Friday, July 21, 2017

Whirlwind Month of Audiobooks

Though most of my audiobook listening is of others' books (I'm devouring Daniel Silva's and Louise Penny's at the moment), the past six weeks I've been reviewing three of my own as they moved through the production process.

Like many authors, I work through ACX to find narrators, listen to their draft chapters, approve the books, and let readers know how to find my audiobooks. ACX is an Amazon company, and books appear on Audible, Amazon, and itunes. ACX also creates a supportive system for authors who are way more used to keyboards than microphones.

If an author is tempted to record his or her own book, studying the ACX help pages will help her rethink. Not that a writer might not have the expensive equipment and audio editing capabilities. You simply have to ask yourself why you'd want to spend soooo much time recording when you could be writing.

I'm always grateful to narrators. A book that ends up as a nine-hour production may take them 30-40 hours of work. Why? They first read to understand the books as a whole, then learn the personas of the various characters. Even if the books are read more than acted (which is my preference), the narrators vary voices somewhat. I can't imagine how hard it is to remember how they did a voice for secondary characters who may not appear in every chapter.

The first book to come out in the last two weeks was Tip a Hat to Murder (narrator Kevin Iggans). Set in small-town Illinois, Tip a Hat to Murder also has some rowdier (and funnier) characters and more focus on the investigation itself than life in the town than some of my other books. Still, no graphic violence. The protagonist is the local police chief. Usually my sleuths are amateurs, so this was a departure.

Second to appear was Demise of a Devious Neighbor, narrated by Brad C. Wilcox. Authors like all their books, but for some reason I especially loved the way this second book in the River's Edge series evolved.

It could be because I have the most vivid mental pictures in mind -- the book is set in Iowa, where I happily lived for years. I also had a lot of fun with plot twists in this one.

Last but not least is Vague Images, narrated by Paula Faye Leinweber. Paula also did the first two books in the Jolie Gentil series. She really 'nails'  Jolie's personality and irreverent thinking. For the eleven books in the series (ten and a prequel), only three are left to be recorded. In fact, the ebook and paperback of The Unexpected Resolution will only be out next week.Whew! Vague images also brings into focus a romance element in the mystery series.


The full Jolie set should be finished by the end of the summer (only two left). You can check out all my audiobooks at  my web site. I have them organized by the sites that sell the books, to make it easier to find the ones that will play on your device. Amazon   itunes  You can also search for me by name (as Elaine Orr and Elaine L. Orr) on Audible.

I'm proud of and grateful to these narrators. Links to their web pages are also on my site.

Finally, while audiobooks can be expensive, I did a blog post on finding affordable audiobooks. There's something about bring the characters to your ears as well as your eyes that makes them more real. You don't want to miss the chance to 'see' them through your ears.

Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Get the Most from Twitter

Nearly all of us keep in touch with one another through social media. It's fun, and the geographic distances melt away when we look at pictures of an adult child's birthday celebration or college roommate's report on a new job.

While some people use these communication tools for insults, most are respectful. A lot of people do as writers do and find ways to connect with kindred spirits in meaningful ways. Why writers? Because we not only work alone, we don't have a group of nearby colleagues. Or most of us don't.

I signed up for Twitter in 2012, but didn't use it much for a couple of years. What could be said in 140 characters? Why just 'put stuff out there' where you could talk to people or have more meaningful social interactions on other media?

It turns out you can reach people all over the world via Twitter. Some you eventually meet in the real world. My books had no international readers (that I know of) until I began tweeting regularly.

If you are an author who wants to meet readers and other authors, here are some Twitter strategies.

1) Set up an account with a brief statement that says something about books or your writing interests. If you want to talk about your favorite foods or grandkids, consider a separate Twitter account.

2) Pick a professional Twitter name, called a handle. It can be your name -- mine is @ElaineOrr55. A professional name doesn't have to be serious, but you want it to convey something about your work. A friend's mysteries are set in campgrounds, so her handle is @RVMysteryAuthor.

3) Promise yourself that you will post about more than "here is what I write" or "please buy my book." If you have nothing to say, you don't want to be absent for days, so post links to interesting articles or quotes from noted authors -- or others you admire. Stay away from controversial topics. That doesn't mean deny your values, it's simply a matter of staying focused.

4) Start a blog. Huh? We're talking about Twitter, aren't we? If you have a blog you can regularly send out tweets that link to articles on your blog. You'll be providing useful information, and a number of the posts can relate to your books, articles, or subjects you write about. My blog is called Irish Roots Author, and largely deals with writing and publishing. An index lets people search the now hundreds of posts. It's a lot of work to write a blog. I want the pieces to be relevant over time, so I tweet about them.

5) Keep those tweets organized. I have a ridiculously long Word document that has hundreds of prior tweets, organized by the book or blog post they refer to. A single book may have been the subject of hundreds of tweets through the years, because I focus on various aspects of the book or use different hashtags. (More on those in a minute.) I certainly don't scroll through past tweets -- I search for the book title, a holiday I referred to, or whatever piques my Twitter vision for the day. The Word document lets me reuse tweets instead of having to constantly compose new ones.

6)  Tweets have to be targeted to people with similar interests or they are just Internet blather. Hashtags (short phrases that start with #) draw people interested in those phrases. You see them everywhere now -- news stories, Facebook -- but they started on Twitter. The more specific the hashtag, the more likely you are to find people interested in your topic. Using the hashtag #mystery is probably too broad. Saying #JerseyShoreMystery could hit a more targeted audience, assuming you write, as I do, mysteries set at the shore. I keep lists of relevant hashtags, and wrote an (inexpensive) booklet of 500+ Hashtags for Writers. It can get your juices flowing

7) Be selective in who you follow. In a nutshell (you could write a book on this topic), there is no point in 'buying' followers, because they have no interest in your tweets. In fact, many of those 'followers for sale' ads provide large what are called bots (fake Twitter accounts).
Almost every day I look for people with similar interests and ask them to let me follow them. Sometimes their Twitter handles pop up on my screen as suggestions from Twitter, other times I search for a hashtag such as #cozymystery or #amwriting to see who comes up. People ask to follow you. I agree to most of these, but I'm careful not to associate with accounts that promote (for example) erotica or graphic violence via books. To each her own, but those aren't my interests.

8) A key point about followers: there is no point in following people who don't follow you back. When you click on a person's Twitter name, it shows the number of folks they follow and the number who follow them. They only see your Tweets if they follow you back. I don't bother following famous people -- other than a few authors I'm interested in.

9) Create lists of Twitter users whose topics interest you. I won't outline the steps to do this (Twitter has good help pages). Essentially, you group Twitter users by topics so you can refer to the lists of people who like the same kind of books, live in your part of the state, write blogs you like, etc. If I have a new book I may send some people on a given list a note about it. Twitter is not set up like email -- you can't send Tweets to specific groups of individuals. So while it can take a while to send these notes, it keeps all of us from getting spammed.

10) Consider joining a Tweet Team or two. Tweet teams are groups of people with a common interest who retweet one another's posts. You post a tweet, copy the address for the tweet, list that address on a team's Facebook page for that day. Then each person who does so on a given day retweets the other tweets. You need to join Tweet Teams that closely align with your interest -- too broad and you're wasting your time because you won't reach those who want to, for example, read your book. Tweet teams are valuable, but there is such a thing as too much exposure to the same Twitter users.

11) Tweets with images are read far, far more often. You can use book covers or learn basic software (Microsoft Publisher and an inexpensive photo program) to make graphics. Take pictures -- one of my series is set along a river, so I'll post pictures of the river. The protagonist is a gardener, so I post flowers. Here's a sample of a book graphic -- these take me less than ten minutes to make. It's all about having a system.

12) Have fun. You get a sense of people if you join a team or simply pay attention to tweets of those who write books like yours, have similar hobbies, or whatever. I've met several other writers at conferences -- good to put names and faces together.

13) Finally -- limit your time on Twitter. I try to do no more than 10 minutes per day, unless I have a new book or am plugging a couple of blog posts. Twitter is terrific, but far better is dropping by the library and talking to readers or grabbing a book.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Fun Reads with Real-Life Perspecvitves

One of my goals in writing the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series has been to add a touch of real life to the books.

Jolie is a Jersey shore real estate appraiser who has the occasional misfortune of stumbling over bodies. She also heads the local food pantry, has homeless veterans as friends, and (when she can't get out of it) gets dragged to a 12-step meeting by her friends Scoobie and George.

Authors can't put 'messages' in their books – fiction is for enjoyment. However, unless you live in Alice's rabbit hole, we all deal with diverse people, some of whom who need a helping hand.

In the first book of the series, Jolie has just left an ex-husband who cleaned out her bank account, so she is largely focused on herself. A couple reviews noted that. I thought, “Good, they’ll enjoy how she evolves.” I hope they came back for more.

By the second book, she's been encouraged (or conned) into running the food pantry. The work does provide the opportunity for crazy fundraisers. She also develops friends of all ages and careers, including a couple who always bring a laugh. Some of those friends, especially high school buddy Scoobie, make some marked changes in their lives as the series progresses.

Book nine, Holidays in Ocean Alley, was the first (and I think will be the only one) not written from Jolie’s point of view. Novella-length, it’s told from the perspective of Aunt Madge and longtime friend, Scoobie. I especially enjoyed the chance to let Scoobie's humor shine through.
 
By the tenth book (preorder The Unexpected Resolution now, available July 25), many of her closest friends would not be part of her life if she hadn't moved back to Ocean Alley and been roped into running that food pantry. And the books sets her life on yet another new course.

For an overview of the books (and links to them at all sites), check out my blog page devoted to the series. If you'd be interested in a review copy of one of the books, let me know.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Finding Cozy or Traditional Mysteries

I've been asked many times "what are cozy mysteries?" -- it's an occupational norm for those who write them. Essentially they are mysteries that feature an amateur sleuth, minimal violence and swearing, and usually a small town setting. The sleuth's profession or hobby is often an important feature.

Similar to traditional mysteries, the cozy term is a more specific identifier. Traditional mystery authors (Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammet, Earl Stanley Gardiner, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penney, Terence Faherty) are not 'gory,' but have detailed murder descriptions and (dare I say it?) more elaborate plots. Their protagonists tend to be professional crime solvers, though not necessarily police. I think of these traditional crime solvers as spending more time in their heads than protagonists in cozies -- or thrillers, for that matter.

If you'd like to listen to podcast discussions about traditional mystery authors' books, head to the Classic Mystery Backlist. There are many wonderful lists of the books, this site gives you an audio option. It's a wonderful resource.

I use The Cozy Mystery Blog List as a resource for cozies. There are so many Facebook groups that deal with cozy mysteries, that you could hardly get through them in a morning. I often visit Lisa K's Book Reviews, Cozy Mysteries 24/7, Murder and Mayhem Cozy Mysteries, Joy's Clipboard Reviews, and Save Our Cozies.

One group that gives a great entree to the genre is Craving for Cozies, which has a 2017 challenge of sorts. Individuals post information on books they are reading or have read. You don't need to join the challenge, you can simply peruse the lists of those who have chosen to participate. You indicate the number of cozies you plan to read by 'joining' one of the categories. You could think of the grouping names as a level of addiction to the genre.

Peckish – 1 – 10 Cozy Mysteries
Famished – 11 – 20 Cozy Mysteries
Yearning – 21 – 40 Cozy Mysteries
Starving – 41 – 60 Cozy Mysteries
Ravenous – 61 – 80 Cozy Mysteries
Voracious – 81 – 100 Cozy Mysteries
Completely Satiated – 101 or more


I wish I had come across the group earlier, but it's never too late to join. I joined at the 'famished' level. The only drawback to trying to write three books this year is that I read less!! And I do read many other types of books. 

If you say you don't have time to read, think audiobooks. Probably half of my reading is done in the car -- I do drive a lot. I buy a few used ones to keep in the trunk (to avoid the agony of being without a book), but I generally get mine from the library. To share the joy, I did a blog post on inexpensive access to audiobooks.

Now that hot weather has reached the northern hemisphere, it's time to pull out a lawn chair and grab a book. Or five.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Turning Point with a Twist

The Unexpected Resolution, tenth in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, took a while to write. I wanted the characters to take their lives in a different direction, and that took some planning.

Along the way, as often happens in my books, the direction shifted. I don't outline my books, though I do start with a premise and a few major plot points. Then I jot ideas as I go.

Eventually, I get to a pause point. Some authors call it the muddled middle. I think of it as a fork in the writing road. I'll deliberately have a character ask a seemingly unanswerable question or get on a train (or in a car) without a certain destination.

While the character hangs in abeyance, my brain keeps working. In The Unexpected Resolution, a key character asks,“When Dad and me didn’t make it to the wedding, why didn’t you look for us?” I did know the answer to that question. The issue was how the groom would respond. There were several possibilities, and each would take a new relationship in a different direction. After a week or so, I picked the response I thought worked best.

Several longtime readers have asked if this will be the last book in the series. In a word (okay, two),  no way! In fact, at the end of "The Unexpected Resolution" you'll find the opening to book 11. (If you want to catch up on earlier books, visit http://elaineorr.com/Fiction.html)

The Unexpected Resolution is available for preorder on Amazon, with a release date of July 25th.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.
 

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Truth in Fiction: Guest Post by Sue Stewart Ade

          I invited Sue Stewart Ade, a member of the critique group I attend in Decatur, to share thoughts about her recent story, “Pumpkin Blossoms,” which appeared in Food and Romance Go Together. I’ve read Sue’s fiction and a memoir she is crafting, and wondered if she blended any of real life in her fiction. Turns out, she sometimes does. Let's hear from Sue.
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 I write fiction and memoir and love talking about writing. But I never thought about how much of my fiction was true until I was in Gulf Shores last winter and attended a book club. We were discussing a novel by a local author, and the woman next to me asked, “I wonder what parts of it are true?”

My first reaction was, “Well, it’s fiction, so it’s not true.” 

Then I thought about my own fiction, and parts of it are true. In fact, a lot of it is true!

In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian yearns for love and falls for a dog and her sister’s former boyfriend. But the dog bolts, and the boyfriend seems to still have feelings for her sister. So she goes about her summer, hoping for love, but prepared for what comes.

The opening scene has Jillian chasing a Saluki. The dog is based on a Saluki I saw on TV. His eyes were so sad, I just wanted to take him home. So I did, and named him Honda. But I didn’t realize how much love he would need before he trusted me—just like Jillian’s Honda.

When I started writing “Pumpkin Blossoms,” that experience popped into my head. That is what’s fun about writing. I’m not a planner. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to find out. So I try to set up my stories so the reader will want to know, too.

I like surprises. When I read a story I don’t want to suspect what’s going to happen. I want to keep turning the pages to find out. Of course, in a romance you’re always hoping the guy and the girl will get together.

Another part of the story is based on a college experience. I came back to my apartment one day to find my roommate, who was in a wheelchair, in her bedroom, crying. She cried the entire day. Later, I learned that was the date she was in a car wreck and lost her parents—and the use of her legs.

The pain of her experience informed my feelings as I wrote about Jillian’s’s loss of her parents.

As I writer, I also dig into why a memory is important. In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian and Honda are wounded souls. Both are healed by love.

The story’s pumpkin blossom are also based on reality. My husband plants pumpkins, but he picks the blossoms to cook and eat. The title also refers to Jillian being called Pumpkin by her dad. 

My advice to other writers is to use your memories. Then the question I love is, “What if.”

“What if” the memory happened a different way? Let your mind explore until you hit on the “ah-ha” moment.

I used to think fiction and memoir were opposite genres, but the more I write, the more I realize they are not so different. A good story is still a good story—whether it’s truth or fiction.
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“Pumpkin Blossoms” appeared in Food and Romance Go Together, an anthology published in May by Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Books, LLC. Learn more about Sue Ade by reading Friends Forever (romantic suspense) or visiting www.sueade.com. To show food and romance really do go together, check out these crunchy fried pumpkin flowers. They make a great summer starter.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Books that Stay in the Drawer

Writers hone their skills in many ways. Tried and true, of course, is write consistently.

I'm not sure if writing prompt exercises are bigger now than a few years ago, or if I didn't pay attention to the activities. Not saying my ideas are always good, but enough pop up at odd times that I don't go looking for them.

At one Midwest Writers' Workshop, an author said that when she gets stuck or isn't sure of the direction to go, she does a 'what if' exercise. Generally it's something unexpected or off the wall. In the context of what I write, that could be something such as, "What if [one of my amateur sleuths] got offered a job that tied her to a desk?" Or maybe, "What would happen if instead of a finding a belt in the closet, Jolie's fingers wrapped around a snake?"

I used the "what if" scenario at the end of one book when I wasn't satisfied that clues for the murderer were subtle enough. Wandering through my mind was the thought, "What if so-and-so was the murderer instead?" A bunch of things fell into place, and I changed the killer.

The idea must have been in my subconscious all along, because it was a seamless rewrite. When people say they didn't figure out the killer until the very end, I don't say neither did I. But it's tempting.

No matter how much a book's direction changes, some of them aren't meant to find an audience. I worked for two years on a 100,000-word story that is a cross between a thriller and a traditional mystery. And therein was the problem. Readers searching the shelves are looking for a thriller or a traditional mystery.

So, though I keep the three-inch folder, I'm about ready to toss it. I came to that conclusion because this spring it's twenty years since I finished the book. High time to head to the landfill. (No, not recycling. I don't want to risk inflicting that plot on an unsuspecting reader.)

I know a number of authors who have books they never tried to publish, or those that an agent or editor said wasn't salvageable. I call these learning books. A wise friend wrote five before she thought her skills were good enough to send the sixth to a publisher. That book was immediately accepted. She learned well.

Perhaps those who've completed learning books are writers who didn't get a creative writing degree. I took English and journalism courses (and wrote dozens of nonfiction reports), but writing fiction used very different skills. There is no reason to think we "know how to write" just because we know how to present cogent thoughts.

If you're working on that first book, check out my post on What to Read When You Want to Write. In fact, the first book on the list (Jane Cleland's Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot) won the Agatha this year for best nonfiction. Well worth your time. You might end up with fewer books in that drawer.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.