Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Article on the Jolie Gentil Series

The blog Randomize Me posted a nice piece on the Jolie Gentil series today.  It was gracious of Hope to ask for the post for her Indie Saturday feature.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Starting the Summer Reading Season

Memorial Day weekend has its somber moments, as we commemorate family members by decorating their graves, but it is largely thought of as the beginning of summer.  As a pre-teen and teen, this meant that I spent a lot of time in the back yard sitting under a mulberry tree reading, with an apple in hand.  This was before air-conditioning was everywhere, but I don't remember feeling ridiculously hot.

I came by this passtime honestly.  With a bunch of small children, my mother had little time to sit.  Her treat was to make a tomato sandwich, pour a glass of iced tea and sit on the back porch with a book.  I feel sorry for people who grew up without books for fun, and sorry for young people today who spend hours with video games.  I'm told there are creative games, but the ones I've seen played don't require any imagination, just the ability to ruin your thumb joints.

But, I digress.  (I always wanted to write that.)  My summer reading plate is full.  I'll include a lot of mysteries, as you might guess from what I like to write.  Margaret Maron has a Deborah Knott book I've not read (Three Day Town), and I haven't gotten into the latests of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series (Explosive Eighteen) or Sue Grafton's latest Kinsey Milhone books (V is for Vengeance). I save my favorite books for treats.  I can read these when I finish the fourth Jolie Gentil mystery.

More than the books of these major authors I am reading some of the hundreds of mysteries that are published each month, some put out by smaller publishers, some by indie authors like me.  I like the Magnolia mysteries by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter.  They are set in North Carolina's coastal country and feature historical preservationist Ashley Wilkes (really).  Ms. Hunter has been publishing these since 2007, and is on book ten.  She has Margaret Maron's talent for depicting the south so that you learn about its history with the current mystery.  Other readers agree.  She regularly has a book in the top 100 for Kindle mysteries.  Murder on the Ghost Walk is the first in the series and I"m working my way through them.

The Lucy Guardino series features an FBI agent who balances a reasonable family life with some pretty intense FBI work.  You rarely see police procedural mysteries that paint home and work life well.  Often family members are more caricatures than characters. I've only read Snake Skin, the first in the series, and plan to read the second soon.  I would not have picked up the series if one of my book clubs had not chosen it, and I'm glad they did.

Edie Claire  wrote the Leigh Koslow cozy mystery series over many years -- so long ago that they were available only in actual paper from Penguin Books.  She has reissued them herself as ebooks, and added a new one that is set a decade after the last one, and Leigh has aged with the passing of time and acquired a set of twins.  I have not read Never Con a Corgi, the new one, and look forward to it.  The first book, Never Buried, is usually 99 cents on Kindle, a good way to start the series.  The books use animal characters well, something I strive to do.

Happy summer reading.  Feel free to share your favorites.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Publishing for iBooks - Confusion Astern!

It has been an adventure to figure out how to direct people to my books for the iPad or iPod.  I have tried to publish directly with Apple, but after the second rejection I took the hint, and my books are on the ibooks sites via Smashwords.

 Initially the books were hard to find on itunes, but that's been remedied. You can see a list of nearly all of my books here:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Offering a Constructive Critique

In a prior life, I edited a great deal of nonfiction.  Much of it dealt with complex subjects, and often the pieces were written by people who were expert in the field and knew how to present information about it, especially orally.  The transition to concise written product, geared to a specific audience, generally worked, but needed  fresh eyes and occasionally restructuring.  The tough part was that I knew many of the writers, and they had often worked on the product as a team.  Surely if they thought a report was"ready to go" all I should do was make sure everything was spelled correctly.  Not always.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on how your tone and word choice can affect your message when you are critiquing the work of others.  The process reminded of some of the concepts I used and shared with other nonfiction editors.  You can check out the post at the site of the American Society for Public Administration.

Today I am more likely to do a book review or comment on another writer's fiction.  If you think nonfiction authors can be a bit touchy about comments on their work, picture a hungry bear guarding her cubs and you have the concept of a fiction writer preparing him or herself to receive comments.

Though I tend to use the "top ten" format a lot, I stick with three basic principles for commenting on fiction.

1)  Always start with the positive.  There will be a character, setting, or aspect of the plot that is good and can be a point to grow from. This can be especially important for younger authors, whose helicopter parents may have swooped in every time a teacher sent home a report card with less than perfect grades.

2)  Consider how the different parts of the story weave together.  As an attentive reviewer, if you think interactions between two characters make little sense or one part of the plot is not credible, these may be the reactions of a reader who spends only twenty minutes before bed with that book.  That is unless it's paranormal or science fiction and there really are ghosts who like to be upside down or purple-headed creatures with sex appeal.  Readers are willing to suspend everyday beliefs when actions or character thoughts are consistent with the environment the author creates.

3)  Be accurate and concise.  If you spell a character's name wrong or write an epistle on how such-and-such a battle during World War II really didn't happen that way you lose credibility with the author and put them into the "whose story does she think this is?" mindset.  The writer can reject every point you make, but let your comments be judged on their merit, not on the extent to which you ticked off the writer as he reads your critique.

There are different levels of editing.  If you are asked to give an "overall reaction" critique that's a very different review than when an author asks for a detailed edit of a draft.  In this time of indie publishing, even if you are giving an overall reaction, if you see consistent spelling or grammar errors you'll be doing a service if you tell the author to look for certain kinds of errors.  Once you point out that a contraction is regularly misused, it helps the writer better review her own work.

The Writer's Center of Bethesda, Maryland once did a staged reading of one of my plays, and I handed a draft program to one of the staff and then went to browse the shelves of used books. Another staffer (who did not know me) came into the room, read the draft program, and made a snide remark about a spelling error.  The first staff member smiled at me and said, "We call it the Writer's Center, not the Speller's Center."   Kindness first.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Couple Freebies for Mother's Day

The second book of the Jolie Gentil series will be free as an ebook at Smashwords until May 27.  Rekindling Motives, can be downloaded as a freebie from When you check out you put in this coupon - LJ76D . You can download it as a PDF, Nook, Kindle, or any other format.  If you like it, feel free to put a short review on your favorite bookseller's web site. 

Words to Write By: Putting Your Thoughts on Paper is a free electronic book this weekend -- May 12th and 13th.  It is a short work designed to help people organize their thoughts as they prepare to write.  While it is geared toward individuals who find writing difficult, and the focus is on nonfiction, Words to Write By is useful to anyone who wants to take a jumble of ideas and put them into a cogent memo or short story.  It will also be free on Saturday, May 19th, because Amazon was slow putting the freebie up today.  Glad I waited to do this post.

Happy Mother's Day to the moms and their children, of any age. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review of Eyes Behind Belligerence

I learn as I read, and recently reviewed a piece of fiction that was beautifully researched.  Eyes Behind Belligerence examines a group of Japanese families  who are forced from their island off of Washington state into internment camps.  The book is a realistic portrayal of of a shameful part of U.S. history, but it is done with poignancy and a bit of humor.  The two main characters are full of surprises.  Check out my review at Self Publishing Review.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jolie Gentil in Large Print

I have been adding large print editions for the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, something important to me because my mother had limited to no vision for many years.  She largely listened to books on tape (long before the digital age), since holding a book was also difficult for her.  The Library of Congress still operates the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), which lends Braille and some specialized audio materials free of charge to those whose need is certified by a designated professional. While there are no audio recordings of my books (yet), making them available in large print does permit more people to read them.  Unfortunately, when the type is larger there are more pages so the price must be higher.  I did the first book Appraisal for Murder (at Create Space or Amazon) in the same 6 x 9 size as the original, and it was more than 400 pages.  I wised up and did the second, Rekindling Motives, in a 7 x 10 size (at Create Space), so it stays in the 300 page range and I can price it a bit lower.  I'm experimenting, and may eventually do all in the 7 x 10 size.  To keep the prices reasonable ($9.99 for Rekindling Motives) the books are only for sale via Create Space and Amazon.  They would have to be at least $2 more to be available on other sites, and that does not seem reasonable to me.  (The cost would have to be the higher price on Create Space and Amazon as well.) 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Writing a Series that Holds Your Interest

I continue to add to my list of ideas for "Keeping a Series Alive and Lively" (an earlier version appeared as a guest piece on Chris Redding's blog).

Other authors write such wonderful mystery series it seems almost arrogant to create one, but I wanted one that had a clear protagonist as well as a couple of good friends and a humorous take on life.  It took me years to develop the setting (I love East Coast beaches) and characters for the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series and write the first two books.  I kept moving between the two, trying to decide who would play what role and how they would work together.  If I was to get lucky enough to work with the characters over a long period they had to hold my interest as much as a reader's.

Consider these points as food for thought for a cozy series.

  1. Will your characters maintain the same characteristics and perspectives throughout, or will they evolve?  Readers may not expect epiphanies from a light mystery, but they could lose interest if main characters repeat the same mistakes or remain stuck in a dull job.
  2. Even-keel characters aren't all that interesting, but you're going to work with the characters for a long time.  Consider if you want to spend time a lot of time with a hot head, heavy drinker, or practical joker.
  3. Will you get bored if your protagonist works as a real estate agent or librarian?  Maybe you'd rather hang out with a woman who explores shipwrecks or a man who creates components for the next U.S. forage into space.  You'll have to do research on their profession no matter what it is.
  4. Will your characters move around the country or globe or stay firmly rooted in their home town?  If they stay in the same town you can introduce characters in one book and have them play a bigger role in the next.  On the other hand, unless it's a really large city the consistent setting can limit how much trouble your characters get into.
  5. If there is something to learn in each book it can pique your own as well as reader interest. The challenge is to have new material without sounding as if you're writing an encyclopedia article. 
  6. Is there a love interest?  With books and television shows, if your protagonist enters a committed relationship or marries it changes more than how they interact with others.  There is no longer "relationship tension," plus they have to keep someone apprised of their whereabouts and respond to the partner's interests and needs.
  7. If you want to express a point of view -- political, religious, cultural -- consider writing an editorial.  If a particular opinion or piece of information is not integral to the plot or character it adds nothing and can sound like a sermon. 
  8. Will your characters age?  Not only would your protagonist age, so would those around them.  If you don't want a favorite uncle to die, he either has to start out younger or live to be really old. 
  9. How will your protagonist find time to solve a mystery?  Trust fund families are rare, and your hero can't be tied to a desk.  I made Jolie Gentil a real estate appraiser, which gives her some flexibility and has her deal regularly with different people.  
  10. There are only so many dead bodies that appear in our lives, and there needs to be a reason that your protagonist runs into more than her share.  Or maybe there doesn't.  It may be enough that each book has a good reason for encountering one.
I'll keep adding to this list, and would welcome your ideas.