Sunday, September 19, 2021

Talk Like a Pirate Day is Here Again

     I'm not sure why this eclectic annual event tickles my fancy. Perhaps because it's just so....odd.

    If you are a fan of Talk Like a Pirate Day, make sure to greet your friends appropriately. Shiver me timbers, look who's here. Ahoy, maties. 

    I grew fond of the September 19th holiday when searching for an event to use as a fictional fundraiser for the food pantry in the Jolie Gentil mystery series. Any Port in a Storm developed around the theme, and it may have been the most fun book to write.

    Scoobie was able to find humor in all aspects of the day. Here is one of his pirate limericks.

A pirate charms, that's not new.

Me ladies he said, what to do?

Said the wench this is fun

But from spouse I must run

Or t'will be no chance for a screw.

Jolie's comment? "Not exactly PG-13, is it?" 

    Part of the planning for the funraiser entailed coming up with a list of things people would pay 25 cents to do. (It's a fundraiser, remember?) The list was single-spaced, and included items sure to offend any group. 

  • Talk like a pirate
  • Talk like a grouchy pirate
  • Pretend you are a dead pirate
  • Fart like a pirate
  • Act like a girl pirate (if you are a boy)
  • Act like a boy pirate (if you are a girl)
  • Act like an androgynous pirate (if you aren't sure what you are)
  • Walk like a fat pirate.
  • Show your junk like a pirate
  • Drink from your tankard like a pirate
  • Walk the plank like a pirate
  • Not walk the plank like a pirate
  • Stop talking like a pirate
All this and a murder, too. The book is on all sites, and is included in a Kindle Unlimited box set that's free until September 20th. Enjoy!

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

When You Can't Get a Book Out of Your Mind

Most of us have at least a few books that stick with us. When we know why, it's easier to select other books to read.

Robert Harris Pompeii comes to mind fairly often. As you might guess, the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius plays a role, and we know how that transpires, right? So, no big surprises.

The novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides has a secondary character always referred to as "Chapter Eleven." (You can guess the context.) I listen to audiobooks almost dayly. Every time the narrator announces Chapter Eleven I think of Middlesex.

More recently I listened to Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden. I'd advise reading rather than listeneing if you are at all squeamish -- but I never wanted to turn off the CD player.

Of course, these have compelling characters and plots that "matter." I generally don't enjoy character studies or family sagas, in which dramatic action (in the sense of conflic) is less prominent.

All three of "my" books deal with hsitorical events, Middlesex and The Bone Garden do so from current times, Pompeii is set in 79 AD. I love to read about prominent past events in fiction -- not necessarily as historical fiction.

All three have elements of science, Gerritsen and Eugenides use medicine and Harris' employs geology and water.

I borrow nearly all of the books I read from the library. After reading Pompeii, I bought a copy. Must be my favorite.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Rethinking a Character's Past

I read a blog post today on Writers Helping Writers that contained this sentence. 

"Before randomly choosing a trauma from the past, think about who your character is and how this trauma could make their story journey more difficult for them. Get really curious about this."

I often think about my characters' past lives. Sometimes I'll have a page or two of notes for a relatively minor character. It's the only way (for me) to have a character act purposefully rather than just doing something I need them to do to move the story along.

For the characters in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, they had met for one year in high school and then again nearly a decade later. I had mapped out a number of their high school interactions so they could refer to them as adults.

Slowly I began to realize that those experiences really had shaped who they became as adults, I just hadn't done it intentionally. So I wrote a prequel, and as it evolved I learned a lot more about the adults they became. And they'd already appeared in six books!

A traumatic incident affected Jolie and Scoobie greatly -- in opposite ways. I suppose that makes sense -- easy and fun situations shape most people less than something dramatic (good or bad).

As a result of the prequel (written years ago) I have a character in the wings waiting for a spot in another book. Life does have its connections.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Looking for Free Books?

 Is your Kindle or Nook overflowing with unread books? If not, here are some good ways to find a few.

1) At Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Smashwords, etc., put in search items such as, "Free mysteries" or "free science fiction." Some will appear (usually more on Amazon). Once you've clicked on a freebie, see if the site shows its ranking vis a vis other free ones in that category. That could send you to a list of top free books in a genre.

2) On Facebook there are a number of groups for free books. Try:

Free Kindle Books  (1) Free Kindle Books! | Facebook

Free Books  (1) FREE BOOKS!! | Facebook 

Free PDF Books  (1) Free PDF Books Download | Facebook (You can read these on a computer without a Kindle or Nook.)

Free and Bargain Ebooks -- Kindle, Nook, Kobo, ibooks and more. (1) Free & Bargain Ebooks - Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks & More! | Facebook

3) Book Bub. This site sends a weekly email with bargain and free books. There used to be more free ones, but each week there are a few, and some of the bargain books are good deals. You don't have to wait for an email, go to BookBub for daily deals.

I'll keep adding to this post. All ideas are welcome!

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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Deciding Where to Blog

Blogging can be a useful tool to present opinions, share information, or attract people who want to read about something you produce -- books, crafts, consulting advice, etc. Blogs can simply be fun, too.

Since late 2011, I've blogged about writing, family history, book marketing, and whatever suits my fancy. I decided many years ago to write a quality product and not worry about whether my articles are read 500 or 2,000 times per month. If you want to acquire paid advertising for a blog, that matters. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

The first decision will be where to host a blog, I looked at Blogger ( and WordPress ( 

WordPress has more templates and is said to be better equipped for commerce. I had trouble figuring out how to set up a blog there. Since 30% of the world’s bloggers use it, the problem was clearly mine. (I've since had help in transferring my webside to WordPress, and could blog there. However, since this blog is well-established, I simply reference it on my website.)

A second choice will probably be whether to “self-host,” which means buying a domain name to place with Blogger or WordPress (or another site). In so doing, you are essentially creating a website (and probably paying to host it) and using the site as a blog. 

People who advocate self-hosting point out that you will own your content and it will be harder to steal it. I would suggest these two reasons may not be crucial. You own your writing unless you give the copyright to someone else, and anyone can copy and paste what you write, no matter where you post a blog.

The advantage to self-hosting (a.k.a. buying a domain and paying a website host) could be better capability to add videos, sell products, and add plugins. There are likely more advantages, and you can read about them at different hosting sites. I plan to keep writing books rather than learn more about blogging.

I'm happy with my free site at Blogger, which Google hosts. The hardest thing for me is remembering to write a post three times a month. You'll see I started strong, waned, and am now more consistent.

Content matters most. Wherever you place your blog, I suggest an index, organized by broad topics. You can get to the index to Irish Roots Author by clicking that link at the top left of this page. Have a look.

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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Making Books Starred Favorites

Occasionally I wish I'd done something differently in a book, but mostly I like what I write. Readers (and reviewers) seem to appreciate them, too. So why don't I have 1,000 reviews for each book?

I don't work hard enough to seek reviews. It's a process that builds, and I need to make the foundation stronger.

With most emails to newsletter readers, I mention that authors love reviews and I would appreciate theirs. But, I rarely reach out to individuals.When I first published the Jolie series in 2011, friends, former neighbors, and work colleagues were quick to read Appraisal for Murder and many offered reviews. Perhaps it made me compacent.

If I had paid more attention the next year, I would have modeled my behavior on author Karen Musser Nortman. She emailed me to say Amazon indicated people who read her books also read mine.Would I consideer reading and reviewing one of hers? Sure. 

What I Do 

1) Offer review copies to those on my email list. 

2) Remind people they no longer need to write a recommendation on most book review sites. They can simply give a book the starts they believe it deserves.

4) Spend a little money giving away paperbacks or ebooks. 

5) Introduce readers to Smashwords, an aggregator, which lets me provide coupons for free books. I give newsletter recipients a short lesson in how to do this, because sometimes people worry they might still get charged.

6) Ask readers to leave reviews (or stars) on sites beyond Amazon, especially Goodreads. Millions of readers look to Goodreads for recommendations. (Note: Amazon bought Goodreads a few years ago, but review rules are less strict than on the retail site.)

7) Rotate books as freebies. After a book has been out for a long time, reviews slow or pretty much stop. This year, I began periodically offering books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series for free for a month on Amazon and all sites. This can garner 50-75 reviews -- from more than a few thousand downloads. A few are three stars, but most are four and five-star reviews (or simply stars). Again, these are older books. I want people to buy the new ones. Added reviews do lead to more sales later.

Some Things Not to Do

1) Don't ask people in your household to write reviews, even if they are not relatives. Websites can tell you use the same Internet ISP, and the reviews will be removed.

2) Don't ask the same people to review every book. Amazon may see patterns and remove what they believe to be "friend reviews." Other sites do less of this.

3) Don't imply people can give you a review even if they haven't read a book. It is not a personal endorsement of you, it's a way for potential readers to learn something. 

Things I Recently Learned

The Indie Author Project recently presented a webinar with James Schwartz who gave good advice on seeking reviews. While this was free, he also has a firm that (for fees) can help with many aspects of self-publishing.

1) For new books (or older ones with new editions) ask up to ten people per week to do a review. Schwartz suggests contacting people who have reviewed similar books or are in Goodreads groups that feature books like yours.

2) Develop a common "ask" note to modify for the requests.That will reduce the workload.

3) Track the requests and their results. Not everyone who- agrees to review can follow through, so you you may not want to send them a free book or coupon the next time around.

4) Recognize that a bad review is beneficial because it may keep some people from reading the book and leaving their own bad review. This was the most surprising point of the seminar (to me), and it makes sense.

Things I Should "Know Better" and Do Consistently

Sometimes I kick myself for not being more persistent, about many aspects of marketing. Make no mistake, bringing in book reviews is marketing. I want to write, not market.

1) Wait a few extra weeks before releasing a new book. I go through my wonderful critique group, work with beta readers, and pay a proofreader. But I don't allow enough time to send advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers. Doing this means more reviews the first week a book is released.

2) Use local media. I used to drop copies of new books with all local print media and send press releases to radio and TV stations. For some reason, I do less of this. (Chalk it up to working on new books immediately.) I've moved several times in the last few years, which means I have few personal media contacts. Too bad, just do it.

3) When people on a newsletter list ask for review copies, go to them for all other books. (You can ask if this will be okay.) I put these requests in an email folder, but have not always gone back to them.

4) Ask people who review similar books to review mine. It can be hard to find contact information, so if  I can't, I'll move on. People in sales say the most important perspective is "next." 

Seek Reviews Even if You Work with a Publisher

A larger publisher will send review copies well in advance of publication. Yay! They may even pay the fees for review in Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus. Big yay!

However, you still need to work your networks and ask readers for reviews. Publishers have lots of authors and limited marketing budgets. At some point, they need to move on. Coordinate with the publisher, of course.

I'll report back on results in a few months. Feel free to offer your own ideas.

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Shared Experiences and "Do You Remember" Discussions

The other day, my husband asked me if I remembered the television show Bonanza. I immediately began to sing the theme song, a rhythmic beat that almost mimics pounding horse hooves. My immediate response brought to mind the relevance of shared culture in entertainment.

I like living in a world of "unshared cultures" -- new things to learn, new foods to try. But shared experiences (even if only through common media) can be fun. The "do you remember" familiarity among friends.

How does this relate to books, more specifically, to writing them?

I constanly think about whether readers will 'get' idioms or understand a reference. If a character says something is "bupkes," a reader may know the term -- especially if their father was born in 1915 and used it (as mine did). If they've never heard the word, they might get it from context. 

Unfamiliar terms or references to little-known events give readers pause. You don't want to make them stop and say "huh" too often. By the same token, you don't want to write to the person with the most limited vocabulary.

It's More than Word Choices

In the 1980s, a popular organizational training video discussed the idea that your frame of reference was established by your environment in roughly your teenage years. "Who you are now depends on where you were when." We referred to them as the Massey Tapes, and I just looked them up. The presenter was a man names Morris Massey, and he still does motivational speaking.

The theory was that we see the world from our teenage lenses -- not just our personal experiences but what was going on in society around us. We'll pretty much always do that unless what Mr. Massey termed a "significant emotional event" changes some aspects of our perspective. 

Mind you, I'm talking about this from memory, but I believe it's a fair recollection of the Massey philosophy.

If you grew up in an area that was culturally diverse when you were young (not as uncommon now), you were used to people of different races holding hands or to hearing many languages in the grocery store. I grew up in the DC metro area. The Giant grocery store was like a mini-UN. 

I went to college in an area not as racially diverse and it was...weird. Now, think of the reverse.  If you went from small-town Midwest to Chicago, DC, or New York, you'd wonder what happened to a sense of shared culture. It isn't racist or any other bias. It's just getting used to a lot of differences.

If you stay in the larger city, you eventually realize you don't need to be "alike" to enjoy the same activities. Humor may take a little longer, and you may not regularly eat the same foods or read the same books. But you appreciate the differences.

I think about this as I write mystery series in very different settings. The vocabulary and humor in my Jersey shore mysteries (the Jolie Gentil series) are different than than in the stories set in rural Iowa, along the Des Moines River (the River's Edge series). Especially the analogies and metaphors.

In the Iowa series, I could refer to someone a bit different as a volunteer (a reference to a tall cornstalk amid a bean field). In New Jersey, that would be as unfamiliar as speaking Swahili.

Still, common media bring us together. Not everyone watches reality shows, but people everywhere (in the U.S.) know the TV show Jeaopardy and make jokes about it. Millions of people also commiserated about Alex Trebek's illness, and auditions for his replacement are even noted on television news shows

I've digressed from Bonanza, but I like where my thoughts wandered. I think I'll ask my husband if he remembers the theme song from Cheers.

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