Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Getting Comments from Family and Friends

Close friends or family are not only aware of an author's work, they may be their biggest cheerleaders. Some of them may have adjusted their schedules to help a writer find time to work. 
 
Often authors turn to friends and family as first reviewers of a draft. However, they may be so impressed that we finished a book they are not sufficiently critical, in the literary sense. 

It is natural that those close to you are among the first to read your work, perhaps even chapter by chapter. A spouse or best friend may have the interest or talent to comment on character or plot development. 

More likely, friends and family will provide general reactions. My sister's reviews always lead to at least one forehead slap, with me asking, "How did I not see that?"

Once you have comments from family and friends, you—and only you—decide which to incorporate or which to disregard. You may have a friend who thinks because they took the time to read your project that you should take their advice. Not so, though it's important to thank everyone who offered feedback.

After you make revisions based on the friendly fire, approach someone with expertise. Perhaps a librarian, English teacher, or local journalist will be willing to read a draft. This is a major request, so you need to be professional in how you approach them, and you need to make it easy for them to decline.  

What?! I’m serious. I don’t believe in guilting people into something. Let them know they are seeing a second or third draft. This could encourage them to read your work.


DON’T LET ANYONE BURST YOUR BUBBLE

We wouldn’t start a book or blog post if we didn’t think we had something worth saying. No matter how modest we are, we like that first draft or we wouldn’t be passing it around for comments. 
 
Even so, our work can always be improved. An author is too close to a project to see its flaws – perhaps even to spot inconsistencies or inaccuracies.  

That’s why we ask for input. 

Stay confident in your work. When it comes to comments, take what you like and leave the rest.

* * * * * * *
Adapted from Elaine's course, Writing and Publishing When Time is Scarce, copyright 2017. 
www.elaineorr.com

Friday, October 6, 2017

PTSD: A Family Affair in Falling Into Place

Some books rattle around in your head for years. The idea for Falling Into Place grabbed me more than a decade ago, and I wrote perhaps 10,000 words. It is the story of Everett, a father of four who prefers his gardens to a lot of people contact. In the 1970s, he's a stay-at-home dad before it was a choice.

And he has a secret.

Since readers see the world from Everett's point of view, they know he used to be an electrician, but can no longer work because of the 'qualms.' His wife, Sue Ellen teaches, and has been pretty good at not showing resentment. His four children don't understand his passive interactions with the world.

Readers have the vantage point of the 21st century. Everett's memories of airplanes and poppies in North Africa during World War II and ensuing anxiety seem to be PTSD -- a term not used to describe World War II veterans who had difficulty coping with the world.

N. Africa, as Everett saw it.
I remember my father using the phrase shell shock to describe someone, I don't remember who. Such topics were not discussed. Nor are they in Everett's home.

Falling Into Place opens as Everett's world turns upside down. His wife's cancer battle doesn't look winnable, and his four twenty-something children aren't sure he'll be okay on his own in their town of Burlington, Iowa.

As an author who usually writes light mysteries, I found Everett to be his own mystery. I made the puzzle, so I had to figure it out.

Through the years, pieces of his life -- present and past -- came into focus. So did his wife, children, and a precocious granddaughter. But how to reveal his secret? If I had tried to force the discovery, something less than perfect would have emerged. Not to say the book is perfect now, but as his past surfaces, the influence of his World War II experiences becomes clearer. To him and his family.

The past and its impact can't be erased. But awareness can lead to understanding. I describe the story as one told with humor and grace. To me, that's Everett's world -- when he lets people in. I think you'll find him worth getting to know in Falling Into Place.
                                                           *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grab a Chair and Enjoy Pompeii

Someone asked me to recommend a few books, and the first one that came to mind was Pompeii, by Robert Harris. I've read it two or three times, which is unusual for me. 

We all know how the story ends, right? What makes this fascinating is the forewarning from the aqueduct that brought fresh water to a quarter of a million people in towns around the Bay of Naples.
A young engineer (who oversaw the water supply) realized that whatever stopped the flow into some of the towns was caused by a lot more than a broken pipe.

Marcus Attilius would have a huge task if all he had to do was find and fix the source of the problem on Mount Vesuvius. The bigger personal threat is a corrupt "real estate developer" (to use a modern term) who has benefited from special access to all that water. (Think bribes.)

I love books where science and engineering have a role, especially as they relate to water. Background about Roman engineering feats mixes well with intrigue and a touch of romance. I highly recommend it.  Kindle   Barnes and Noble  
                                                           *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Finding Ways to Share Books with Readers

What's better than sharing a good book? Reading it. I was reminded during a hospital stay, when working with an occupational therapist. (No big problem, knee is fixed.) We hadn't been talking two minutes when we realized we both loved to read. We talked books nonstop until we were done.

In the pre-ebook days, I traded books often with friends. A good book could get tattered.
Remember the huge tables of used books at garage sales and bazaars? Or library sales of used books? Books cost something, but not much. Sales continue, of course, but it will be interesting to see if they have fewer books over time.

Ebooks are easier to share -- you can do it across continents with a couple of keystrokes. You can also get a number free just by searching retail sites for such things as "free cozy mysteries." Authors can also choose to let purchasers lend an ebook, usually one time only. (Not true for all books.)

What if an author wants to share books with a bunch of readers? We like to sell books, so why share for free? The primary reasons are to encourage reviews and create enthusiasm (a.k.a. buzz). Though authors are the primary audience for these ideas, readers can use them to ask an author for a book.

Popular methods authors use are:

1) A pdf sent to the reader's laptop. Clunky but functional, and works for everyone willing to read an electronic book.

2) Copy (in one of several formats) sent directly to a reader's Kindle. Every Kindle has a 'free' address that can receive documents from approved senders. If you aren't familiar with this terrific sharing method, check out my earlier blog post.

3) Smashwords coupons. Authors who publish on this site can create coupons for free or reduced priced books, in any format. I create them with long-term effective dates so I don't have to remember to check expiration dates.

4) Instafreebie lets authors load a book and give it away as a mobi, pdf, or epub. The site can be used for books published anywhere, as long as the person providing them to Instafreebie is authorized to do so. (Here's a sample of one of mine, Falling into Place.) FYI - authors can use Instafreebie for (dare I say it?) free, or pay a monthly fee to publicize a free book and garner names for their email lists.

5) Book Funnel also lets authors provide copies of their books, in multiple formats, via a link to their site. Books here can also be published anywhere. While Book Funnel has no free option for authors, fees are less than Instafreebie if an author provides relatively few books per month. This site is also integrated with programs that provide authors with recipient email addresses.

6) Goodreads Giveaway is still for paperbacks only, and prizes are by random drawing. Generally it has newer books. Unlike Instafreebie and Book Funnel, readers can peruse a list of free books. However, no guarantee they'll win one.

7) Author group giveaways are generally tied to Instafreebie or Book Funnel, but some are run independently and can be found on Facebook, or referenced on Twitter. Readers can choose one or all of a group of books promoted together.

8) Bookshare is a site for individuals with a print disability -- such as low vision or difficulty holding a book. There are requirements to be certified to use the site (and who can certify), but if you have difficulty with print books, the site is worth checking. Annual fee required.

9) Ebook Discovery lists free books daily, generally organized by subject or genre. Links are usually to a site such as Instafreebie. I hesitated to mention them, because there are many such sites, but I've used them and found it a seamless process.

Some sites have lists of available books, some simply give authors a place to direct readers and authors publicize the availability. You can search some of these sites passively, but you can also email an author to see if they have books on sites such as Instafreebie or Book Funnel.

Readers are most likely to get books if they say they will review them. Free books do not require you to leave a good review (or leave one at all). Sites such as Amazon require that reviewers indicate if they received a free copy.

As one who sells books, I love buyers. The hope is always that a reader may borrow or receive free one book and choose to buy others by the same author. Bottom line, keep enjoying books!
                                                          *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Through Writing Options

      When I was about twelve, I had a lot of ideas for stories, but no idea how to share them. This was the 1960s, so books were in the library or you could buy them at school under the Scholastic Book Program. It didn't seem that kids wrote them.
Back yard games. No wonder I didn't finish anything.
     Still, I'd take a notebook and go into the backyard -- wearing my charm bracelet -- and think about the stories in my head. But I was afraid they were dumb, and I tore up what I wrote. Not to say they were good, but it would be fun to look at them now.
     Regret that I didn't have the courage to put my ideas into stories may be why I write books with titles such as Words to Write By: Putting Your Thoughts on Paper. I honestly believe that any of us can write -- maybe not always sell, but write. And maybe get good enough to sell.
     Writing is not a lifestyle, it's hard work. That hard work can lead to a flexible schedule, but any busy person (especially parents) will tell you that working at home does not mean you can drink coffee all morning.
     Perhaps you have a specific idea for a novel or want to share the method you used to pay off student loan debt in only five years. Maybe you worked in retail during college and have ideas that would help managers motivate younger employees more effectively.
     Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience.
 
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW?


     New subjects mean learning a lot and meeting new people. I find it boring to write what I know, but it can be a good starting place.Familiar topics mean less research and faster completion.
     If what you have is the idea of writing but aren't sure what to write, think about the following points.
  • Games you play
  • Kinds of books you read
  • Music you listen to
  • Movies you’ve liked
  • TV documentaries you watch
  • Sports you play
  • Hobbies you enjoy
  • Things you collect
  • Places you have visited
  • Places you want to visit
  • Comic strips that make you laugh
  • Teachers who inspired you
  • Things you have been complimented on
  • People you taught to drive
     People you taught to drive? That’s in case you want to write about how you handle frustration so others can model (or avoid) your experiences.
     The bottom line is, no matter what your life experiences, they can inform your writing. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction.
 
ARTICLES OR BOOKS?

     Some print magazines pay for articles, or your local paper may pay small fees for freelance articles. Web content is always needed and many writers are freelancers. A search for online writing opportunities turns up dozens of sites. (A couple references are at the end of this post.) Finding opportunities is the easy part. Studying their guidelines and writing to them take time. Handling rejection takes guts.

      Because of sites such as Amazon, itunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble (Nook Press) and other retailers, literally anyone can write a book and publish it themselves. That doesn’t mean you should, but at least you have options. You can also seek an agent to help you get a publisher.
     Some might say writing is the height of arrogance. Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you only need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience -- and income.

START BY WRITING SHORT

     HOWEVER, unless you are passionate about an idea for a novel, I would start with something shorter. Writing 60-80,000 words of high-quality content takes time - much of it in the rewriting phase, which could frustrate a novice.
      Revisions are essential. You only get one chance to make a first impression with an agent, publisher, or readers. Do you really want to spend several thousand hours on your first project?
     If the answer is yes, find a critique group and go for it. Buy stock in a coffee company. Avoid snacking when you aren't sure of the next plot point. Smile.
     If you aren't sure you want to invest that time for an uncertain outcome (a.k.a. rejection letters), visit the library to browse the magazine racks. Google "blogs that deal with [insert favorite topic]" to see what's on the web. Don't be discouraged if your ideas are already out there. Your take may be different, and each publication has its own audience.

FINAL POINTS

     If you are considering a writing career because you're fed up with your day job, that's fine. But  don't quit. Consider how long it took you to learn what you needed to know for your current job. You don't need years of post-high school education to write an article or book, but you will want to read how-to articles or perhaps attend a local writers' conference.
     Finally (really) nothing makes it into print or to the web until you put your tailbone in a chair and begin to write. Set up a schedule (even an hour per week) and don't stop.

RESOURCES

How to Make Money Writing for the Web, Brian Klems, Writer’s Digest Blog, July 19, 2013. Good overview of places to find opportunities and how to approach them.

For an example of providing good content and monetizing your blog, look to: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/start-here/ The blog posts are useful, but they also lead you to the blogger’s books and courses. If you see yourself making money as a blogger, keep in mind that blogs like this are full-time jobs!

Every Writer’s Resource lists the 50 best places to publish literary fiction.

The Write Life publishes a list of 20+ magazines that pay for short stories.

Mark Coker founded Smashwords, a site that permits self-published authors to load a book once and have it appear on multiple online retail sites. His books on ebook self-publishing and formatting are free at Amazon or his site, www.smashwords.com. Don't read these until you are close to finishing a book or article.
                                                            *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Continuing Connections Find Their Way into Fiction

I've never been one to model characters on real people. It's always seemed limiting. Each August I realize that even though I don't populate fiction with familiar faces, my books are imbued with the traditions of time spent with family and friends.

Why August? I attend an annual family reunion in Southwest Missouri, and usually get together with one or two groups of long-time friends. This year I missed the Iowa book club, but spent a few days in the Colorado Rockies with gracious friends. I recommend the steam engine ride through peaks near Georgetown, CO.

August is also state fair time. If you want ideas for characters (all shapes and sizes) I recommend sitting near the major food tents or any vendor that sells edibles on a stick. You can skip the Midway -- no different than an ordinary amusement park.

Discovery Garden - IA State Fair
The Iowa State also gives a flower-lover lots of images, especially if a major character in a series is a gardener. I didn't realize until I started reworking a novella this summer how much nature has featured in most of my books. You think you see what's in front of you, but the routine aspects of life can fade into the background.

My favorite example of ignoring the obvious came in the form of a wall of an A-frame living/dining area in a house I owned in Maryland years ago. After about six months, I had a dozen or so pictures on the largest segment of the wall. About six months later, I realized every one of the paintings and prints had water in them. No wonder one of my series is set at the Jersey shore.

Despite the visual effects of summer in several states, it's the people who leave the lasting images -- or help create new ones. In the Hobby Building at the Illinois State Fair, I watched one woman look at quilt after quilt. After passing her a few times, I finally asked if she had an item on display. "Oh, no. I don't think I could enter."

When I asked her why not, she said her work wasn't good enough to win. I pointed out that, while it's more fun to win, I've entered items and not won. (Nothing so creative as a quilt.) I love looking behind the exhibit glass at something I entered. I told her I'd look for her next year. Her face is etched in my brain, so she may end up as a character in a book I'm considering.

More than specific people being fodder for fiction is the lasting impact of friendships on the imaginary relationships we create. In one series, I have a few friends who occasionally finish each others' sentences. One pre-publication reviewer remarked that I did that several times in a 60,000+ word book. "You don't have friends like that?" I asked. No, she really didn't. She doesn't know what she's missing.

Life is so busy, especially with school-age children or aging parents to look after. I wish everyone could have time for an 'August Pause.' And the friends to visit during that time.
                                                             *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tell Readers How to Get Your Free Audiobooks

Authors who work with the talented narrators at ACX (which produces books for Audible) receive twenty-five free coupons for new books. These provide a great way to introduce new readers to the joy of listening to books in their car or jogging around the neighborhood.

The folks at Audible have created a more passive way for readers to access books with a free trial membership. It's easy.

Go to www.audible.com and find a book you want. When you click on the book title, part of its address will be its asin (a unique Amazon ID number). Place that ASIN after the following address:
http://www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=
Make sure you leave in the = sign.

Here are a few links to my books, to use as samples for plugging in an ASIN.
Trouble on the Doorstep (5th Jolie Gentil cozy)
http://www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=B00DOIL4GY
Behind the Walls (my favorite cover) (6th Jolie Gentil cozy)
http://www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=B00LFT9N5S
Vague Images (7th Jolie Gentil cozy)
http://www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=B0741H3WJC
Demise of a Devious Neighbor (2nd River's Edge book)
www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=B073V39QPL

Since this is for a free trial membership, it's obviously not for current Audible members. However, every ACX/Audible author who has a new book can ask ACX for twenty-five free coupons. That's right, coupons they can give to reviewers, bloggers, or enthusiastic readers.

Most authors have websites with contact information. If you see a new book, it's worth asking an author if they have free coupons. We love to hear from readers.

Of course, you can always head to your library for books on CDs. Ask your librarian about borrowing digital copies of audiobooks. So many books, so many ways to listen, and so little time!
                                                            *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing Fun for Fourth Graders

Springfield, Illinois is fortunate to have a nonprofit organization called Compass, which hosts after- school homework help and activities at several local elementary schools. In the summer, Camp Compass brings together children from around the city -- part fun, part maintaining skills during the long break.

Compass Director Molly Berendt asked me to teach a couple of sessions on writing to kids roughly ages eight to ten. Hmmm. I lecture a fair bit to adults, but elementary school children?

It took a couple of weeks of thinking, because 'writing' is not always a favorite activity for children. Plus the difference between the skills of eight and ten-year olds is great. I finally decided to read a story, and then offer an exercise disguised as fun.

You probably read O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief in school. Bottom line, some industrious kidnappers are more than willing to return their red-headed victim. I had wanted something with humor and a surprise ending, and I abbreviated the story to accommodate the timeframe. You could have heard a pin drop as they listened.

Now, the writing part....

The adage of a picture being better than a thousand words is apt. What if we had a picture and the kids had to come up with the words, a.k.a., tell a story?

As an amateur photographer of sorts, I have thousands of photos  on my laptop.  First, I chose the construction scene at right. Actually, it's a destruction. These are the remains of the old DC Convention Center, taken from a (usually locked) porch on the 11th floor of a nearby building. Anything with heavy equipment would garner interest. Right? Sorry to say, several of the ideas dealt with burying bodies at the site.

Next, something peaceful. My River's Edge mystery series is set in a fictional town along the Des Moines River in Iowa, so I could load several albums with those photos. This bench faces the river in Keosauqua, Iowa. These stories were sometimes more cheerful -- two involved rescuing children who fell in the river.

The third photo was the first to come to mind. Years ago, a young niece and nephew visited me for a week in Iowa. Aside from the unusual aspects (for them) of visiting a farm and sitting at a  train station watching the Amtrak go by, we visited a playground. My then four-year-old nephew found shoes and socks encumbered his actions. When I noticed he wasn't wearing them, here's where they were. I promise, this is not a staged photo.Don't ask how he got over the fence. I must have had my back turned.

Stories about the playground tended to involve a child being kidnapped, but unable to take his shoes and socks. Vivid imaginations, these kids.

I had 5 by 7 inch copies of each photo, and sheets of paper for them to write or draw on. Plus pencils and crayons, of course. Each sheet had one of the pictures on top, so they'd remember the photo. No one had to talk about their work, but about half of the twenty or so kids in each group did.

Since I don't usually teach children, I found this invigorating and exhausting. I liked the idea of starting an exercise with a photo. Maybe I'll use it with adults...
                                                              *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

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.
                                                              *     *     *     *
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.
                                                   *     *     *     *
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.
                                                   *     *     *     *
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.
                                                   *     *     *     *
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.
                                             *        *        *        *        *        *
 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.
                                             *      *       *       *       *
“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.
                                                                    *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Malice Domestic Conversations

When writers get together you can count on stories -- the ones they are writing and their perspectives on books, life, and whatever waltzes through their minds. This week's Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD was no exception.

On the topic of humor in murder mysteries -- a.k.a. how do you get a laugh out of death? Nancy West notes while death is never funny, how people act afterwards can be. Think funeral scenes. I can never read a Janet Evanovich book without anticipating Grandma Mazur's antics to try to pry into a closed casket.

Since two of my series are set in farm country, in Iowa and Illinois, I was especially interested in the panel on Rural Murder. Stephanie Jayne Evans put things in perspective with a Sherlock Holmes quote "Most evil can be done privately when there is no one around to watch." Also on that panel was Shannon Baker, who has a particularly alert friend. She is always on the lookout for places that Shannon could hide a body.

I got a kick out of Ray Wenck on the Unusual Cops panel. "I am quirky. Just ask any of the voices in my head."

Three new vocabulary words came from the panel "Extra! Extra! Newshouds and Murder." The mix of former print and video reporters even noted varied spellings.
Lede (print) and lead (television): opening paragraph of a story
Nut: core of the story.
Kicker or reefer: end of the piece. Lots of comments on the reefer term, of course.


Molly MacRae talks conflict.
The panel "Oh, to be in Britain" had a great discussion of conflict as the key to drama. Among the ways Molly MacRae builds it are: have people operate at cross purposes, create misperceptions, and have a character ask one question and the respondent answer a a different one.

Leslie Meier had examples of causes of conflict in small towns: tension between new ways and entrenched operations, simmering resentment, and having characters act differently than their role in town would lead people to expect.

As in several panels, an audience member asked whether authors sometimes base a character on a real person, or how they hide the fact if they do so. G.M. Maillet had a great response. She uses the Mr. Potato Head School of Writing. A character trait may come from one person, coloring from another, and so on.

                                                             *     *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Friday, April 7, 2017

Join a Group of Writers - Even if You Aren't Published


I've heard some writers say that when they walk into a library, they think 'why do I bother?' True, there are hundreds of thousands of books published each year. My perspective is that readers always want more, so your book can join the shelves.

What keeps me enthusiastic, even during slow writing periods, is spending time with
other writers.

I’ve been fortunate to live in three states – Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana – that had active local and regional writers’ organizations. They host conferences, workshops, and less formal events. Even when I had a busy day job, I took many courses and had a group of peers without looking far.

In Illinois, not so much, but I keep looking. If you can't find groups of writers, join a book club. Every library has at least one. It can be fiction or nonfiction. At least you will be with people who like to talk about good writing.

You don’t need to join any groups – you don’t even need to tell friends you are working on a book or trying to place articles in magazines. If your schedule is chock full of work and family responsibilities, a local or regional writing organization could seem like a chore. As in all aspects of creativity, there are no 'shoulds.'
  
FINDING LOCAL WRITERS

If a Google search for local groups and queries at the library don't turn up local writing groups, think about Twitter.
 
Twitter lets you make lists of other users – I have them for mystery writers, cozy mystery writers, Iowa writers, and many more.

Wherever I move (three times in ten years), I go through the Twitter lists I've created to see which people noted where they lived. It takes a while, but I find nearby writers (even if not in my town) and establish email relationships. I eventually meet them.

We aren't talking about stalking here, just friendly self-introductions. If you get no response, you haven't lost anything but a few minutes of your time.

LARGER GROUPS AND CONFERENCES

Professional writing organizations exist for every genre. Dues are usually $100 or less. Most have newsletters, some sponsor magazines. You learn a lot and get a better sense of who writes in your genre and which publishers are best for your kind of writing.

A lot of groups, such as Sisters in Crime, lead you to members who live in your area.
(Assuming they have agreed to be listed in the members-only section of SINC's web page.) Even if a national organization does not publish a member list, a call or email to the national office may garner local names.
I generally go to conferences within a couple hundred miles, so I don’t incur big travel expenses. Or I find one near my extended family, so no hotel bills. (Thank goodness for family and friends.)

When you go to a conference, there’s usually a list of attendees that shows where they live. Voila – you’ve found local people. In fact, I was invited into my wonderful critique group in Illinois because I’d met some of the members at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana.

Finding other writers isn’t as hard as finding a new job, but if you don’t live in a town with an existing organization, the hunt does take concerted effort. If you have limited time to write, perhaps that has to be your only focus. Spending time with other writers can come later.

Whatever feels right for you works for you. If you do reach out, you’ll probably find other writers willing to share their experiences.

A FEW RESOURCES 

Writer’s Digest Annual Best Websites for Writers
Some are websites only, some are affiliated with organizations. This is a link to one year’s list. (Because it's a PDF file, you probably need to cut and paste the link.)
www.writersdigest.com/wp-content/uploads/101-Best-Websites-for-Writers-2015.pdf

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the largest writers’ membership organization. It also has chapters throughout the country. www.rwa.com

Sisters in Crime (open to sisters and misters, with active local chapters).
The email monthly SINC Links is worth the reasonable membership fee.

Writers, Agents and Editors Network. Website founded by Jeff Hermann. Hard to categorize this website, but it brings a lot of people together online.
                                                             *     *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter