted Immy to know about this dark-hued ovine of the family. Dewey Duckworthy has a relative he’s lost, too, his son, and Immy sets about trying to help track him down.

In this book, Immy never decides if Dewey is a scoundrel or not. Her new cousin Theo seems more upscale (he’s never been to prison), but he is his father’s son.

Yes, they’ll both be back!

3. The supernatural plays a role in Broke. Have you ever written supernatural or paranormal before?

Not really, at least not to this extent. I’ve written some horror short stories, published in “Dark Valentine” (I sure miss that magazine), that had supernatural elements, but they were much more weird. I thought a spooky, creaky house like this needed a ghost,  especially since Halloween is coming up as the book opens.

4. Hortense plays less of a role in Broke; do you have a hard time writing her dialogue?

Are you kidding? I love writing her dialogue! It’s hard to fit nice, big words into genre fiction and this is my chance.

I set Hortense aside somewhat in this book, since Immy’s goal is to get away from home and stand on her own two feet. Also, I had some other characters that needed to take up a lot of room and Hortense is rather wide, so she moved aside for them.

5. Immy seems the loyal sort, but Ralph frustrates her. What does Immy want?

She doesn’t know what she wants. Does any woman? She wants strength and solidity, but she also wants excitement and passion. She doesn’t mind danger, or living dangerously (hence her daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, who was conceived in a one-night very fun fling). Ralph gives her some of the above, but not the latter. Don’t we all want the bad guy AND the good guy, rolled into one? Too bad he doesn’t exist.

6. Does Immy pass the Missing Persons section of her online PI course?

She’s gotten all As so far, so, I’m pretty sure she will.  It takes ages to get those tests back!

7. How big will Marshmallow get?

He’s a potbelly and won’t be as big as a farm pig, but he’ll be at least 150 and could reach 200 pounds, although he’ll only stand two feet tall at the most. He should live to be 15-20 years old.

8. Are you an Elvis fan?

I wasn’t when I was a teenager and he was popular. I think I was embarrassed by him. But I grew to like him more and now adore him.  I don’t embarrass like I used to. I like the Beatles and the Stones more, though.

9. You have another new series with a small publisher. What is the series called and what is the storyline?

Thanks for asking! The first Cressa Carraway mystery will be published by Barking Rain Press in May of 2013. Cressa is a young grad student working on her masters in classical composition.  It takes place in rural Illinois, at a club where my mother used to have a cabin on a lake. In fact, I borrowed her cabin for the book.

Here’s my teaser: When aspiring conductor Cressa Carraway arrives at her grandmother's resort home, she finds Gram dead. When Gram's best friend drowns in the same place, Cressa knows something sinister is at work in this idyllic setting.

10. Has being nominated for an Agatha twice made a difference in your career?

It’s made an enormous difference to me! The nomination for the short story award finally convinced me that I could actually write short stories. It also spurred me into thinking I could maybe write lots of things. Maybe even get novels published. The nomination for CHOKE blew me away. I later submitted that novel for Kim Lionetti to read when I wanted her help getting a cozy contract, and it probably didn’t hurt at all that it had the nom. She took me on and I now have a contract for a three-book series with Berkley Prime Crime.

(I have a LOT of books to write right now! Maybe I should go.)

Bonus: Beach or Mountains?

Mountains! Always the mountains! When my husband and I were first married, he joined the military and, after he came home from SE Asia, was sent to Montana. We fell in love with the Rockies, and that’s where we prefer to go on vacation when time and money are available at the same time. Later we lived in southern Ohio for a while and drove to the Smokies a few times. We love those mountains, too, although they’re very different.

Thanks so much for having me here today!

Kaye wants a new reader to start her series. One commenter will receive a free download of Choke today. You can get all of Kaye’s books on Here’s the link for the Broke Kindle Edition or you can buy it at Smashwords.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Play's the Thing!

Last week, I treated an out of town guest to a performance of the play, Shear Madness, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It is the longest running non-musical play in American theater, winning numerous awards including the Mystery Writers of America Raven Award. I debated about seeing this play since my friend doesn’t enjoy reading books and probably has never read a mystery. (Truly horrifying!) But I took a chance that she would enjoy a comedy-whodunit that lets the audience interact with the actors to solve a murder.

The stage set was a contemporary unisex hair salon decorated in neon pink and blue. In the beginning the music was peppy and loud, foreshadowing the frenetic pace of the performance that followed. Then six characters--two hair stylists and four clients in need of their services—entered the salon at various times. Being a comedy, there were several scenes of distracted stylists cutting hair and shaving (nicking) a client’s cheek. At one point I was splattered with water since we were sitting in the front row near the salon sink.

Toward the end of the first half, a female concert pianist living over the salon was found stabbed to death with hair scissors. We never saw the victim but through conversation snippets learned how her life intertwined with people in the hair salon--who all had strong motives for killing the woman. So, whodunit?

At this point, the detective/actor questioned each suspect then asked the audience to yell out inconsistencies in their stories. I was very surprised when my friend pointed out a number of misstatements by the suspects as well as overlooked clues. During intermission, one couple asked if we were actors planted in the audience since my friend was just like “Nancy Drew.” (Perhaps playing an amateur detective will inspire her to actually read a mystery. I can only hope.)

During the second half, the detective asked the suspects to reconstruct their actions leading up to the crime. Since the first half was a series of chaotic scenes, I admit that it was difficult for me to remember in what order events occurred. Not so with my friend. She nailed what each person did and when. Not to be outdone, I pointed out that the detective missed a pair of discarded gloves with red (perhaps blood) on the fingertips. In the end, the murderer was caught and it was nicely wrapped up with a twist.
After the play finished, I mulled…after thirty years, why does this play continue to be popular in the U.S. and cities around the world? Clearly, my non-reading, non-mystery loving friend enjoyed watching and actively participating. I think part of the winning formula is the somewhat improvised dialogue and fluid storyline ensuring no performances are exactly alike. Yet, it’s more than that. Maybe it's successful because people truly enjoy a challenge? Or, perhaps it’s because they become an integral part of a process to bring about a satisfying ending?  I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to know their secret and use it in my writing.

What do you think is the best way to keep a reading audience engaged? Have you attended a murder mystery party or play?

Monday, October 22, 2012

'Tis the Season or It's Raining Catalogs
Yesterday the stack of catalogs on my desk keeled over, smacked into a manuscript that I had printed out (all 320 pages) and knocked into the neatly ordered stack. My desk looked like a cyclone had hit it. The shiny covers promised fulfillment of holiday materialism. They were too slippery to provide a stable foundation. But I wax in allegory.

Every fall the catalog companies crank out their holiday issues and my mailbox becomes burdened. Those pertaining to children I immediately throw out. I’m certain the companies keep track of my socio-economic data, and even though I’m old enough to be a grandmother, I’m not, so perhaps they think their children’s catalogs interests me. I could have young nieces and nephews, but mine are adults.

I admit that I’m not a great shopper. If catalogs substitute for a trip to the mall, I thank all of these companies. But I don’t buy much of their merchandise. Reading about the materials used, looking at the colors and finding the right sizes without using my senses provokes my skepticism. Although driving to the mall costs gas and car depreciation, the shipping costs exceed those expenses. When a catalog boasts free shipping, I look through the catalog closely checking if any of their merchandise would appeal to my kith and kin.

I have to admit to paging through most of them, but then I quickly toss them in the waste bin without a second glance. Sometimes I wonder if catalogs are surpassing books in publication. For those who lack a computer, access to the Internet (gasp!) or those who can’t drive anymore to shop, catalogs are essential. But I think those people are in the minority. I’d rather get a pretty postcard advertising their website and online catalog rather than waste trees on publications that go from the mail to my trashcan often without entering my house.
My sister is the queen of catalogs. While at the beach, I glanced through some of them. Her catalogs contain exotic merchandise not readily available in stores. I saw $500 boots (yes, they were beautiful) and a Scandinavian down jacket that I’m sure was well worth the $1000 price tag, but my author’s pay won’t allow me those luxuries. Neither can my sister afford them, but then she’s interested from a professional perspective since she used to buy for a department store. She also had celebrity catalogs. One put out by Robert Redford, of course, was titled Sundance. And to think I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid three times—but then Paul Newman couldn’t be beat, not even by Bob.

My favorite gifts are books. My favorite store: Buxton Village Books, an indie. The owner advertised a new book on Torpedo Junction, aka, The Graveyard of the Atlantic, those waters off the Outer Banks where German U boats waged war during WWI and WWII. My husband will receive that one (and I’ll read it too). As a last resort, I’ll give Amazon gift cards, which I always hope are spent on books. Do you shop by catalog?   

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Understanding Amazon’s Book Pricing – An Update

In my July 22nd blog I discussed the mysteries (to me, and apparently also our readers) of the logic behind Amazon’s pricing. I promised to follow the pricing of Catherine Coulter’s Backfire over a three-month period to see what I could learn. Time’s up and as Regis would say, “Our survey said...!”
Below is a graphic depiction of Backfire’s price on Amazon (hardcover), Barnes and Noble (hardcover) and electronically for the Nook and Kindle.

One thing that is clear from this graph is the effect of publishers setting prices for e-books. Throughout the study period Amazon and Barnes & Noble priced their e-book versions of Backfire at $12.99. It will be interesting to see what happens to e-book prices after implementation of the judge’s order that now allows retailers, not publishers, to set e-book prices. I've decided to pick Michael Connelly's The Black Box to follow through a three-month selling cycle to see what I learn and then pass that information on. It's currently pre-publication hardcover price is $18.21 on Amazon and $18.93 on B&N. Both have electronic versions at $14.99.

Another clear point is that if you are patient, you can pay considerably less than the pre-publication price. Shortly after the book became available, the price dropped; it stayed lower for a bit more than a week, climbed higher and since then has bounced around both higher and lower. Marketers (and economists) know that people who pre-order something have a stronger motivation to buy it, and consequently are willing to pay a higher price.

In comparing Amazon and B&N, I must confess to several problems. First, I would usually remember to check prices first thing in the morning. I did not catch any mid-day adjustments. This is only a minor issue. However, in the midst of this analysis my father took sick and died, and I missed recording any book prices between 9/2/12 and 10/6/12. Consequently, the big long slide pictured after 9/2 is the program connecting two distant points with a straight line. I have no clue what happened in that month.

However, those flaws do not affect the general story of this analysis: prices fluctuate widely over time, but there is not much difference between Amazon and B&N.

Here’s a second graph that illustrates the comparisons between the two book sellers:

Fifteen of the twenty-two data points have Amazon and B&N showing equal prices. Four of the remaining seven observations show B&N with a higher price than Amazon. Of the three where B%N was lower, two were within the last week and a walloping $.02 lower. Is this price equality collusion between the booksellers?

Probably not and here’s why. Amazon has a link you can click for any book that allows you to report a lower price somewhere else. This mechanism alerts them to situations where they are priced higher than the competition. For another online retailer they only ask the date, book price and shipping cost; for physical stores they ask the store name, location (city, state), price and date. Amazon has enlisted millions of unpaid price-checkers to make sure they are the low-cost provider.

I recall a case study of the airline industry from my MBA days. An airline would publish a new (higher) airfare essentially as a trial balloon. If the other airlines matched the airfare, the new higher fare would stick. If the other airlines didn’t match the increase, the first airline would reduce their fare to the original level. (This was decades before the current airline pricing structure that prices each seat according to a plethora of factors—and that’s an aside I won’t pursue.) Airlines were big moneymakers back then—until the discount airlines entered the business and didn’t play by the gentlemanly rules of the day. Even so, just this week I read in USA Today that Southwest increased fairs by a few bucks and it was being matched by other airlines.

The big publishers were a closed club like the airlines of old and could dictate pricing. Was and could are the operative words here. They can still set a “retail” price for their books, but as evidenced by Coulter’s Backfire, which listed at $26.95, the online price has been discounted anywhere from 32% to 45% (as of this writing). Publishers still controlled pricing of e-books (at $12.99, a discount of 52% from the hardcover price), but have now lost that as well.

Others have done analyses comparing what an author makes on the sale of hardcover, paperback and electronic versions of the same book when using the big publishers. Amazon’s new pricing flexibility may change the mix of books sold—it may even change the number of books sold. A major factor for traditionally published author revenues will be whether Amazon’s pricing structure will also affect what they pay the publishers, which is what ultimately affects what authors make. If so, that will be another death knell for the large publisher’s model.

Next week, I plan to discuss what all this might mean for Barnes & Noble.

~ Jim