Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Finish (or Start) that New Book for the New Year

By Elaine L. Orr

I usually pound away at books throughout the year. In 2022, I had a bigger mix of other responsibilities, and I finished one and started another. Not good if you count on book income.

However, the slower writing year has reminded me of what I tell aspiring authors.

 Except during times of dire emergency, you can find 15 minutes to write each day.

2) To make that 15 minutes productive, jot notes as you think of ideas. Otherwise, you'll forget them.

3) Think in terms of scenes rather than chapters.

4) Think of scenes as building blocks. You can add the transition glue later.

5) You don't initially need to write a story or book in order.

6) Keep paper and pencil in your glove compartment, backpack, or purse. Most people write faster on a keyboard, but you can write parts of scenes as you wait to pick up kids from soccer practice or in line at the driver's license bureau. (Why a pencil? Pens don't write in the cold.)

7) This is the hardest thing. Tell people you will be unavailable at certain times of the day or week. During that time, turn off your phone.

These suggestions may not be useful if you spend a lot of time worrying about what's going on in your life. If you can't get troubles out of your head, write them down. They're still problems, but it may help your mind move to other things (like writing) at least temporarily.

To follow my own advice, I'm using a special calendar in 2023. Each day, I must write one thing I've done to write a new book and one thing I've done to market my 30 books. Why a separate calendar? Because if I see the other things scheduled I won't concentrate on writing.

I'll let you know if it helps.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Give Yourself a Break with a Book

By Elaine L. Orr

In many countries, the time between mid-December and New Year's is fraught with frenzied activity. It's traditional to buy gifts for Christmas and Hanukkah, though the retail madness of the United States is not common everywhere.

Even without a lot of shopping, there are holiday cards, home decorations, baking, office or neighborhood parties, and the continuing concern that you won't get it all done. Plus, if you have to travel, now you have to worry about airplane delays. If you drive, there could be the dreaded snow and ice to slow things down.

Who has time to read?

Yet, having a few minutes with a book before bed or at lunch in the office might save your sanity. Do make it a book. If you open a magazine there will be reminders (usually in the forms of ads) of what's on your to-do list.

From the Univ of Dayton Library

When my mind races, I sometimes pick up something I've read previously. I don't keep a lot of books, so last weekend I went to the sales room Friends of the Library maintains at Chatham Library and found a copy of Robert Harris' Pompei. I love that book -- a great story, a threatened romance, and lots about water. Plus, the volcano. Even though you know Vesuvius is about to blow, the suspense is intense.

I just finished Daniel Silva's Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which is very different than other Gabriel Allon novels. The spymaster has retired, so focus is again on the art world of Europe. And so much humor in the dialogue! 

I deliberately picked up paperbacks the last couple times I visited the library. Audiobooks in the car are my daily reward, but I have to slow down to read a physical book. 

Did you forget about your list for a few minutes? Good. Now pick out a book and promise yourself you'll read for at least fifteen minutes.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Is it Book Marketing or Relating?

By Elaine L. Orr

It's been a while since I've written a post about marketing books. I let readers know about what I've written, but because I have a consistent audience (after twelve years), I pay less attention to it. That needs to change.

The most important thing I've learned is that an author isn't selling her books, she's selling herself and developing relationships with readers and other writers. That takes more time and (dare I say it) sometimes it's inconvenient.

In the "old days," people interested in your work would write you a letter. (That's the piece of paper you have to send with a stamp.) You could answer them every week or two -- I'm not saying I've had tons since 2010, but I always admired how my author friend, Leigh Michaels, stayed in touch with the many fans who wrote to her. She even did a short book in which she answered the questions fans asked.

That takes a lot of time, you say. True, but you could schedule it somewhat. Now, if someone sends an email or message on social media, they expect a response fairly soon. I don't check my LinkedIn account too often, and that has irritated a few people. My bad.

I recently read Krystal Craiker's blog post on marketing tips. Three paragraphs are worth quoting directly.

[Book marketing expert Jean Hanson-Depaula] says, “I think the biggest difference is that book marketing has to show readers that their book is worth their time. Readers have no shortage of options when it comes to books—and other entertainment for that matter.”

Books are a time commitment for readers. For most people, it takes a lot longer to read a book than to stream a movie on Netflix. With so much quick entertainment at our fingertips, authors must show people that their book has value.

Book marketing coach Monique Mensah agrees: “My number one tip for book marketing is to stop selling the book and start marketing the value.” For fiction authors, what experience are you providing your readers? What problem are you trying to solve if you write nonfiction?

These concepts are not fully implemented by sending tweets or buying ads -- not that either is bad. I tweet every day because it's something I can do in five minutes. While I mostly tweet about books I have for sale on varied sites, I also regularly post links to my blog and books of other authors.

The most important thing is to write a really good book. That doesn't happen if you rush through your drafts -- emphasis on drafts, not one-and-done. 

It's exciting to finish a book, especially the first one. But it needs to sit quietly for at least a week or two so you can read it with a less enthusiastic eye and make improvements. And then have others read it (not just friends!) and possibly work with an editor. There are lots of freelance editors and proofreaders today.

Mark Dawson of the Self Publishing Formula says, "“Make sure everything—from the manuscript, the cover, the blurb to the ad copy—all dovetails. In other words, every part of your book needs to fit together and be high quality to convert your readers." (Convert? That's a marketing term that means making it easy for someone to get from thinking about a book they see on a shelf or retail website to actually reading it. And then your next book.)

The best thing I've done in terms of marketing was to have all of the covers redone so the twelve books and shorter novellas in the Jolie Gentil mystery series have the same look. When I started the series, I envisioned three books. Ha! Readers now recognize the series before they read the title of a new book.

The best advice I could give is to do at least some marketing every week. It's easy to focus on writing (and the rest of your life) and not consciously look for new readers. You'll find good suggestions in Craiker's article or look for marketing in the index to this blog.

Krystal Craiker, "Book Marketing: Fourteen Strategies." You can find this excellent article at 
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

What do Dragons and Mice have to do with Writing?

Turns out dragons and mice are very relevant. Lancelot Schaubert's piece (November 29, 2022 on Writer Unboxed) is well worth a read. He begins by relaying stories of dragons and mice who -- when ignored -- only become bigger problems. Wonderful metaphors as to how ignoring or avoiding issues with writing or submitting can become major hindrances.

Here are some good points and quotes from his writing. Make sure to read the comments and his responses, too.

"In every medieval occidental story about dragons — actually, even in some of the medieval luck dragon stories — a dragon unattended grows. When it’s an occidental dragon, your own and the dragon’s greed and anxiety and unattended consequences worsen...How do you think Smaug got so powerful? No homely lakelander wanted to deal with a dragon. No dwarf would harm his hoard."

You really need to read the piece about the mice infestation. (Ugh, but a few wry laughs.) After waterproofing the basement of a Brooklyn apartment, the super found that small rodents had nowhere to go but up -- to closets and even stovetops in the units above. If you'll pardon the pun, the best laid plans of mice and men can go dreadfully awry. 

What followed were, " Traps. Seals. Cleaning. Disinfecting. Throwing away a British stone weight in flour and another in rice and crackers...But we faced the closet and started, simply, by throwing away a small bag of sugar. One half-empty bag. And the dragon got smaller."

And now, to writing. We've all avoided notes, manuscripts that need work, the submission process. And my favorite -- outlines.

As Schaubert says, "You’re avoiding [an outline] because it’s easier to figure out the first draft as you go along and because outlines are freaking hard, annoying, generally unrewarding work. And yet having one will make our first drafts all the cleaner and requiring of so much less revision." Don't you hate it when people know what's going on in your head?

That manuscript dragon? "Turn and face the foe — do the hardest thing in the direction of the highest good, highest beauty, highest calling...Which way? they [the seekers of the ring] once asked Frodo, who said: Towards danger, but neither too rashly nor too straight."

Easy to write, much harder to do. A child's play is also work. It's how they learn -- not just to do, but to interact with their own mind and with others.

Schaubert asks, "How can you make and fail and make and fail and make and fail and make?"

I would say start with a very short list. If it's too long, it'll be too overwhelming. That which overwhelms gets ignored.

I've been trying to talk myself into submitting to agents or small publishers rather than "only" self-publishing. Self-publishing and marketing (especially for 30 books) are hard. But submitting to others is the big unknown, with its own frustrations. And fears.

I used to edit others' work more than I do now. When nonfiction writers would say they didn't know how to start putting together what they had researched, I would say something I learned from another editor. "You can edit crap, but you can't edit a blank page."

So, I won't get rejection letters (much less acceptance) until I submit. As I tell fiction writers who say they have no time, one page a day is a 365-page book each year. I just have to do it.

Reference: Face the Dragon. Face the Mice. A Sonnet in WU Form
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Avoiding Narration in a First-Person Story

Few things take me out of a story -- any tale, but especially those told in first person -- more than a full stop so some hidden narrator can relay details about a setting or person.

To my way of thinking, readers need to get descriptions through the eyes of the character whose head is telling the story.

I've been told I don't explain enough about a room or the clothes a character wears. In a critique group, another member once complimented me on how I described a room the sleuth entered and asked why I didn't have that kind of detail all the time.

Because the sleuth was taking in the room herself. She had a reason to notice colors and kinds of furniture. If she walked into her own living room, she might notice the dog had left hair on the new beige sofa or an open window had caused a vase of daffodils to crash to the floor. But she wouldn't tell herself details about a room in her house. 

On the other hand, I write two series in third person. That allows more ways to relay information. Still, I don't like paragraphs of background or explanation. Why not let the sleuth think about or discover the particulars?

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Best Advice Top Authors Received

And some they offer to others. At the Prime Crime at the Columbia Club conference the last weekend in October, a stellar group of mystery and thriller authors shared advice on a range of topics. There was a lot of agreement, and occasional individual ideas that made others nod.

The authors were: S.J. Rozan (panel chair), C.J. Box, Ruth Dudley Edwards, John Gilstrap, and Reavis Wortham -- shown in order in the photo.

What Are You Waiting For?

Everyone is busy. And sometimes there are other priorities you need to address before writing. As John Gilstrap says, there are 1,000 reasons not to pursue a dream. If writing is to become more than a dream: sleep less, be online less, and simply risk doing it. Bottom line, “Never let voices of others deter your ability to make time.”

Ruth Dudley Edwards had the simplest advice – “Just do it. Don’t get advice, get it written.”

In true Texas style, Reavis Wortham said, “Put your butt in a chair, finish it, and put it in a drawer.” He isn’t saying forget about it. Time away from a manuscript lets you better evaluate it.

It’s Fiction. How Much Does Research Matter?

Another conference panel discussed research in depth, but Reavis Wortham had some specific advice. Readers notice what you get wrong, and it matters to them. If you don’t know a lot about guns, make sure what you say is accurate. Know the difference between a sheriff and the police force. 

I would add that if you don’t know what you don’t know, make sure you have some good cold readers who know a lot about a topic. Even if it’s not key to the story, why describe architecture inaccurately or say someone drove a Mustang in 1942?

Is it Plot or Characters and Setting?

No one will argue a plot has to be well thought-out and (for mysteries especially) offer twists and surprises. S.J. Rozan noted that while Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple may pursue criminals in a similar fashion in all the books, we read them in good part because of the setting and characters. 

C.J. Box added that a great sense of place is more remembered than a good plot. Readers like to revisit places they remember well.

Ruth Dudley Edwards was direct. “Plot is a nightmare. If you use the same characters, put them in new environments.”

How Helpful are Writers’ Groups?

John Gilstrap said critique groups can be good, but members have to give one another more than observations. Say why something doesn’t work well. Edwards emphasized having friends who will tell you when you’re wrong about something.

S.J. Rozan believes there are three kinds of groups. One type will say what you do is all brilliant. That’s no help. Another kind will say what’s good and what isn’t working. That's the kind of group authors need.

The third she deemed toxic. Comments either aren't helpful or (worse) some members put others down or try to tell them what to do. Don’t be afraid to leave a toxic group.

The All-Important Point of View Decisions

In some of my early writing, I used lots of points of view. I recognize now that I thought of points of view as the eye of a camera. A movie shows many people doing things. Eventually, I learned they didn’t all have to tell the story.  Thankfully, these were learning pieces I didn’t show anyone.

C.J. Box thinks establishing the point of view character is essential. If you bounce it around, it takes you (and readers) out of the story. It especially may not work to change point of view within a scene.

Gilstrap says he determines whose point of view is the most dramatic to make a scene work. Write it that way. If it doesn’t work, change the POV character.

You Say You Don’t Have Time to Read

You say you don’t have time to read? Here are some important reasons to read as much as you can, and suggestions to make time.

Reading gives you ideas. Don’t put it off. (C.J. Box)

Read what you love. If you think you don’t have time, decide to read at least a certain number of pages each day. (Wortham)

Read away from the computer. Think of it as part of your job if it’s the only way to be sure you do it.  (Rozan)

While you’re at it, meet other authors. You’ll get advice from peers if you need it. (Wortham and Rozan)

Market of the Moment

Gilstrap says fall in love with your characters rather than writing to the market. Besides, if divorced sleuths or PIs who are recovering alcoholics are in vogue now, they won’t be when your books is done. That’s not to say current books aren’t well done – just write your own.

Wortham stresses to find what you are comfortable writing. That doesn’t mean don’t try something different, but you’ll like the writing process more if you are comfortable with a topic or type of character. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards had some advice that rang especially true with me. “Don’t write something revolting. Do you have to write about cannibals in detail?” Maybe you do, she adds, but don’t do it because it’s the fashion of the moment.

A Few Other Great Quotes

C.J. Box had an interesting point about writing a series. Sometimes people will talk about what they plan to do in multiple books, or how characters will evolve. While it’s okay to look ahead, put all you have in book one. Then think about book two.

Reavis Wortham mentioned a familiar topic – rejection letters. “Never give up!” You’ll get past a low point. He wished he hadn’t thrown out a pile of rejection letters. They’d be reminders (not just to him) to keep at it. His first book was not published until after he retired from a previous career.

S.J. Rozan is always pragmatic. “If there's anything else you want to do as much as write, do that.”

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, October 31, 2022

Authenticity Plus Creativity = a Well Researched Book

The Prime Crime Panel "Research: Write What You Know or Study Up?" brought together four panelists and a moderator (me) to talk about our methods. Throughout the Indianapolis conference, other authors commented on their approaches. 

Some writers cultivate experts who are willing to share expertise on their work, whether it relates to details of solving a crime (Trace Conger) or Mayan civilizations (Julia Kellman). Carol Preflatish has visited the New England area on which her fictional Mystic is based (read Salem). For her first book in the Nathan Perry series she also did a lot of research on witchcraft. 

Karen Musser Nortman (who writes the Frannie Shoemaker campground series) knows a lot about camping, but has to research topics relevant to the plot of individual books. The Corpse of Discovery explored the death of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Did he die of natural causes? Lots of historical research there.

A couple authors advocated having a clipboard with a blank page on top. Even the most reluctant source sees that page and starts talking. 

  Above right: Trace Conger, Carol Preflatish, Karen Musser  Nortman 

Authenticity is key. Conger believes it strengthens the relationship between author and reader. That doesn't mean a setting has to be a real place. John Gilstrap was one of many who said he doesn't want a reader to say that he put a business on the wrong corner.

I do as other some authors do and create a fictional town but place it near real towns. For example, Ocean Alley, home of the Jolie Gentil series, is near Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, New Jersey. Readers can get a better sense of place.       

Above left: are Elaine L. Orr and Julia Kelman

All panelists agreed that we do more research than finds its way into a book. It doesn't represent wasted work; rather good judgment so we don't overwhelm readers.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Photos by Phil Kellman.

Friday, October 28, 2022

A Panel on Research in Writing

As someone who did analytical research for years, I like to delve into almost any topic. If I'm looking for information for a book I'm writing, I need to be careful not to go down the research rabbit hole or I might not surface for hours.

What do I look for in a source?

  • Clear presentation. Run-on sentences, passive voice, and jargon send me back to a search engine.
  • Good information presented with an opinion. Otherwise, it could be the advice of someone on a soapbox in a park.
  • Links to other sources. I do go to Wikipedia as a starting point at times. If there are a number of reputable sources, I'll keep reading or use the online encyclopedia as a jumping off point.

I also appreciate authors who discuss their sources. Look at one of Erik Larsen's books -- nonfiction that tells stories as well as fiction. At the end of every book, he discusses his sources at length. 

I'm at the Prime Crime conference at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis and tomorrow I'll moderate a panel on research and mystery writing. Tomorrow evening I'll let you know what more I've learned.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

In a World Where Makeup Matters

I followed a link in something I was reading (can't remember what, truly) and it took me to a photo of an accomplished movie star. The person who posted it had a comment about the star's makeup not being as carefully done as usual.

Really? An often-nominated actor and the thing to comment on is makeup?

My next thought was, gosh, I hope I always have something else to think about. Then I recognized my snobbery. If we can all be interested in something beyond our daily lives, it broadens our perspective. But still, makeup?

Then I went to Goodreads (which now also houses Listopia) and put in books about makeup, with an option to be fiction. Check out the results.

Some deal with applying color artfully. Others deal with topics such as "Fiction on the Film Set" or "Fictional Stylists." Among the latter was Permed to Death by Nancy Cohen, first in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. I always enjoy her books.

Someday when I'm not working on two books, I'll explore this topic further. I should probably start with horror. Where would that genre be without disguises? And what about spy fiction? Spies in Disguise is a series for young readers that could draw anyone into reading -- though most kids probably like the Disney animated series.

Think to Follet's masterful Eye of the Needle. German spy Faber has created a meticulous identity, and of course has a backup. Disguise yes, not so much makeup. A lot more to think about.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why is it so Hard to Write Sometimes?

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

― John Steinbeck

With apologies to Mr. Steinbeck, it doesn't always work that way. Plus, long-haired rabbits make me sneeze.

At the moment, I've figured out the basic elements of a new book -- lead characters, overall plot, timing for major events -- and so on. I even have a rough draft of the first couple chapters. So why am I not halfway to the middle? 

For me, it usually means I have a lot on my mind. I do, at the moment, but nothing insurmountable. 

I think about the action a lot, and the pause in writing has led me to come up with really good title for the thirteenth Jolie Gentil cozy mystery. I'm trying to do something different, which is to have a second point of view character, one who has been away from the series for a while. That's hard to do. But why hide from hard?

Apparently, I'm doing this post to figure out why I'm not writing more. So, I'll commit to having a full first draft by the first week in November. That's a scary thought. 

Don't let me off the hook.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, September 10, 2022

When to Keep a Secret and When to Tell Readers More

 Authors who write a series -- whether sci fi, fantasy, mystery, romance, or family saga -- grapple with how much to tell readers about what happened in prior books. The second choice is whether to do it through narrative or dropping pieces of information in dialogue.

A lot depends on whether you write in first or third person. Whether a book uses a narrator or not, those in third person can have paragraphs of description about current or past events. The main character(s) in first-person novels can ruminate or discuss events in the past, though the information has to be part of the flow and not a convenient dump of material.

As my longer series progresses, reviewers will sometimes say it helps to have read some of the earlier books rather than jump in at, for example, book ten. I agree, not so much because of the plot but because the characters' lives have changed over time. 

The bigger question, especially with mysteries, is how much to reveal about past books in the book underway. Readers don't always read books in order (I don't), and they may not want to go to book two if they learn what happened as they read book five. 

One of my favorites is the Virgil Flowers series by John Sandford. Flowers is a state investigator for Minnesota, so he works fairly independently. In each book the rich character development and subplots keep things moving. And I love the humor.

Sandford does refer to past cases, usually by having characters comment on Flowers' success. Sandford doesn't dwell on them, and if some time passes between reading the books, a fan likely wouldn't remember the prior references -- except for the Trippton school board, which comes up a lot.

A friend who read a draft of Any Port in a Storm commented that no one would read a preceding book because I'd told the bad guy's identity and what he did. I realized that I could refer to an important point in the prior book without giving anything away. Since then, I carefully watch for this.

However, when it comes to the characters' lives, knowing some past events or general history can be important. In the Jolie Gentil series, I always mention that she and Scoobie first met in high school and didn't see either again for a decade. Other aspects of their -- or other characters' -- history or life stories may come up now and then, but not too much. Even more rare are details of prior things Jolie has looked into.

I had pages of notes on the backstory for the Jolie Gentil series and kept wanting to mention some of it. But readers didn't need to know much of it. So, I wrote a prequel. Jolie and Scoobie's High School Misadventures pretty much got that out of my system.

Authors make hundreds of decisions as they write each book. The what-to-reveal choice is one of the clearer ones. Like most options, it's up to the writer, and whatever s/he decides will be right for the book underway. 

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Writing in First Person vs Third Person

I write four mystery series, two in first person point of view (Jolie Gentil and River's Edge series) and two in third person (Logland and Family History Mysteries). 

First person comes more naturally to me, and I like the idea that readers only know what the sleuth knows. There are challenges, mostly the flip side of what I like -- I can't reveal anything to readers unless the sleuth discovers it directly or indirectly.

There's no getting around that first-person cozy mystery amateur detectives (at least in series) can come off as nosy. Generally, the first book in a series throws the crime solver into the mix because something happens to her (or him). In some series she discovers a body and is blamed for the murder. Other times it's someone close to the sleuth and she doesn't want to see them convicted of a crime she is certain they didn't commit.

After the first book, the protagonist needs reasons to get involved in (usually) murders that may not directly pertain to her. I like to pepper the two first-person series with townspeople who can come to the forefront in future novels. Jolie knows them, so at some level she cares what happens to them -- or to the person who is accused of the crime. I also have her as a real estate appraiser, which puts her into contact with lots of people and businesses.

In first-person mysteries, the crime solver does a lot of internal musing. They can in third-person books, too, but since information can be revealed in more ways, the sleuth's thought process doesn't have to be as detailed.

I don't use a narrator in the two third-person series, so there is no lecturer to describe the scenery, history, or what characters wear as they enter a scene. I may have the sleuth spend time observing a setting, but even in third person, if a room is to be described there has to be a reason beyond the character walking into it.

What I like best about third-person books is that there can be multiple points of view. In the Family History Mysteries, I used Digger's POV only in the first book, and expanded to add Marty's (a reporter friend) in books three and four. 

There's also the most popular character -- Digger's Uncle Benjamin, a companionable (if sometimes annoying) ghost. He a good example of a device that can become part of the drama. There's no way Digger can know all local history, or who did what to whom over the last seven or eight decades. (She's in her late twenties.) Uncle Benjamin can provide background and point her in varied directions.

Some of my earliest writing (which will never see the light of day) had multiple points of view, sometimes in the same chapter. I didn't switch heads within a scene -- or I don't recall doing that. It's painful to reread the stuff. Over time, I learned that I used several points of view because it was easier for me than to figure out how to discover information when only one or two people did the thinking. 

Note I said for me. Lots of books have multiple POVs. I'm not about to say five or ten is too many if it suits an author's purpose.

Every time I read, I learn what an author does well. Occasionally I spot something that seems awkward, but that can be interesting, too. Bottom line, point of view decisions are complex ones. I enjoy the challenges.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Friday, August 26, 2022

Remember When People Thought 50 Was Old?

My friends and siblings and I have discussed that we feel (and sometimes look) younger than our parents did at similar ages. Some of it's the increased emphasis on diet and exercise; add to that modern medicine and we can age more gracefully. 

If you're close to my age (which is 71), then your parents may have lived through the Great Depression and sorrows of World War II. Communal stress ages everyone.

We also define 'retirement' differently. Travel, new hobbies, maybe even a second (or third) career. When I swim at the Y, there are hordes of 'older' people exercising. At least a dozen white-headed people walking through my neighborhood daily -- usually more. If you're over a certain age, do you remember your parents exercising? 

And that, like most things, brings me to writing. There are plenty of young writers. However, there are also lots of people who write books after retiring.  As someone who produced a lot of stories on a typewriter, I firmly believe that the ease of production is at least partially responsible for the swelling ranks of published authors.

I started writing seriously in the mid-1980s -- first with plays and screenplays, later novels. I had a really busy first career and knew I'd have to stick with that for a good while. Sometimes when I was taking courses in fiction writing or working late to write a few more pages, I'd think of other things I could be doing. Like sleeping.

Other times, I'd be in an art museum and think of all the great talents in the world and wonder why I thought I could ever sell what I wrote. I don't know why art museums conjured that feeling more than libraries or bookstores.

The other side of that view was hockey player Wayne Gretsky's quote, which I placed near my home computer: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

I'm still aiming the puck toward the net.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

My Family's History Contributes to Mysteries

 Each summer for twenty-seven years, I've headed to Southwest Missouri for the reunion of Orr and related families. I should say twenty-five years, because we did 2020 and 2021 on Zoom. Still fun and lots of shared stories.

The reunion began in 1937, which marked the 100th year that the first Orr family (that of my GGG Grandparents William Orr and Jennie Adams) came to Lawrence County, Missouri. They were joined by other relatives beginning in the 1860s, and there were eventually Orr, Knox, and Campbell families, as well as Shirley families in the east and the James Orr family in Indiana. And then they spread to 49 of the 50 states. Vermont must have been too cold.

For the first seventy-plus years, massive amounts of food were piled onto wagon serving tables and the signature lemonade came from hand-squeezed lemons.

Some lemons still get the benefit of upper body strength, while others provide their juice through an electric squeezer. The same bucket is employed today as in 1937, though supervision in 2022 passed from Bobby and Margaret Samuels to a community effort.

More fun than squeezing lemons indoors was Bobby and Margaret's lemonade making on the back of his pick-up truck. He had help from every child who attended.

Those of us who have become used to cool indoor homes rejoiced when the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church (founded by Orrs among others in 1854) added an air-conditioned community room.

The food is just as good, but attendees don't wilt in the prairie heat. We're smaller than the initial years, when more than 100 people came from many parts of the U.S. This year we had only several midwestern states, but I expect that as COVID continues to wane the numbers and home states will rise again.

While this annual reunion may not seem to have a lot to do with writing fiction, the stories and time spent with relatives have a lot to do with my Family History Mystery Series. Not that I use direct experiences in the books. I wouldn't be able to return.

What I've learned is that large families and those they marry into have hundreds of tales. For example, when crops failed due to drought in Kansas, one gutsy widow brought a wagon to Mount Vernon and relatives filled it with corn. During the Civil War, large families in border states had sympathizers on both sides.

Because I post family trees on, I had a call from an adoptee who learned a recently deceased man was her birth father and wanted a photo. (I obliged.) Another caller thought he looked exactly like a member of our clan and wanted contact information for potential half-siblings. (I didn't oblige, but they later figured it out on their own.)

Do either of these scenarios sound like fodder for a book? Maybe. More to the point, I've learned that there is no such thing as an unrealistic plot line when it comes to writing mysteries about extended families. If you can imagine it, it can happen -- and probably has.

My Family History Mysteries take place in Western Maryland, about 100 miles from where I grew up. But the trouble the characters get into could happen anywhere, in any family. Trust me, I've heard it all.
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Sunday, July 31, 2022

It's Fun to See Who Buys Your Books

 I often tout the benefits of selling my books at all online retailers (termed "going wide" by some). I sell books directly through Google and a few through Kobo or BN. But for the most parts, I sell non-Amazon books through Smashwords, an aggregator who puts my books on many sites. For this, they take a small percentage of a sale.

Smashwords also sells books directly through its own store. This gives me great joy. Every week when I look at books sold directly by them, I see the buyers' countries. Look at today, for example.

Other sites show me regions of the world and perhaps individual countries. However, I have to hunt a bit more for the information.

I believe this is my first sale in Antartica (The Art of Deliberate Distraction). In the past month, Smashwords sales have been for the countries shown, plus Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopa, the UK, Philippines, and Portugal.

The site does show where books are sold on Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. However, these tend to be more my main four sales countries, U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia.

Smashwords recently merged with Draft2Digital, and one of the reasons D2D was interested in the site was the Smashwords Store. As you can imagine, I was happy to hear that.

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you how to find my Smashwords Profile and list of books.

Happy reading!

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Frantic Finale -- Finishing a Book

I am a very methodical writer in the sense that it's my job and I keep at it. I like tying the book strings together to create a final package. I can handle glitches because I (usually) allow enough time for a project.

Not with Gilded Path to Nowhere, the fourth book in the Family History Mystery Series. With just a couple months before final publication, a few vertebrae in my cervical spine decided to sit on top of one another. With six weeks to go, I did a compression fracture of a thoracic vertebra -- the 12th, if you're keeping score. How? I sneezed.

To top it off, Blue Cross had a watering contest with one of the major clinics in Springfield, IL, and I couldn't go to my regular back doctor! My always helpful primary care doctor found another clinic, and when I realized how bad the cervical problem was, I found another specialist in St. Louis. It's only 100 miles away.

I finally ended up in the ER for the compression fracture, but I did get some nice drugs. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when taking opioids? Or muscle relaxers? But this was not a "tough it out" situation.

It also was not a "delay the book" situation, since I had a few hundred preorders. But I could barely sit in a chair for three weeks and could do little writing or polishing.

This is when you know who your best friends are.

My husband is a trooper, my neighbors and Maryland family were very supportive. But my sister, critique group, and a few other writing friends made time for chapter reviews and more on short notice, with quick turnarounds. I'll never be able to repay them. The book will publish on time on July 29th.

I have learned something important. I always have a better-than-general idea where a book is going, especially in terms of character growth. But because decades of crafting nonfiction made me an efficient writer, I don't do a full outline. 

I work from notes and do brief chapter summaries as I go. From now on, I'm going to write the ending after I finish the first twenty percent of the book. Because you can't think straight when your brain is mush, and who knows when it will turn to mush again? 

The other option would be not to announce a publication date until the book is finished. However, I set it almost 90 days in advance when the book was more than half done. I use deadlines to ensure I do three books a year. Otherwise, it's easy to sit around and read books. 

So, that's my Summer of Frustration story. It will be more fun to describe when it's in the rearview mirror.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Building New Interest in Older Series

I write four series, but a couple of them have been "stuck" with only three books. Hard to say why, because I like the characters. I suppose it's an analog to the saying about reading -- "so many books [to write], so little time."

Finally, I have ideas for additional books in the series, and I've actually written the fourth for the Family History Mystery Series. But how to generate more interest in the two older series -- River's Edge and Logland?

There's nothing like a free book to get readers interested.

I've been offering one book free in these two series to secure more attention. It does increase sales of all books in the series, but more important (to me) is the books get more reviews.  

I sell at all sites and have box sets of the Jolie Gentil series on Kindle Unlimited. So how can I make a book free on Amazon if it isn't in KU? I start with all sites except Amazon. I change the price on Smashwords to free and the book appear free of all the sites except Amazon -- Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. If you try this, don't forget any books that you may sell, individually, on other sites.

With Amazon, I can't make the books free myself. Eventually, Amazon's computers notice a book is free on the other sites and they do a price match for Amazon. If this doesn't happen within a week or so, I go into my KDP account and send a note saying there is a lower price elsewhere. Lots of Amazon downloads begin.

After about a month (yes, one month) I move the price back to $2.99. The thousands of downloads during that month entice a lot of readers. After a couple of weeks, review numbers begin to go up.

This is not a strategy for those who want an immediate big uptick in income. But it does make a difference over time. In the meantime, you get nice notes from readers. That's the best part.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Friday, June 24, 2022

Building Worlds in Fiction

Often, world building refers to creating cast/setting/story line for a fantasy series. I'm in awe of those who do this well -- Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter, and C.S. Lewis with Chronicle of Narnia. Star Wars and Game of Thrones (based on the books by George R.R. Martin) come to mind for movies.

I work in a middle school part-time and fantasy books are those most often checked out from the library.  So much reading is to escape, and what better place to bolt from homework than a fictional realm?

There are lengthy treatises about world building in fiction. If you want an overview, a Wikipedia article is a good start. 

There is a degree of world building in some mystery series. By that I mean the characters and setting are so strong that readers look forward to reestablishing relationships as much as following the story line. I especially like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey works and Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles. 

I also enjoy the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C Beaton and Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford. Hamish largely works in the same setting (with the quirky residents of Lochdubh and nearby towns in the Scottish Highlands), but Virgil is all over Minnesota. His approach to crime-solving can be unusual: don't take the gun out of the car safe unless you'll definitely get shot at, and involve civilians by telling people what you've found and getting them to help you. His nickname is also striking.

What keeps me looking for new books in the Virgil Flowers series are the relationships among several character (Johnson Johnson, Shrake, and Jenkins, and now Frankie) and dry humor. I would love to see him solve another murder in the fictional Tripton Minnesota, but I suppose it's too much to hope for another crime wave in that small a town. And yes, one character is Johnson Johnson, whose father liked outboard motors. He has a brother named Mercury Johnson.

I'm not as fond of series in which the protagonist has superb skills and ties to powerful organizations. I like my lead characters to be more fallible. 

Blogger K.M. Weiland talks about world building in various posts on story structure. Naturally, I couldn't find a specific post, but the entire site is worth going through.

I challenge you to find a series that is so good you put aside writing your own book. Or at least doing laundry.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.