Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Time and Thoughts Turn to Plotting

Today we have the first post from our newest member, David Sartof! We'd been looking for a male mystery writer for a few weeks now, and C.J. met David on a Facebook group for authors. He wrote intriguingly, his novel sounded interesting, and he seemed computer savvy - and thus began a flurry of emails spanning an ocean. Please give David a hearty welcome as he tosses his cap in with the team~

Well, here goes… my first blog post as the new kid on the Wicked Writers' block.

[caption id="attachment_1992" align="alignright" width="124" caption="Potting? Who said Potting?"]Potting?[/caption]

To plot or not to plot. My post will take a cursory look at the issue of whether a writer should have a good idea of their destination, and set out with a route map in hand or whether they should set out as an explorer, with merely the “idea” of the direction that their artistic travels might take.

Do you pooh-pooh the notion of sitting down and planning, in detail, how your story will unfold, preferring to bow to the elevated status of literary prose? Or do you scratch your head (carefully avoiding splinters) and trace out the necessary plot turns and twists and the character traits to be observed on the journey?

[caption id="attachment_1993" align="alignleft" width="120" caption="That's better - I said Plotting"]Plotting[/caption]

If you’re a reader, do you enjoy a ramble through the machinations of your favourite author’s literary musings? Or do you pick up the books of that author knowing that the journey they take you on will, in labyrinthine style, guide you through thrills and spills, holding your hand, knowing, with confidence, that the author will reveal to you a new and exciting destination?

James Scott Bell writes in his book Plot and Structure that “Some writers, critics, and other assorted literati sniff at plotting as a tool of craft.  …[it is] something decent people don’t do.”

Certainly, we can assume that an extended synopsis of a proposed novel – as a detailed writer’s “road map” – restricts the scope for characters and events to evolve in exciting and surprising directions.  Such restrictions reduce the scope to offer readers new insights into the characters’/writer’s world.  And given such restrictions, perhaps those other writers, critics and assorted literati have a point. If a writer plots to the nth degree, then scope for the artist’s “art” is severely limited and writing becomes recipe-driven.  How many times have we seen a new writer’s break-through success followed by formulaic mediocrity?

[caption id="attachment_1997" align="alignright" width="87" caption="James Scott Bell"][/caption]

If, however, a writer disregards the elements of plot that can be traced back to the Greek philosophers of old, they also disregard the nature of the audience experience and risk loosing their readers’ engagement through a succession of wanderings into literary superlatives. How many times have we picked up a book on the recommendation that it has been the receiver of some major literary award, only to find the prose leaves you distinctly disengaged with any conception of an underlying story, wondering where on earth the book is taking you and… should you put the coffee on and go do something else, something more entertaining?

As Robert McKee in his work Story says, “As important as language is, however, it’s only the surface by which we capture the reader to lead him to the inner life of the story. Language is a tool for self-expression and must never become a decorative end of its own.”

[caption id="attachment_1998" align="alignleft" width="130" caption="Robert McKee"][/caption]

My own view is that there is a time and a place for plotting and non-plotting.

I believe it is necessary that the author, as an artist, should understand two necessary but conflicting responsibilities in realizing their written work. First, there is the responsibility to apply their word craft as an artform.  Call this the desire to pen our word pictures with as much concentration on the creativity with which we can manipulate language – even to the point of reaching the “decorative end”.  Secondly, there is the responsibility to retain a connection with the expectations of the audience.

So, with my apologies to the great Bard himself, to plot or not to plot – that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and bow to the mass market desire for good quality commercial fiction, or to take arms against a sea of expectation… And, by opposing, challenge the norm and deliver the true art in words?

[caption id="attachment_2002" align="alignright" width="114" caption="To plot or not to plot..."]By Toni DAgostinho[/caption]

For the new author, learning the craft of writing, I would advocate that it is easier to bend to expectations. There is time enough to challenge the norm when you have gained the strength of having mastered your craft. It also depends on whether or not you might be writing in order to earn a living from the sale of your books.

And, before the obvious question, having quoted from two books on the subject of story and plot structure, can I recommend these works?

In the words of a dear and departed relative, inscribing a note in a book he presented to me before I joined my first ship, in a naval career started so many moons ago I prefer to forget – “A good book will not teach you anything, but you can learn a lot from it!”


You've arrived a bit early!  Please pardon our appearance while we get things set up.

Our blog will officially launch in May. We hope to see you then!

10 Inspiring Places to Write

Is it really the last day of March, already?

As usual, I had a hard time deciding on a topic, so I did what any lazy writer would do. I looked for inspiration in other blogs and found it in a few posts on writing spaces. So I first have to give credit to Brock Henning over at Lifesummit in his post Where is Your Writing Abode? Make sure you drop by, because his post is linked to a couple other blogs with interesting reads on the subject. I'm also lovin' Where Stories are Made… over at Book Chick City. Every week, they bring in guest authors to describe their writing spaces.

I've decided to approach writing spaces a little different in this post. I've included places, past and present, where I've found the most inspiration to write. Here are the top ten:

#10 - The Usual Places: Where better to begin than with the usual places I drag my computer around the house every day? Like right now, I'm on the couch, surrounded by snoring beagles, writing today's post. Whenever I stop in mid-sentence or paragraph, searching in my mind for just the right words, I scratch the nearest tummy and the answers comes to me. They're like little genies. In addition, I have an office I don't use because the desk is an old roll top that's way too uncomfortable. Instead I opt for the dining room table if I feel like sitting in a chair.

#9 - On Public Transportation: Ten years ago I lived in Colorado Springs half the week and Aurora, Colorado half the week. While in Aurora, I rode the bus into Downtown Denver, where I worked at the time. The commute was about an hour each way, and I was never without a notebook. Every morning I blabbered in the journl, added to my list of story ideas and wrote half a novel before I stopped riding on that route. So public transportation is good for more than the environment.

#8 - On a Long Car Trip: So you're wondering, how is this different than #9? While on a long car trip to Southern Colorado or Rocky Mountain National Park, I can edit my ass off. On public transportation, there are far too many distractions from fellow commuters, and I can't edit without mostly silent surroundings.

#7 - At Chuckie Cheese: Any place there are large numbers of screaming children, my ears tune out and my imagination takes over. So when my sons reached the age they could take off unsupervised at places like Chuckie Cheese or small amusement parks, I'd hand them a cup full of tokens, open the old notebook and write a new short story or add to a novel. This worked for everyone. They played for hours and I never killed anyone else's kid.

#6 - In the Middle of Downward Dog: Yes, I know you're supposed to clear your thoughts while doing yoga, but I can only do that for maybe two minutes at a time. It does help clear my mind of the insignificant crap quite well. So if I'm distracted and can't work through a scene, by the time I’ve stretched for twenty minutes, I’ve usually got it all figured out.

#5 - From a Jail Cell: Well, not in reality. Whenever I can't seem to find peace and quiet anywhere, the loner in me dreams of writing from a jail cell in solitary confinement. No Internet, no planning dinner, no vacuuming, and no teenagers not doing their homework. Ahhhhh :-)

#4 - With My Left (Less Dominant) Hand: Every now and then, when I don't feel I'm quite capturing the personality of an antagonist, I pull out a notebook and tell the character to write through my left hand. Oh, and I write backwards because it's just easier with my less dominant hand. Five years or so ago, I actually picked up a book in a new age shop that discussed using this technique as therapy. Since most antagonists could use a good therapist, I decided to let my bad guys talk to me using this method. The results are both scary and amazing. Or, maybe I'm also in need of a good therapist.

#3 - While People Watching: This one includes writing just about anywhere: coffee shops, libraries, park benches. I think C.J. hit on this one a few weeks ago. What better inspiration for characters than watching real people interact. Need a description for your bitchy character? Coffee shops are a great place to find 'em. The wimpy guy who just missed the bus might work well as your next victim, eaten by a monster down a dark alley.

#2 - In Bed; In My Head:  Sometimes I wish I could turn a story off like I can turn off the television. I was up at 2:30 A.M. Tuesday morning because The Courier was playing the next part over and over in my head. If I haven't written anything new for a few days or can't work through a scene, I have no control over my thoughts. It's worse, at night, when there are no distractions. Good thing I'm a writer and not a serial murderer.

#1 - Walking the Dogs with a Hand Held Recorder: While I love a tranquil walk with the pups, they are beagles, and half our daily one-hour trek involves them sniffing for rabbits and me standing beside them thinking about story plots, character development and new ideas. So I can't leave the house without my hand held recorder. Last year, around this time, I wrote a novel in a month and most of it was written during our daily walks. Heck, I'm expecting to write most of the second Courier novel this way.

And so that it, folks, my favorite writing spaces. I'd love to hear about any of your out of the ordinary writing habits.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Authors, Authors Everywhere -- even on a film shoot

I just burned the candle at both ends last week. I worked an 8-hour shift, did nearly 12 hours on the set of the TV pilot 187 Detroit with James McDaniel (Lt. Fancy on NYPD Blue) and Mike Imperioli (Chris on The Sopranos). I then got two hours of sleep, went back to work Saturday morning for overtime. Then, I went straight to the set of 187 Detroit for eight more hours of filming (I'm the black detective in the green shirt, black blazer and an ugly ass tie that I think Harvey Keitel wore in Life on Mars).

By now, you're asking the obvious.

Why are they filming a TV show about Detroit in Atlanta?

Sorry, can't answer that one. A few weeks ago, I was shivering in a silk print shirt as an extra on the set of the Farrelly Brothers' Hall Pass, which used Atlanta to double for summertime Providence, Rhode Island.

The point of this blog is that when the other extras found out that I was a real writer, suddenly everyone was a writer.

Everyone had either a book they'd started but not finished or a book they wanted to write. Of course, they wanted me to write it or co-write it for them. Alas, I was only able to help the most beautiful one (she was also a cop with a real gun, so I had more incentive).

Many of us have this desire to write. But, most of us also have the hidden desire to procrastinate. And while it was nice for everyone to want me to help them, it was a little disconcerting.

As I thought about it, I noted that it was kind of ironic because these same people had possessed the desire to be in acting. They'd gotten agents or scanned Craigslist or Facebook 24/7 to find roles. Many made being a background actor or extra their livelihoods (I just do it for fun). They found the will and desire to get into the acting biz and, yet, they did not apply the same desire to writing the books they said they always wanted to write.

The message seems to be that publishing a book is infinitely more difficult than being an actor. But, we all go through 12 years of schools in which we write and write and write. It should be more natural than acting, so why the hesitation?

I think writing forces us to use a lot more of our brain matter. Don't get me wrong. I love being on film sets and TV shoots, but my "acting" requirements are just to follow the directions of the assistant directors or production assistants. Writing requires thousands and thousands of words that must "flow" and "excite" and "inform."

The end result, though, is much better. I know my chances of winning an Emmy or Oscar for my "acting" is somewhere between "hell no" and "eff no," but I can publish a book. Writing a book can be a labor of love. Publishers can edit my works, but they can't edit me completely out like movie directors. And, in the end, a resume of book and short story titles seems to carry more weight than a resume constantly prefaced with the word "uncredited."

I appreciate the people who view the Wicked Writers blog but I sincerely hope that those that we entertain and inspire get enough incentive to stop reading my wonderful words for a few minutes to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Business of Selling Books

This week, the Wicked Writers are getting a free pass to blog about anything we’d like. My topic of choice is selling books versus writing books. I believe it’s possible for an author to do both, but more and more I run into writers who write purely for the love of writing and question my approach.

Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with their way. And thankfully, there are a tremendous amount of platforms today for such writers. I do not fall into that category. I don't have a burning desire to have my name in print for bragging rights at my next high school reunion. Hell, I won’t even see my real name in print but a pen name.

I have a desire to succeed at this business and make money at it. I want to sell books and lots of them, but where does one start? You can't just wish these sales into existence.  You must have a plan—a detailed one on what to do and how to achieve your goals. I've recently mapped out a marketing plan, but the more I study the market, the more I realize my plan will have to evolve even more over time.

As in any business venture, you must approach things carefully and examine things from all angles. Good ideas on paper may turn out to backfire and bite you in the butt because of public perception. And what do you do then? You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. No one buys your book because you sell it well. Those are the purchasers who return your book because it was all hype and poorly written.

You must always start with craft and good storytelling. If you can create a story that pulls the reader in and helps to suspend reality, if even for only a few hours, then you have a product worthy of being sold. And that means really and truly working hard to sell it.

Blogs, blog tours, twittering, fan pages, web sites, book tours, author interviews, book reviews—these are only the tip of the iceberg. The sheer work involved with selling will likely daunt and turn away even the staunchest in the industry. After all, with the time you must devote to it, when do you have time to write?

It's a balancing act and one I'm still currently trying to learn. My background in sales and marketing gives me an advantage—but that's like saying someone who sold cars for ten years can now sell life insurance. A good salesman learns to specialize in the industry and in the product they are selling prior to ever making that first sale.

There are a few "sharks" that industry-hop, who do exactly what I described above. But a savvy purchaser knows the difference. They can see past the charm and blinding smile and realize that this sap can't advise on what policy works best for their family's needs and they need to find a rep that can.

The best in any industry starts from the bottom and moves up the ranks. So that's where I am. I'm a new writer who has been a reader her whole life. I love books and I love to read. I don't shop a lot and don't own a bunch of fancy shoes—my sole vice is buying books.

I started as a book consumer and have been a voracious one for years. I started to write when I saw a lack in my favorite genre. Knowing next to nothing about writing, I didn't know writing in present tense was almost taboo among my peers. I didn't switch it to past tense because frankly, I didn't know enough about writing to do it well.

Now, I've learned more. I've finished my book. I've developed a loyal following among readers and I've acquired an agent. From the outside looking in, it may seem like I've been lucky and this has all come together quickly. Eight to ten hours a day of work with no pay is not lucky. I'm starting at the very bottom, learning as much as I can, making mistakes along the way and determined not to make them again.

I intend to learn enough about this industry to sell well and succeed. Does that mean I won't fall a few times? No. I'm sure I will. But anything in life worth having doesn't come easy. The pros just make it look like it does.

How many of you out there have an interest in the path I've taken and in the one I plan to take in the future? How many of you would like me to write a detailed, step-by-step primer on what I've done to see if it’s useful to your own journey? Let me know. If there is enough interest, perhaps I can do a special supplement and post it here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Noun Martini, My Good Man. Shaken, Not Stirred…

When I first announced to friends and family that I'd been working on a novel, I got a lot of blank looks. They probably thought "you can write?" or maybe they thought the opposite, that I'd secretly been flying off to party with Bono in New York or something. How does one describe the writing life? Bestselling thriller novelist and chairman of this year's ThrillerFest, Shane Gericke, shares a typical day for him.

Birds chirping.

Faint light leaking around the window shades.


I'm rolling out of my satin sheets, ready to do battle with the forces of Evil that threaten our world as we know it ...

Or I would be if the woman next to me, bejeweled in gold and very little else, wasn't reaching for me, moaning, "Shane, master, darling, you can't leave, I need you so badly ..."

"Later, baby," I say, flipping my fedora end over end and watching it land on her heaving chest. "Gotta go save the world."

"At least it smells like you," she murmurs, clutching my hat to her face and waving goodbye. "Hurry home. We're due at the White House at 6 for cocktails."

"Does the president know to shake them?" I ask.

"I told him."

"Good girl," I say, patting her behind. She purrs fetchingly.

Whereupon I slip a Walther PPK into my tuxedo holster, slide through the mansion, and waltz into the garage, where my Aston Martin purrs with horsepower.

"Where to, Sir Gericke?" my chauffeur asks, his flinty British voice echoing off metal so perfectly polished and waxed that each syllable breaks crisp as his starched cuffs.

"My publisher," I say.

"Which one, sir? You have so many . . ."

"Ah, right. Random House. The new owner's flying in from Hong Kong, and I said I'd try to make time to meet him."

"Very good, sir." He opened the door. "Your martini is chilling inside, next to your laptop and research notes. Shaken, not stirred . . ."


That's how I'd like my writing day to go.

The reality, as you might imagine, is a wee different.

I roll out of bed at 8. Cotton sheets, not satin. The babe, who is my wife, and she is a babe, make no mistake, even suffering the likes of me for thirty years, has been at her workplace for hours. I pull on my writing attire--surfer pants, T-shirt, crew socks--and rumble down the stairs for coffee.

Which is cold. She brews it at 6 when she leaves, and these newfangled coffeemakers, unlike the percolators I grew up on, shut themselves off after two hours. Safety first. Me, I'd rather have the occasional kitchen fire than suffer cold coffee. But hey, insurance lawyers.

So, coffee, mug, no-fat cream, microwave, bleh.


Then it's back upstairs, to the spare bedroom that serves as my Bat Cave. I read e-mails, looking for stuff I gotta do NOW. There is none. Everything screams of now-cessity on the Internet these days, but I won't be fooled; most is bullshit, safely ignored.

So I head for a workout. Three days a week at the gym, lifting weights; two days hiking in whatever woods I feel like driving to. Only in movies do novelists live in rambling, charm-ridden homes pouting languidly into forest and lake. Rest of us gotta drive. Herb Alpert and Black Sabbath on the iPod, please ...

Exercise finished, I head to Grandma Sally's for breakfast. I've always longed to eat at a place regularly enough to have a usual. As in, "The usual, hon?" Grandma's is it. My usual: Denver omelette with EggBeaters; side of low-cal cottage cheese; side of pancakes with sugar-free syrup. Used to be full-fat everything. I used to be young. I devour a couple newspapers. They aren't what they used to be. Too much celebrity vomitus. But I used to be a newsman, and still read them religiously. Spill coffee on the funnies. Drip syrup on the editorials. Doesn't matter. It's newsprint, not a Kindle.

Head back home in my ten-year-old Civic. No Jeeves, drive myself. Reheat more coffee--fuckin' pot went cold again--wander back into the Bat Cave.

Where I write the day's words.

I don't have a set amount. Some authors insist on a thousand words a day, or five thousand, or three hundred. Others say, "Three hours in the saddle or I've failed." Me, as long as I write something most every day--emphasis on "most"; some days I just don't, needing to concentrate on ThrillerFest, blogging, marketing, or the hundred-and-one other things that Modern Authors are obliged to do besides write. Or, I cut the grass. Fix the sink. Go to the gun range and shoot paper zombies. Physical movement unrusts my brain, which spurs my writing, so it all comes full circle into the words.

But at this moment, I'm BISCW. (Butt In Swivel Chair Writing. My acronym. Pronounced "Bisquick," like the pancake batter, bringing the words full circle back to Grandma's; side of bacon, hon? No, thanks, I musn't ...) I'll type madly for an hour, which turns into four, which sometimes turns to all day. (Rarely, though. Too many hours at one time, my back aches like granny's bunions.) Mostly, the time is productive. Sometimes, it's like that famous writer--Oscar Wilde?--said about his writing day: "This morning, I put in a comma. This afternoon, I took it out."

I rewrite as I go, so the scene might be redone a dozen times before I think it's polished enough to leave alone for awhile. Then, it's on to the next scene. I write chronologically, Pages 1 to 415. (I tried 515 once, but my editor got fumey; those extra words needed pages to put them on, bucko, and that costs a truckload of money. So I cut back.) I think in scenes and keep a bunch fully formed in my head, like little movies on freeze-frame. But I don't write them until it's time chronologically. Don't know why; it just is. I don't worry about forgetting them. If they don't stay in my head like a neural Post-It, they're too weak for the book anyway, and good riddance.

When the manuscript is finished, I make a printout and stuff it in a drawer with the Kleenex box and spare mouse batteries. Why? Well, if I proofread it immediately after the first draft, I'd think, "Why, that's a darn fine job, chum, how could I change anything?" Let it sit a few weeks, and the potholes, warts and butt-uglies jump me like so many vampires loosed from their coffins.

Which is the opening bell for the rewrite(s) process.

I'll redraft a book three or four times before I'm satisfied. Then I e-mail it, and my editor points out the stuff that works, and doesn't. I beam at the what-works. I grimace at the doesn't. But she's got an excellent ear for this stuff, so I do the redrafting without complaining. My name's on the book, so I'll get the praise for the miracle that is partly my editor's sharp eyeballs. Thus, it'd be stupid to turn down her sage advice. And, I want the rest of my advance. Publishers hold them like bank hostages to ensure Darn Good Cooperation.

We're supposed to write better with each book. Fortunately, that seems to hold true for me. I'll never be perfect, because perfection doesn't exist, except maybe in a John Sandford book. But "better" is obtainable with hard work and sound advice. Case in point: My editor loved the first half of my debut, Blown Away, but thought the second half sucked dead mice. Lots o'rewriting on that puppy. My second book, Cut to the Bone, brought the comment that the premise was divine but the crime I chose to wrap the premise around was a four-letter word--dull--so could I pretty please find a better crime? She was right, and I did. Fair amount of rewriting on that one, but much less than the debut.

My upcoming book, Torn Apart, is the first that's entirely mine. I e-mailed the manuscript, immediately figured out eight major ways it could be better (why oh why can't I think of that stuff before hitting Send, right?), and suggested all the edits before she could find them. She agreed with my assessment, I got to work, she accepted it as final draft. So this book, for better or worse, is me without an editor's parachute.

I can't wait to see what you think on July 6, when it goes on sale at a favorite bookstore near you! (In the business, that's known as SSP, or Shameless Self-Promotion. Become familiar with that term, as you will probably see it again as July 6 draws near. I need the sales.)

Oh, and then I'm done writing for the day, and so I answer the e-mails and update Facebook and recruit literary agents for ThrillerFest and worry that I haven't talked to my sisters for much too long but God there's just no time and then The Babe comes home from work, and we eat dinner in front of Law & Order cause we love the show even though we've seen every rerun a thousand million damn times, then clean up, then hit the hay, then before you know it, I'm rolling out of bed at 8 o'clock. Time to make the doughnuts ...

Shaken, not stirred.

This post first appeared on Criminal Minds, and is re-posted here with Shane's permission. Shane Gericke would love you to join him in New York this summer for ThrillerFest V, as (a) it'd be fun to see you, and (b) he's this year's chairman and his peers will tease him unmercifully if he fails to break last year's attendance record. So take pity on his poor soul and check it out at He also invites you to visit He paid a lot of money to make his new site spiffy and bright, and it'd be a shame if you didn't come check out the drapes and furniture.

Shane, thanks for sharing your story with us and allowing us to re-post it! I look forward to meeting you at ThrillerFest this summer. Please send the limo for pickup. ;)

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Do You Tackle Showing Vs. Telling In Your Writing?

Kiki Hamilton, a talented new author of Young Adult (YA) urban fantasy, is our guest blogger this week. Her magical first novel, The Faerie Ring, is forthcoming from TOR Books in spring 2011. You can read more about Kiki and her work at her personal blog and her group blog with other YA and middle grade fantasy authors at The Enchanted Inkpot.

We’ve asked Kiki to discuss what for many writers is easier said than done—showing versus telling. Kiki writes in a variety of genres for YA, including paranormal and epic fantasies. All of her novels are steeped in mystery, magic, and adventure against atmospheric backdrops such as 1871 London.

Thanks for inviting me to blog with you, Supriya!

We’ve all heard it a hundred times: Show, don’t tell. But sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds. Show, don’t tell, can be a nebulous concept to an author just starting out and even for more experienced authors.

Here’s a simple example of the difference:

Tell: Katie walked toward the classroom. She was one of the smartest girls in school.

Show: Katie collected her books. Latin. Trigonometry. Physics. And those were just for her morning classes.

Can you see the difference? We saw the subjects that Katie was studying and that revealed much more information than to just tell us she was smart.

Here’s another one – let’s see if you can decide which shows and which tells:

Peter was so angry he broke the mug.

With a roar, Peter grabbed the mug and slammed it down on the table so hard it shattered into a million pieces.

I think it’s obvious which of those two sentences drops the reader right into the scene. And that’s the key to showing: Drop your reader right into the scene. Let us feel the emotions, the cry of rage, hear and feel the mug not only breaking, but shattering under our fingers.

A scene shows us action in real time. The events unfold as we read. What makes a scene real is to include all of our senses:

Do we smell the scent of fresh baked bread?

Do we feel the softness of the bunny’s fur?

Can we taste the bite of the jalapeno pepper?

Can we hear the whistle of the train as it approaches the station?

Can you see the sad eyes of the elephant in the zoo?

Scenes also include settings that the reader can picture, as well as dialogue. Sometimes a writer will “tell” the story by narrative summary, which can cause a reader to disengage and lose interest. Instead, “show” your story by pulling your readers into the scene. Make them use their senses and emotions to experience what’s happening. You won’t lose their interest that way.

However – there are places for narrative summary – to vary they rhythm and texture of your writing. But small doses can go a long way.

Often times, the words ‘had’ and ‘was’ are indicative of telling. Take a look at your manuscript and see how often those words appear. And when you find them, try and say the same thing in a different way using words that show the setting or the character.

What techniques do you use to make sure you’re showing rather than telling?

Thanks so much for blogging with us today, Kiki! Your insights on this topic make for a terrific refresher. We’ll be keeping an eye out for your new release. Much luck and best wishes with the release of The Faerie Ring and please keep us posted!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting It Right

Earlier, whenever I read a really good book, one I couldn’t easily put down, I inevitably thought, “Wow, that story must have just flowed right on to the page.” I figured it was so clear in the author’s mind, it had to fall on the page with equal ease.

That may be for some authors, but not this one. When I first started writing book one, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted it to go. In fact, I’ve kept many of the same characters, plot lines, and themes as my original concept. But all of these elements have evolved over the four years I’ve been working on them. They're taking somewhat different shapes and subtleties, and plot lines unfold a little differently, but the essence is all the same.

I didn’t know if I’d been moving closer to my original vision or farther, but I kept going until I hit a wall last summer. I finally heeded the advice of writer friends who suggested it might be time to start a new project.

So I moved on to book two. I brainstormed and outlined until National Novel Writing Month, last November, when I actually sat down to write. And surprisingly, that partial draft is not half bad. I certainly think I’ll keep more of it than I did from my original first draft of book one. Soon, I was raring to go again, getting excited about mapping out books three and four.

The biggest challenge I've faced with going from the first story to the next in the series is in timing. I’ve learned so much and have evolved greatly as a writer since I began the first novel.  Keeping myself focused on improving my craft, trying a new outline technique, and mastering dialogue made writing the start of the second book easier, but it also left me with the burning desire to polish the first book until it, too, was up to par.

With my enthusiasm level way up, I went back to finish what I started with book one. So I’ve gone back in, pulling it apart, word by word, chapter by chapter, deleting scenes, adding new ones. I wish I could move on to the second book already, but I can’t until I rewrite and revise the original to the best of my new abilities.

It’s painfully slow, picking at every tiny element, but in the end it will be worth it. I’ll have not one but two books I can be proud of (and hopefully sell). I don’t plan on being one of those writers I often hear stories about: “He wrote fifteen books before the first one sold.” While I currently have a love-hate relationship with book one, I do believe the process is making the novel as good as it can be and me a better writer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Write Faster!

I found Greg’s post interesting yesterday, in that the advice fairies are forever spewing out generic advice, thinking they know what's best for us fiction writers. And I'm here, not listening to most of what they're saying, like a teenager, learning my lessons the hard way.

There’s no way I could write just one book in The Courier series at a time. In fact, there’s no way I could write just two of the books at a time. Technically, I’m writing all five at once.

The Courier was originally a short story idea. Guy down on his luck, desperate for a job, starts working for a courier service owned by Satan, finds out he’s transporting a substance used to hasten the opening of the Gates of Hell… Reading the idea back, it’s pretty open ended and not at all unique. But, sometimes characters gets in my face and beg me to write their stories. In Barry’s case, the story's protagonist, he’s probably been the most nagging character I’ve had the pleasure of working with. So, I caved to his pressure and originally agreed to write a short Twitter novel. Well, Barry disagreed and continued to nag like a three year old until I acquiesced to an additional four novels. Incidentally, I’ve had to tell Barry that if he wants a longer life, he’ll have to jump into another novel and play a different role, like an actor.

Where am I in regards to transitioning from one novel to the next? I have started writing book two while completing major edits of book one. Oh, and I’m still releasing book one through Twitter and the story’s website. Am also outlining book three, working through the plot for book four and settling on the idea for book five. Seem kinda chaotic? No biggie. It’s how my brain works.

What challenges am I facing? I need to write faster. Reflecting on my past writing positions, I used to handle multiple projects with unrealistic deadlines. Just the nature of the business. Today, I write fiction at home, between loads of laundry. If I had a publisher breathing down my neck, I could pump out novels just as quickly as Nora Roberts. Don't give me no crap about quality of the story. Her novels are bestseller, aren't they? And, I'm certainly not aspiring to be another Hemingway or Steinbeck with my version of comedic horror.

Researching the origin of evil and modernizing it are also time consuming. Basically, my challenge has been remaining faithful to the folklore of western religions, yet creating a good vs. evil that evolves with modern times. I mean, really, who can believe Satan and his gang have been hanging around, doing the same old thing, with the same old goals for the past umpteen years. This is proving to be much more involved in book two than in book one, and don’t even get me started on where book three is headed with the introduction of a few dark and mischievous fallen angels’ apprentices.

I'm trying to keep my challenges down to two hurdles at a time, so stay tuned, folks. I'm sure I'll be bitching about something else in a couple weeks. ;-)

Also Check Out My Writer Wednesday Blog Tour

Monday, March 22, 2010

Greg Smith, Morals & The One-Eyed Man

Did you hear the joke about the writer who tried to start his second novel before publishing the first?

Okay, there’s actually no punch line. I was just wondering if you’d heard.

Of course, we’ve all received those warnings about finishing what you start and not starting on something else before you finish the first thing (no matter how much you love broccoli and hate beets). So, why is it that so many writers begin planning the second novel before getting the first one published?

I find it telling that the successful writers of today get big contracts and then have to scramble to prepare a follow-up novel, sort of like RKO Pictures when the success of King Kong forced producers to rush a sequel to the screen. I hope Land of the Blind does gangbusters, but I won't hold my breath. Since I'm still tweaking it and have to go through more of the query letter-manuscript-rejection letter stage, so I can't even say it's really finished. Theoretically, I shouldn't even be worrying about the next book.

Thus, the moral of this story should be to wait until the first novel is published before working on the second.

But, since I have no morals, I'm hard at work on my next novel. And the next and the next one after that and after that, et cetera, et cetera. I’m probably channeling David Weber and Honor Harrington too much, but I’ve got my Land of the Blind at least vaguely thought out to the ninth book (and will probably add in some anthologies like Alistair Reynolds did with the Galactic North series from his Revelation Space novel).

Anyway, The One-Eyed Man is the sequel to Land of the Blind. All jokes aside, prepping this next book is proving enigmatic at best.

Unlike CJ Ellisson and her characters, I only have to worry about one   person – Devereaux Marshall Fox. Then again, after making him such a tantalizing and brutal mystery in the first novel, I now have to explain a lot more of his background. There’s no M or Miss Moneypenny to help shoulder the load (or Pussy Galore or Plenty O’Toole either).

On the up side, I can create a brand new world, with brand new technology. New challenges. New dangers. New thrills. New chills.

On the down side, I have to create a whole new set of supporting characters. And for those who have glimpsed bits and pieces of Land of the Blind, you know how big a task that will be. I mean, last time, I created dozens of people with names and annihilated scores more. I haven't even imagined how I'll top the cataclysm next time around.

What I think I will enjoy most about the succeeding novels is the joy of research. Those new worlds will need a firm foundation to be based upon. In the first novel, I used the Brazilian Amazon, the Panama Canal, Texas, Area 51 and Florida. So far, in The One-Eyed Man, I’ve got Machu Picchu; Phuket, Thailand;

[caption id="attachment_1683" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Machu Picchu"][/caption]

Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua or Papua Barat); Yokosuka, Japan; K2 (Mount Godwin-Austen in the Himalayas), and Cape Canaveral.

Despite the tough tasks ahead, I look forward to the challenge.

And so – I hope – do you.

Death and Sex

Catchy title, eh?  This week, we’re blogging about the challenges we face in wrapping up book one and starting the second in a series. The timing is apropos for me because I am working on my second book, The Hunt, right now. Notice I said working on and not writing.

So far, my biggest challenge has been keeping details and characters straight. I decided this week, before I attempt to write past chapter seven, I’ll make some index cards.  I’ve read the technique works for some writers, and I usually do well when I make lists to keep track of details.

Obviously, the basics for the main characters in book one are set in stone now. I know them well, know what they'd say, and how they'd react to almost any given situation.  But in the second book, I'm switching things up. I have five male and two female points of view (POVs), hence the seven chapters done so far. I thought it would behoove me to flesh out each new voice first before moving on in my writing. And that means making them real. Give them pasts, give them flaws, heck—give them an accent!  Anything to make them come to life and leap off the pages.

If I create believable people now, there should be less to correct in later chapters, right?  That’s my hope.  One of the biggest challenges writers face is being consistent with voice and dialogue for each character throughout an entire book. So what happens when it's a series, and you've got new people entering the scene and others dying off?

Ask any artist: perfection is in the details of any piece. Sure, in the end, there will be flaws—that's the case whenever you create. But overall, your art should flow and be consistent within your vision.

What do you do when you have a first book heavy on blood, sex, and action?  Amp up the death count and keep the sex hot (at least that's what I plan to do). Oh, and master multiple POVs in a present tense story.

As my friends (and fellow wicked writers have pointed out)—I have unshakable confidence in myself in most things. That confidence was tested last week when I started to doubt whether I could pull off seven POVs in The Hunt.  My biggest challenge in creating the second book will be mastering head-hopping in each chapter and doing it well.

I know the story I want to write; it’s crystal clear in my head. Will I have the skill to weave all the elements to tell the tale as I envision it? Time will tell and I'm excited to give it a shot. Sure, it'll be hard. Sure, I might mess up.

But this isn't brain surgery we're talking about. Nor is it a first encounter with a new love. The death and sex I write about will wait for me to prefect them, as best I can, before being revealed to the audience. The worst that can happen is a reader will close the book and put it down—and I plan to work damn hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Harley D. Palmer & The Art of Reviewing

Today’s guest blogger is Harley D. Palmer, founder of the Writer's Academy on (better known as WDC). She is also founder of the blog Labotomy of a Writer.

She is going to tell us about her experience with reviewing for the Writer's Academy. As founder and primary professor, she has read and reviewed dozens of books and poems (and probably hundreds of chapters). She has seen the excellent, the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly. Today, she offers insights to her reviewing techniques that have benefited dozens of aspiring authors and poets. My hope is that her words will benefit readers, up-and-coming writers and even a few veteran authors.

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First of all I’d like to say a huge thank you to Greg for honoring me with being a guest writer! I will admit I jumped up and down with delight! Second, I’d like to apologize ahead of time for a long article. I will try my best to keep it short, but book reviewing has so much involved with it!

My Background

My real name is Anastasia Pergakis, but many people online know me as Harley D. Palmer. I started writing and storytelling, well as soon as I could write. I didn’t get into novel writing (or reviewing) until I was an adult but it has become an obsession! I am on the computer every day researching writing in some form or another.

What really started me reviewing novels was when I was invited to join a reviewing workshop on WDC. During that time, I realized that novels were not getting reviewed that often and, even if they were, I rarely saw reviews past chapter one. So, I have tried to focus my efforts on just reviewing novels.

Doing all of that research and learning through experience, spurred me to start the Writer's Academy. I started the Academy because I wanted to share my knowledge with other writers. I have been researching all aspects of writing for many, many years. It is a hard and, I’ll admit, sometimes a boring process. I hoped that with the Academy, writers could have a place to come to that was fun and informative – with all the information in one place.

I’ve been running the Academy for a little over a year now and I have learned a lot about reviewing from the experience. I was able to apply things that I learned in the workshop and through reviews I had received for my own work.

What I Look for when Reviewing

Regardless of whether I am reviewing for fun or a workshop, or grading assignments in the Academy, I always focus on the same things. I’ll break this down for you to give you an understanding of what I look for when I read a novel.

I read a chapter many times in the process of reviewing it. I try to start a review with my impression or feelings about it after the first read. The first read-through should be simple without taking notes of any mistakes or inconsistencies just yet. Yes, some things are glaring but I try to simply enjoy the read, instead of looking to edit or critique.

During the second, third, and even fifteenth read-through, I ask myself the following questions:

Title: Does the title of the book fit? Did the chapter title match with the chapter? Why or why not?

Hook: Was the catch or hook at the beginning enough to keep the reader reading? Why or why not? Was I constantly hooked, even in chapter 20?

Plot: Is the plot clear and concise? Is it unique or has it been done before? Do the subplots help the story or slow it down?

Style & Voice: Is the sentence structure the same throughout the story or does it vary? Does the voice work for the theme or genre of the story? Is the story full of passive verbs instead of aggressive?

Referencing: Are there Harley Davidson motorcycles in 15th century England? Does a female character set in the early 1900s follow the ‘rules’ of that time? Would an alien race talk or have the exact same culture we do on Earth?

Scene/Setting: Can I clearly see the scenery? Can I tell where everything is at any given moment? Do I know where the characters are at all times?

Characters: Are the characters consistent throughout the book? Do they grow and develop in a logical time frame? Do they each have their own voice and mannerisms (Can I tell them apart from each other?) Is there enough detail to give me a mental image of what they look like, act like, talk like?

Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation: Are there any long, run-on sentences or sentence fragments? Any spelling mistakes or typos? Are all the punctuation marks used correctly?

I close the review with my personal opinion of the story or chapter. I tell the author what I liked or didn't like. I always give them a few words of encouragement.

Do I look for every single one of these aspects when reviewing? Yes. Do I mention all of these points in the review every single time? No.

How to Talk in a Review

Each writer and story is different, so they require their own unique review. Greg can tell you that his reviews usually consisted of a few sentences as I rarely had comments, suggestions or corrections for him. But other students may have had longer reviews with suggestions and advice.

I look for the same points when reading any novel, but to a friend I might present it in a different way. Reading a friend's work, I could get away with saying “This scene is awesome!” but in a professional type of relationship, I would phrase it differently – “This scene was written very well. It was clear and concise. Great job!”

As I am nearing the end of Greg’s book for the Academy, I am getting a little more ‘friendly’ with the reviews. He ended a chapter with a HUGE cliff hanger and I started the review with “How dare you do that to me!” (I was going to have a wait a whole week to read more!) He and I had built up a relationship of sorts for me to get away with saying that – at the beginning, I never would have presented my shock in that manner. I would have said “A shocking ending! I can’t wait to read more!” instead.

With the Academy specifically, I try to relate the review to the lesson. If the lesson was about setting and scenery, then I center the review on that. If I am reviewing for some other reason, it'll depend on what the author is looking for and what I feel are the more important things to mention.

Common Mistakes

There are many common mistakes that I find time and time again when reviewing a novel. They can be frustrating when I review, but then I remember that I make the exact same mistakes all the time too!

>>>Yes, typos are a common occurrence as no one is perfect; however with spell check and other tools, it shouldn’t happen quite as often as it does. Reviewing for the Academy can be especially tough. Many of the students type directly into the site when posting their work. The site does have a spell check tool, but not that many people know how to use it. So there are often a lot of mistakes. I find it best to write in Word first, then copy and paste into a site like that. This helps to prevent quite a lot of the spelling and grammar mistakes I find.

>>>Passive verbs show up more often than not. I use a review template and automatically I have a little paragraph that talks about passive vs. aggressive verbs. This prevents me from having to type it up every single time. It is much easier to delete the blurb when it is not needed, than to type it up each time that it is. I struggle with this in my own writing and I think that is why I can pick it up easily in other people’s work.

>>>The amount of detail is a huge issue. Again this is something I struggle with myself, so it is easy to find it in other novels. If there is too little detail, then I can’t really get into the story. I can’t see where the characters are or what they are doing. When there is too much, the story drags and I can lose interest as the plot is bogged down with useless information.

There is SO much more to book reviewing, but I will end this here. I am going to continue this and expand on some of the points I mentioned here, in my own blog at

Labotomy of a Writer.

Harley D. Palmer (Anastasia Pergakis)

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Again, I want to thank Harley Palmer (or should I say Anastasia Pergakis) for taking time out from her busy reviewing schedule with the Writer's Academy. I know my time at the academy is coming to an end this month and I've had to submit multiple chapters for review with each lesson so Anastasia can see the rest of my book, meaning that I've only added to her workload.

For our faithful readers, I hope you've gained some insight into reviewing and perhaps you can use that insight when reviewing items at, Goodreads, Authors Den, or any number of other places.

Be sure to return next week for more exciting and informative blogs from CJ Ellisson, W.J. Howard and Supriya Savkoor. Oh and throw me in for good measure, too.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A View From Norway

[caption id="attachment_1536" align="alignright" width="106" caption="Karin Fossum"][/caption]

Lately, I’ve been hooked on Scandinavian crime novels, most recently those by Karen Fossum, known in her native Norway as the Queen of Crime. Judging from the two books I’ve read so far, she deserves the royal title.

The Water’s Edge, the sixth novel in the Inspector Sejer series, was my first introduction to Fossum. The setup  and initial point of view were intriguing: a married couple hike through a forest on the outskirts of Oslo. It’s an ordinary scene, a pair of retirees taking a stroll together. However, privy to the wife’s internal thoughts, we learn she’s unhappy, afraid of her domineering husband, and worried about why he’s been so quiet. Is one of them about to become a murder victim?

No, instead, after crossing paths with another hiker, they discover a dead body, that of a small boy. That’s when I started having doubts. Do I want to know where this is going? I love suspense but I have a low tolerance for gratuitous violence and senseless killings, especially anything involving children.

A little skeptical, I kept reading. The couple realizes that may have been the murderer they passed earlier. They report the crime and now we’re in Inspector Sejer’s point of view. Our flawed hero is lonely, long since divorced, and living alone. The adult daughter he did not help raise drops in for unannounced, random visits, testing his patience but obviously trying to win his love and attention. Despite his lack of adequate forward motion in this area or in his equally stagnant love life, you feel Sejer’s need to find the truth when he’s working a case.

For that reason alone, we accompany him on his journey for the truth and even root for him despite his personal failings. When we have to face a difficult, violent truth about the murdered child, it’s a tad more bearable with him as our guide.

Fossum’s fourth Inspector Sejer novel, The Indian Bride, takes on the premise of the first Indian immigrant to a small Norwegian community. Of course, I had to read it! Again, she begins her tale from the point of view of characters whose lives are about to change drastically. Simple Gunder Jomann, who sells farm equipment in his rural town, takes his first trip outside Norway to find a bride in India, and his younger sister is pretty concerned. I won’t tell you more—finding out where this all leads is highly compelling, one of the strongest portions of the book.

Both books are relatively small, quiet, and satisfying. Fossum kept me turning the page but not so fast that I couldn't get to know the characters and enjoy the growing psychological suspense along with the whodunit factor. The character development for both books is strong, subtle and packs an emotional punch.

As Publisher’s Weekly commented in its starred review of The Indian Bride:
“Fossum may not be well-known outside a select circle, but that could change with the publication of this outstanding contemporary police procedural…. The ending is not one most readers will expect, but it perfectly suits the tale of sad, little lives and the tragic consequences of chance.”

Well put, and for me, this describes both the Fossum books I read.

I look forward to reading the other installments of this fine series. Have any of you read any other books by this author or others from the region?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hmmm… What to Review?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Happy St. Patrick's Day"][/caption]

Okay, you caught me. I didn't do my homework this week. I still hadn't settled on a book to review at 2:30 P.M. yesterday. So I opened up Goodreads and tried to decide from one of the fifteen books I've read this year, while continuing to blow my nose and watch Reno 911 and Married with Children. Nothing like a little trash TV to stimulate the brain.

I finished reading Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert yesterday, so that book was freshest in my mind. At the beginning of this year, I decided to embark on reading the current Dune series before the world comes to an end in 2012. Last month I reread Dune. And, coincidentally, last weekend we watched the two SyFy mini-series they did back in the early 2000s for the first three books. We couldn't help but view critically, but it was still the perfect way to spend a weekend, sick with the flu. Reminded me of how critical people were of the 1984 version, which I'm still not ashamed to say I LOVED! We own the extended version on DVD. It'll be interesting to see if Pierre Morel can pull off another major motion picture by 2012, considering fans are thirsty for a movie as epic as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Oops. Back to this week's topic...a book review. There are nearly 13,000 reviews of Dune Messiah on Goodreads, so I really didn't think you'd want to yawn through my version. What I will say is reading just the first two books in the series has been inspirational to a Sci Fi series I've been planning for at least five years. Refreshing, because I sometimes read too much popular fiction in the genres of horror and comedy, comparing other books to my own style and story ideas for The Courier. I don't want to say there's a lot of bad stuff out there, but... There's a dent in my son's head, where I throw books I can't get passed the first hundred pages. Now that I've got the Kindle, he's complaining of headaches less.

Speaking of popular fiction, I was pretty excited to find Mark Henry's, Amanda Feral zombie series last month. This guy's writing is funny and gross in just the way I love comedic horror. I read Happy Hour of the Damned and gave it 3 out of 5 stars, only because I didn't care for the ending. It won't stop me from picking up another book in the series though. I like Mark's style as much as I enjoy reading Christopher Moore, who can't write fast enough for us fans. Here's a little bit more about the book.

Seattle. One minute you're drinking a vanilla breve, the next, some creepy old dude is breathing on you, turning you into a zombie. And that's just for starters. Now, the recently deceased Amanda Feral is trying to make her way through Seattle's undead scene with style (mortuary-grade makeup, six-inch stilettos, Balenciaga handbag on sale) while satisfying her craving for human flesh (Don't judge. And no, not like chicken.) and decent vodkatinis.

I'd originally hesitated to pick up a book about zombies, thinking them better left to film. Then I saw a review of this book on Dakota Cassidy's blog. If I was going to take the risk of reading about zombies, Happy Hour of the Damed seemed like the perfect book in which to start. I'm glad I took the plunge because his take on zombies is creative and fun. The characters are undead, but real and likable. I can't wait to see what trouble they get into in the next book.

Promise I'll be prepared next time. I plan to to review Werewolf Smackdown by Mario Acevedo.

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I apologize for being a week late, but the winners of the free eBooks from Vamplit Publishing are Harley D. Palmer and Susan Midlock. CONGRATS! I'll be in touch with the information you'll need to collect your prize.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Greg's review: Composition in Black & White

I know most people are expecting me to tout the latest science fiction novel from Steven Barnes or to hawk some unknown gem from Theodore Sturgeon, but for my review, I decided to stick a little closer to home.

I have just finished reading Composition in Black & White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler (1995), a fascinating biography of a Harlem prodigy whose life ended much too quickly.

Author Kathryn Talalay, recipient of the 1988-89 Rockefeller Foundation Grant and a former 14-year faculty member of Indiana University, gives us a thorough look into the life of a bi-racial prodigy who could read and write before age three, play the piano by age four and compose songs and classical pieces by age five.

The book hits close to home for me in that Philippa was a distant relative of mine. My mother's family has connections with the Schuylers, a fact I never knew until a few years ago.

The book pulls no punches, showing the ups and downs of Philippa's life, as well as those of her parents George and Josephine. For all her accomplishments, Philippa was basically an experiment.

[caption id="attachment_1544" align="alignright" width="216" caption="George Schuyler, 1941"][/caption]

George Schuyler was a pioneering black journalist who risked his life all over the Deep South and colonial Africa to report on the plight of blacks and Africans. He founded the Pittsburgh Courier and risked the wrath of the liberal African-American civil rights movement with his conservative views. An army veteran who rose to the rank of 1st lieutenant, he believed that the only way for blacks and whites in America to live together was to literally come together.

He fell in love with Josephine Cogdell, a prominent white socialite from a prestigious family in Granbury, Texas. They both believed that an interracial child would "invigorate" the races, producing extraordinary children that would breach America's racial divide.

The book gives us a thorough background of George's life, though it does not go quite so in-depth with Josephine. That said, Talalay weaves a complete picture of Philippa's upbringing by showing how close (and, many times, how far) George and Josephine were with their prodigy.

[caption id="attachment_1546" align="alignleft" width="234" caption="Josephine & Philippa (age 15), 1946"][/caption]

We get to see how Josephine raised Philippa on a diet of raw meat and vegetables, how she and George constantly tested their daughter and encouraged her musical abilities and went through the awesome task of financing her training.

In this way, we get to be a fly on the wall as Philippa comes of age, trying to please her parents while surviving critical reviews and articles from black and white newspapers, visits from prominent musicians and honors from politicians like former New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

[caption id="attachment_1542" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Philippa Schuyler, 1959"][/caption]

Sadly, we also begin to feel the ugly sting of racism that she experiences when she comes of age into adulthood. Philippa "disappeared" from the American scene for much of her short adult life, traveling the world on extended tours to get away from an America that looked as her as black only (her white grandparents refused to attend her concerts, even when she was near Granbury; they sent their colored servants instead).

One of the wonders of the book is the extensive detail poured into the recounting of her travels to Africa. Talalay recounts encounters with kings and princes, with an adoring African population and even a visit to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. She also shows us how torn Philippa was between the admiration for her father's homeland and the poverty and despair that plagued the continent.

Probably the most heartbreaking moments are when Philippa begins to feel love and has no idea how to show it or receive it.

If there is a major flaw in this book, it is the sheer amount of detail into Philippa's tragic life. It is impossible to read this book in one sitting, no matter how intrigued one may be. It is a book that needs to be perused a chapter or two at a time.

It's no secret that Philippa's life was cut short. When she tired of music, she became a journalist and author. She reported from hot spots all over the world, but especially from Vietnam. She died in a helicopter crash after rescuing children from a war-imperiled Vietnamese orphanage on May 9, 1967, just 15 days after I was born.

The book even goes to great lengths about her death, recounting the crash, the Army investigation in determining that the pilot was trying to show off for Philippa and endangered the lives of all onboard (I personally had a hard time with this section because it was shown as all the more senseless).

The book does seem unrelentingly bleak at the end, showing George Schuyler as a broken man after the death of Philippa in 1967 and, almost two years to the day, in 1969, when he discovered that a depressed Josephine had hanged herself. George, who always thought Philippa and Josephine would outlive him because of the risks he took as a journalist, died alone in a New York hospital in 1977.

Talalay spares no emotions with her book. Drawing upon hundreds of written accounts, stories from those who knew the Schuylers, and previously unpublished diaries and letters from Philippa, Talalay shows us, in this first authorized biography, a haunted life, but one also full of promise and fascination.

I highly recommend this book as it has something for everyone.


(Available on and Kindle)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Reviews: C.J.’s choice is Urban Fantasy

Welcome to our new theme!  Big thanks go to Wendy, our computer guru in the group, who worked diligently through illnesses to improve the layout and overall look to better match our style. Kudos!

This week starts off our first in reviewing books. Our goal is to have some book reviewers join the team permanently to either re-post reviews they’ve already done or to post new ones in our weekend spots. If you're interested, please contact us.

I’m reviewing Carole Nelson Douglas, who is by no means a new author but was new to me when I discovered her Urban Fantasy series, Delilah Street: Paranormal Investigator.

I've read all three books in the series, but will focus today on the first one, Dancing with Werewolves (Juno, October 2007, 394 pages).  Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say in its starred review:
“While the millennium revelation in this fantastic first of a new paranormal series might not be a shocker for urban fantasy fans—i.e., vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies come out of the closet after Y2K—Douglas (Cat in a Red Hot Rage) handles the premise with such spectacular style, it feels fresh. Delilah Street, who was only 11 in 2000, is now 24 and works for WTCH, a Kansas TV station, as a paranormal investigative reporter. When Delilah angers an undead coworker and is demoted, she moves to Sin City in hopes of finding a possible blood relative seen on CSI Las Vegas V. She gets a job with Hector Nightwine, the show's producer, and falls in love with Ric Montoya, a former FBI agent who finds corpses by dowsing. Douglas spices the action with fabulous characters: Quicksilver, Delilah’s protective dog; CinSims (Cinema Simulacrums), dead celebrities recreated via science and magic; the oldest living vampire in Vegas, once a famous aviator; and Cocaine (aka Snow), a devilish albino rocker. Readers will eagerly await the sequel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s written in a first-person, past-tense style, has a strong heroine with a unique background and supernatural skill set. The world building that Ms. Douglas weaves into the story is seamless and well done. I was transported into her Vegas of the near future and loved her new angle on zombies and their potential uses.

She creates a very likable character in Delilah and I found myself drooling over Ric. The romance is a subplot in this book to the action and adventure, and it never overshadows the plot.  Every element—be it mystery, fantasy, action or romance—blends well and keeps you turning the page.

Dislikes: I felt the cover, and the ones following in books two and three, fell short and did not represent the excellent storytelling.  They looked a little cheesy, and thankfully, the intriguing book jacket was what pulled me in and prompted me to buy.

Book two ramps up the action and starts a story arc that concludes in book three, but I had a hard time getting through the third book. Perhaps it was my own life and the things I’ve had going on, but the direction Ms. Douglas takes the story with the new fantastical elements of an ancient Egyptian culture of vampires living under Vegas since before the pilgrims, left me with too many fantasy angles to juggle and a story that was, at times, hard to follow.

Overall rating on Dancing with Werewolves: 4/5 stars

Overall rating on series: 3.5/5 stars

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Mystery, or Paranormal Suspense. Anyone out there who’s read it? I’d love to hear your take!

Updates: Most all of you following the blog know I've recently obtained representation from agent Kristin Lindstrom.  As of Friday, my full MS for Vampire Vacation has been sent to seven New York publishers.  I'll keep you posted on the results once I hear something.

Please stop by our excellent contest page for details and new book postings—a new winner is picked every week! In addition, the Wicked Blog is up for nomination in the Author Blog Awards, please click on the link in the right sidebar and vote if you have the time - THANKS!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Advice, dialogue and (mis)communicating

I found this interesting blog on LinkedIn, from Anne Maclachlan, who does a bit called "Here's Why."

Anne was kind enough to give me permission to repost the blog she did on author Dr. Deborah Tannen, a New York Times bestselling author and communications expert, for our weekend readers and writers who just can't wait until CJ Ellisson blogs again on Monday.

Anne is not only a blogger, but a published author of horror with "The Thing in the Crosstrees" from the anthology The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical Terror. She is a former news content producer for the San Diego Tribune. She has produced two interactive English as a Second Language (ESL) textbooks and has won awards for her writing from the Society of Professional Journalists and San Diego Press Club, as well as the Southern California Writers Conference.

Since her credentials make me seem like a novice, I have paid attention to her blogs closely, especially this week's on Dr. Tannen. I found Dr. Tannen's article very informative. It has a lot of good advice and our topic this week deals with advice. A few weeks ago, we talked about writing believable dialogue and Dr. Tannen talks about the dialogue (or lack thereof) between men and women.

For aspiring writers, her writing could give valuable tips for writing believable conflict between male and female characters. For our readers, it might help explain some of the dialogue in today's books or, more importantly, in normal life.

Judge for yourselves.

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Dr. Deborah Tannen: Solving the communications battle of the sexes.

Deborah Tannen is still my favorite communications expert (so this is more or less a shameless plug of her work) and here’s precisely why: You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation.

[caption id="attachment_1454" align="alignright" width="120" caption="Deborah Tannen"][/caption]

That’s what started it for me, anyway. Dr. Tannen covers everything from male-female communication in the workplace and in social situations to family dynamics and that scary mother-daughter thing. Her advice is concrete and usable. She explains why we tend to communicate the way we do, investigates the social and genetic influences on speech, and lays out how better to listen and understand.

And the thing is, her observations are so accurate and astute that they just might affect your life. If you want to see how and why, here’s an excerpt from some of her writing for a quick look.

Before the next time you want to ask a woman “Why didn’t you just   say that?” or want to yell “You aren’t listening!” at your favorite man, it might be worth your while to investigate these books.

Good luck, all the same.

Excerpt from "You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in  Conversation" by Dr. Deborah Tannen.

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Again, I want to thank Anne Maclachlan for letting Wicked Writers repost her blog. Hopefully, our readers have found something useful from it.

Oh, and don't forget to catch Wicked Writers next week when we talk about the art of reviewing. Our guest blogger will be Harley Palmer, founder of the Writing Academy at, who will share how she reviews the dozens of short stories she has received from her students' writing assignments.

How does an unknown author become a Kindle bestseller? Perseverance

Lately, I've been fascinated, and a little obsessed with the changing face of publishing. So when I read this post in Anthony S. Policastro's blog, Writing is About Putting Yourself to Words, I thought it would be a perfect repost for our blog, while we're searching for another male mystery writer to blog with us.

By the way, Anthony is the author of Dark End of the Spectrum.
DARK END OF SPECTRUM will make you think twice before turning on your cell phone or PDA! DARK END OF THE SPECTRUM is a frighteningly plausible, headline ripping tale of the real threats that loom in cyberspace based on the author's years of research into the hacker culture. More..

Thanks, Anthony & Elisa, for letting us repost!

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I asked novelist Elisa Lorello to share some of her insight in how her first novel, Faking It, peaked to number 6 on the Kindle Bestseller list during the last week of January with her second book, Ordinary World, positioning well around number 40.

By Elisa Lorello
I wish I could give you a formula for my recent success as an Amazon Kindle bestseller. I've been going back, trying to re-trace my steps, and the best I can say is that all the pieces fell into place at the right time. I can, however, give you the pieces. They're the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion.


I had written my novel, Faking It, from 2004 to 2006. I spent much of 2007 querying literary agents, and while each query resulted in rejection, some agents requested the manuscript and gave me feedback that prompted me to revise the novel further. In late 2008, I decided to independently publish through Despite the rejection from agents, I believed in my novel, believed in its quality and appeal, and believed a readership existed, waiting for it. Approximately six months later, in June 2009, I published it on the Amazon Kindle.

But I also have to talk about the Kindle itself as a product. My sales numbers began to skyrocket Christmas week, as I had predicted they would, and kept going up. With the Kindle being Amazon's best-selling product of all time, I knew that excited new Kindle owners (my sister being one of them) were going to want to use them, and they were going to want to buy as many books as they could. Which leads me to the second P…


Pricing, especially for e-books, has been under some scrutiny. Most Kindle users refuse to pay anything over $9.99 for an e-book. And although Amazon lost the recent pricing battle with Macmillan, read the discussion forums to get a sense of what Kindle owners want. Reading those Kindle discussion threads significantly played a role in my decision to price Faking It at 99 cents. (I had originally priced it at $1.99, with Amazon discounting it to $1.19 before they stopped discounting Kindle books.) Many indie (independently published) authors price their books under two bucks in order to entice readers who otherwise wouldn't give an unknown author a chance.

But doesn't that devalue my work and deprive me of royalties? Well, yes and no. Of course I would love to charge at least five dollars for my e-book. My book is worth that, and more. But the question is more about priority. Do you want royalties, or do you want a readership? And can you get one without the other? I wanted a readership. Thus, I lowered my price to 99 cents in September. With each month, sales numbers rose. And, as previously mentioned, by Christmas week my sales really skyrocketed.


Because I had independently published Faking It through prior to publishing on Kindle, I had a head start on getting out the word. I made bookstore appearances, gave a local Raleigh, NC television show interview, and jumped on the online social networking bandwagon, taking advantage of Facebook and Twitter. In conjunction to publishing on Kindle, I launched a 30-day blog tour. I also found the aforementioned discussion forums on Kindle (and learned when it was and was not appropriate to give my novel a plug).

Pretty soon, the word of mouth took on a life of its own, and I didn't have to work so hard. By late fall, reader reviews came in, and the majority were four and five stars. (By this time I had also released Ordinary World, the sequel to Faking It; in fact, I launched it on Kindle before paperback!)

I had also become a regular participant on a Facebook discussion forum for Aaron Sorkin fans (the page was created by Sorkin when he started writing The Social Network, but was deleted shortly after filming wrapped). I rarely, if ever, talked about Faking It (except to let Mr. Sorkin know that I had mentioned him in my acknowledgements as one of my favorite writers). But as the other regulars got to know me, they purchased my novel and kindly mentioned it on the forum, offering praise and promotion of their own.

Part of promoting yourself means knowing when not to give your book a plug, but rather just relax and have fun and take pleasure in the interests of others. I've stopped following authors who tweet the same message about their book (and nothing else) day after day, or only use their Facebook page to talk about their good reviews. I have more fun tweeting about things that have nothing to do with my novel, and I find that when I do get around to plugging Faking It or Ordinary World, the results are much more effective. More importantly, I support other authors - especially indie authors - as much as I can, either by hosting them on my blog, re-tweeting their messages, or recommending their book on Facebook or the Kindle forums.


This is probably where timing came in. I was able to ride the wave of social networking, and the readers did the rest. Likewise, as mentioned, with the Kindle being the number one Christmas gift, I now had access to the very readership I sought. Every time I appeared on a blog or posted a message on a discussion board, my exposure increased. Twitter followers re-tweeted my messages, and Faking It appeared on Kindle book review blogs recommended as a good book at a good price. E-book distribution has really opened up thanks to sites like Scribd and Smashwords, not to mention Kindle and Barnes & Noble allowing free e-reader software downloads, and Kindle now being accessible on Black Berry, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.

For every recommendation and positive review, my books rose in the ranks. From there it became a spiral reaction: The higher the ranking, the more people downloaded the book. The more they downloaded the book, the higher the ranking rose. To my utter shock and delight, Faking It peaked at number 6 on the Kindle Bestseller list during the last week of January with Ordinary World positioning well around number 40. (At the time of this writing, Faking It is number 50, and Ordinary World
is number 176. Both are in the Top 100 in Genre Fiction and the Top 20 in Contemporary Romance.) I had gone from getting 50 downloads in one month back in September 2009, to 50 downloads a day in late December, to 50 downloads an hour (it peaked at 150 an hour at one point!).

There's an X-factor to all of this. No one knows how or when all these things align - believe me, I wish I did. I've tried to pinpoint the exact moment these four Ps converged, and who or what made the difference, but I really don't know why it skyrocketed as quickly as it did at the time it did. I also have no idea how long this success will last.

My numbers have dipped quite a bit in the last two weeks (this could be because people are watching the Olympics rather than reading books, so I'm curious to see if the numbers change in the coming weeks). However, some doors are opened now that weren't previously, and it'll be interesting to see what happens in the coming months. I also plan to start experimenting with pricing, especially as Amazon's author royalty rates are scheduled to increase dramatically in June.

If there's any advice I can give you, it's to start with your product - that is, make your book the best it can be. A readership is waiting to embrace indie authors, but they are holding those authors to high standards. They want to read books that are challenging, entertaining, and, most of all, well-written and well-edited. Pricing your book cheaply doesn't give you permission to publish a cheap book. Above all, work on your craft.

Also, be persistent. My success didn't happen overnight, even though it sometimes feels like it did. I spend a lot of time following up on promotion, reading blogs and discussion forums, responding to readers, etc. It's just as much work as writing the book itself. Some days it doesn't pay off. Other days it pays off in ways I'd never dreamed. Get the word "can't" out of your language. If you believe something can't be done, if you believe you are limited, then your biggest limitation is you.

Faking It and Ordinary World are currently available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for 99 cents, and at in paperback (Faking It is also available in paperback on and in paperback). You can follow Elisa Lorello on Twitter @elisalorello, Faking It Fans on Facebook, or "I'll Have What She's Having": The Official Blog of Elisa Lorello.