Walking the Moors With Agatha

Walking the Moors With Agatha

As I sit out on my deck watching the fog roll over the fields of my farm, I realize what a wonderful opportunity I’ve had to be able to write in such beauty. It seems wherever I am, I’m usually drawn outdoors to a porch or a patio, especially in the spring, summer and fall, when flowers are blooming, the hummingbirds are sipping their nectar and the cicada’s are singing their songs. My writing seems to flow easily when I’m outside the confines of four walls.

Apparently I’m in good company, as Anne McCaffrey once told an interviewer, “I think writers need windows on a view to remind them that a whole world is out there, not the minutiae with which they might be dealing on a close scale.”

One writer friend, who shall remain nameless, has 5 children under the age of twelve. He says the only place he can truly settle in to write in peace is comfortably seated on a sheepskin rug he carries into their large, oversized bathroom where he can lock himself inside for some quiet writing time. I thought this strange to the extreme until I discovered that Agatha Christie did much of her writing while soaking in her oversized Victorian tub.

On that note, there have been several other famous writers who have found sitting behind a desk in their library untenable. Gertrude Stein used to sit in the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford while parked on the streets of Paris.

It’s said that Sir Walter Scott wrote many of his poems on horseback, and several famous writers wrote from their bed.

Agatha Christie plotted out her first mystery while walking the moors near the Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor, and Ernest Hemingway is said to have written while standing at a writer’s podium.

I know that writers write wherever they find themselves, at all times of the day and night, but what I wouldn’t give to have walked the moors with Ms. Christie, eavesdropping as she plotted The Mysterious Affair at Styles, or to have stood gazing out over the rooftops of Paris with Earnest Hemingway and listening as he admonished himself with these famous words:

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

So, as I sit on my deck getting ready to write and watching the ghostly tendrils of fog roll in, I close my eyes and imagine the heavy air carries the distinctive aroma of Hemingway’s pipe and I quietly put my fingers to the keys and say to myself, “Do not worry. You have always written before…”

Five Reasons a Writer Should Run From Social Media

Five Reasons a Writer Should Run From Social Media

multi-tasking

Multi-tasking using Social Media seems to be all the rage these days. You say you’re a writer. Do you want to be a successful writer? Do you want to take your writing to the next level? Then I highly suggest you jump off the Social Media bandwagon and turn off your internet while you write. Why, you say? Here’s why…

1. Let’s say we’re true writers who allot so many hours per day to write. Remember, writing is a job. If we want to be professional writers, we need to, and must, commit to spending x amount of hours at our desks putting words on a paper. How many of us have been happily typing away, and a notification pops up on our desktop reminding us that today is Ralph’s birthday. We have only written 300 words so far out of the 3000 that is our daily goal. But, it’s Ralph’s birthday! Let’s just pop over to Facebook and wish him a Happy Birthday before we forget about it. Happy Birthday, Ralph! Oh look, Auntie Mame is getting a breast reduction done on her size FFF breasts this morning. Let me jus take a few minutes to wish her well.
2. Auntie Mame just happens to be on Facebook and sees our well-wishes. She shoots us an instant message and wants to tell us all about her ungrateful children who won’t call or write and who don’t care about the fact that she’s having major breast reduction surgery because all of the weight she’s carrying around on her front half is causing debilitating pain on her back half and she’s so happy we took the time to write and did we happen see this interesting article on the cute little puppy who dances the merengue?
3. Hmmm, there’s a puppy in the next chapter of our book. Maybe we should just take a minute to do a little research. We click on the link Auntie Mame so generously provided and find a cute little five-minute video of a Havanese puppy dancing in front of a delighted audience of oriental children. Wait, what’s a Havanese puppy? Let’s just Google that breed because we may just want to use that one as the second puppy who comes to meet the first one in the chapter we haven’t written yet.
4. Oh yeah, that reminds us, we only have 300 words written so far. Back to Word where we stare at the page a few minutes wondering what we’d written so far. Let’s just start at the beginning and re-read what we wrote because we need to keep the flow of the book going with just the same rhythm we had when we first sat down to write. Oh yeah, there’s that word we couldn’t think of in the second paragraph. Let’s pop over to the online thesaurus and try to come up with just the right word. Hmmmm, there’s one that might work, but what’s the exact definition of that particular word? Let’s click on the dictionary to find out. Oh! How cool! That word has a link to…
5. Wikipedia. Whew. Now we can really find out why the word we were going to use might not work because it was used in ancient Greece to let the hedonistic slaves know when it was time to come in to work for their owners. Uh oh, we know what that means…and we certainly don’t want our readers to think we’ve stepped into the slightly erotic zone in our writing. Phew, we dodged the bullet on that one.

Well, the time we allotted for writing is now over because we have to go make lunch and walk the dog. But wow, what great research we did, and we scored points with Auntie Mame and Ralph. And well, we did get those 300 words written, didn’t we?

To Live or Not to Live

To Live or Not to Live

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Not Feeling Too Well 🙁

We had several chicks arrive today. They’re barely three days old and already I can tell the timid from the bold, the strong from the weak and then, there’s this tiny little one that I have tucked up under my shirt because she needs just a little bit more warmth and extra care. Her eyes are closed, her wings are limp, and her breathing is almost nonexistent. She’s nestled in close to my chest, fighting to live as I write. Every now and then I feel her adjust a wing or reposition her teensy toes. I wonder if she’ll pull through, if she has that intangible ingredient that gives her that extra little oomph that I’ve seen in so many other wounded or weak animals throughout the years. I’ve found that the trait I’m hoping to encourage in this little Silver Laced Wyandotte, that intangible will to survive and to thrive, is found in all aspects of nature. It runs true in successful human endeavors as well. It’s the difference between a very talented shower crooner who is too afraid to sing in public, and, say, someone like Barbara Streisand, who ignored the naysayers of her youth and rose to the very pinnacle of her profession. Why does someone like Cesar Milan triumph while thousands of other wannabe animal trainers languish in obscurity? And, along those lines, since I love to write, I wonder why some people dream of becoming a writer “someday” while others crank out novel after novel after novel. Why do negative reviews completely derail certain authors to the extent that they never write again, yet others laugh at the negative comments and publish another book on the heels of that negative review? I think it has something to do with whether or not this little chick is going to pull through. If she has that drive, that little extra belief in herself, combined with the will to live—to succeed where others have failed and died. At some point, will she tell herself she’s just too tired to try anymore? Will she decide that the three days she’s been in existence have simply been too difficult to even want to go on? Over the years, I’ve spoken to many people who have a thirty page manuscript tucked into a drawer that one day they’ll pull out and dust off and hopefully crank out the other two hundred and fifty pages necessary to complete their book. But it’s just so hard to find time to write. It’s not fun waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s easier to simply say, “Maybe one day.” The successful ones are the people, and chickens, who shout out to the world, “Just let me write one more word, take one more breath, finish one more page, and swallow one more dropper full of sugar water.” They believe, unequivocally, that they’re going to make it no matter what. Nothing is going to keep them from their success.

IMG_0271

Silver Laced Wyandotte

I just heard a few tiny peeps out of this little chick. As I pull her out from under my shirt, her eyes are open again, her wings are tucked in tight and she’s telling me she’s ready to live. I guess she has that little extra something that all truly successful creatures possess. How about you? Are you ready to pull out that dusty manuscript and finish it? Do you have what this tiny little chick obviously has in abundance? Of course you do. Now get out there and put that one more word into your story, finish that next page, and start that next chapter. Decide to succeed. It’s really as simple as that.

Getting Kicked Out of the Story

Getting Kicked Out of the Story

I’ve been practicing a new technique that I learned from my friend, Harvey Stanbrough. If you are a writer, Harvey’s website is full of excellent material he’s written and collected on everything having to do with writing. He’s a great writer himself, but as a resource, I highly recommend him.

The technique I’m talking about is called “Writing Into the Dark.” It’s a wonderful way of writing that actually frees up writers to do what we’re meant to do—write. When I’m writing into the dark, I’m not planning the story—any part of the story—I’m simply following the characters around and reporting on what they’re doing. I’m listening to their accents and trying to write them so they make sense to the reader. I’m watching the street they are walking down and reporting on what I’m seeing.

This technique is so freeing I wish I could convince every writer I meet that they should at least give it a try. If you’re interested in looking into it, go to Dean Wesley Smith’s website here and check out number #24 of his lecture series. (No I’m not getting a commission for recommending it)

Harvey Stanbrough

Harvey Stanbrough

But that’s not the main topic of this post. I realized something after being hit over the head with it by Harvey the other day.

I am someone who is focused on putting out the best, cleanest book possible. By cleanest, I mean one with very few grammatical errors. I’m also very precise with my words because I know exactly what I want to convey, even with a single word. Now, I have always been very aware as a reader, that there are times when I’m completely immersed in a story and then, wham, I’m jerked out of it by something. For this post, it doesn’t matter what that something is. Suffice it to say, it happens.

What I never realized before, is that the same phenomena can happen to a writer. When I’m focused on the grammar, or the punctuation, or on finding just the right word, I’m jerking myself out of the story. I stop what I’m writing and do something else. That was an epiphany for me, and Harvey’s whack with a metaphorical stick is what it took to allow myself to write. If I come to a word that doesn’t work, I type the wrong word in caps so I can find it easily later, and I move on. Punctuation? Same thing. I’ll bold the sentence and move on.

The result has been a 1/3 increase in word count per day. Before this concept I was struggling to fit 2000 words into my writing time. Now, 3000 words fly off my fingertips, and the key thing I’ve noticed, is that my writing hasn’t suffered a bit! It’s still tight or edgy or funny and well written. The only difference is that writing is no longer a struggle!

I highly recommend trying this process to any writer out there who is struggling with perfectionism. I still go back at the end of the day to find the right word or the correct punctuation, but I don’t do it in the middle of my creative process.

Let me know if you try it and how it works for you. I’m really interested to see if it helps your writing as much as it has helped mine.

Different Strokes

Different Strokes

Credo's Legacy VodkaWriting mysteries comes easily to me since most of my adult life has been spent unraveling true to life mysteries as an officer in a large metropolitan police force. Solving cases is really nothing more than methodical fact-finding and taking the time to follow-up on every tiny scrap of evidence you can find. Can three words a four-year-old lisps while you’re trying to talk to her mom break a case? Of course! Well, if she says, “Daddy did it.” that’s a no brainer. But what if the mother is telling you the mailman did it, and the child whispers to her pink elephant, “Thath not twru.” A good detective would hear her and make note of what she said. A great detective would ask the mother to excuse them a minute, get down on the floor and start playing with the girl to see if he could get her to talk.

The Alex Wolfe Mystery series has been fun to write because Alex is like a dog with a bone. She digs and digs and gnaws and chews until she begins to drive everyone around her absolutely crazy. She does and says things to her superiors that would get me or any other officer fired in a heartbeat. I’m the type of person who comes up with the perfect comeback about two hours after the fact when I’m driving down the road playing back the conversation in my head. Not Alex. Her comments to her bosses are witty, biting or just plain outrageous and they’re constantly a source of contention between her and her fellow officers. Her methods are definitely not found in the regulation police manual, but they work.

One of my favorite by-products of writing books is the chance I get to answer questions from other writers. I love to teach authors how to write realistic police scenes or dialogue. Most people are pretty well versed now on police procedures because of all the reality police TV shows. At a seminar in Arizona, I was asked how one officer could handle a particular call so differently from another. In other words, how can Alex be successful when she’s so definitely “not by the book”?

Within the confines of the law, there is no one “right” way to do police work. There are many, many different ways to handle the same situation. For example, a cop walks up to a local gang member on the street and asks for identification. The gang member takes off running down the street. If the cop has twenty years under his belt, he’ll probably watch the young man running away and think to himself “Tomorrow’s another day.” He knows he’ll run into the kid again.

Now take the same scenario, but make the cop a twenty-one year old rookie fresh out of the academy. Everyone knows, the chase is on. The rookie keys his mike while he’s running after the suspect, breathing heavily while giving his location and making sure everyone in his division know he’s chasing a bad guy. Alex on the other hand might run to her car, drive around the block and be leaning up against her car with her arms crossed waiting for the guy to run out of the alley. Three very different responses, all of them acceptable. “How can the grizzled old veteran’s response be acceptable?” you may ask. Actually, they did ask at the seminar, along with about a hundred other questions that turned into a fun discussion on how these fifty and sixty year old writers could best capture a fleeing suspect.

Anyway, I digress. If you go back to the original scenario, the cop simply walked up to a man who was dressed in gang clothes and hanging out on a street corner. The man ran. Nothing illegal in that. Suspicious? Yes. Illegal? No. The veteran has probably worked the same beat for fifty years. He knows who hangs out where, when, and why. If he didn’t know this particular gangster, he’ll know who he is by the end of the day, why he’s there and what drugs he specializes in. He’ll notify the undercover street narcotics squad who’ll set up several buys and get the man off the streets for good. It’s the difference between short-term and long-term thinking. Rookie versus Veteran.

To me, it’s these types of differences that make police procedurals interesting and I like to put all different types of officers into my stories. So like I always say—Pop some popcorn, curl up by the fire with Credo’s Hope and get ready to be entertained.

 

The Spotlight Effect

The Spotlight Effect

Being a writer isn’t easy. Most of us use our computer to write our great American novel. The trouble is, there are so many distractions on the internet today that many times what took us 3 hours to write ten years ago takes us six hours today.

We are distracted by

• Reading our email
• Answering our email
• Checking our social media
• Surfing the web
• Anything else that we can find to help us to not write

 But honestly, there’s another, more insidious reason many writers fail to complete one book, one short story, or even one blog post. That reason?

THE SPOTLIGHT EFFECT

What exactly is this mysterious ailment? According to a study done by Cornell University, The Spotlight Effect is “An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance.” What does that mean in basic English?

It means

• Most people think everyone is staring at them

When in Reality

• Nobody really cares or notices what you do, think, or say

How does this study relate to writers? Most writers freeze up when they start worrying about that next review. What will my readers think? I’ll be everyone’s fool. Everyone will say I should never have been a writer.

Honestly, take a minute and breathe. Now take a minute to set some goals. Decide to write 1000 words/day or 2000 or 3000. Then realize that if people don’t like what you’ve just published, that’s okay because you’ll already be off and running on your next project, on that next 1000 words, or half way into your next novel. Take control and silence your worst critics. Move beyond them, don’t listen to them, and don’t EVER let them stop you from attaining your goals and dreams.

Writing for an Audience of One

Writing for an Audience of One

DadIf we are lucky, there comes a time in a writer’s life when we realize that, although we love our readers, we can no longer write simply to try to please them. Writing for other people can be a strangling experience, one where the hidden demons of self doubt creep into our subconscious and whisper crippling innuendos of fear and incertitude. “They won’t like it if I turn my character into this.” Or “They don’t want me to start another series, they want more of this one.” Or “This book is no good, the reviewers will tear it apart.”

Those thoughts generate the greatest excuse not to write known to man; the fearsome “writer’s block.” In reality, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and neither do the men and women who write thousands of words day after day, writing through their hesitations and fears. What I’ve come to understand is that they don’t write for their fans or for a large audience of potential readers. Those writers have learned to write for no one other than for themselves. They have an audience of one.

And yet even with that audience of one, doubt and apprehension try to wriggle into the writing process. A true writer has to push those doubts way down into the dark recesses of their mind and simply put pen to paper, writing word after word after word, and always coming back the next day to resume the process. There is no place in our writing for doubt. We have to believe that the stories are within us, that the gift of words we’ve been blessed with will coalesce into brilliant, wonderful stories that will transport our readers into another world, another time, or another dimension.

The best advice I can give any writer is to put away your doubts, your fears of your audience and your fear of failure, and write. Remember, the best audience you have is an audience of one.

 

Finding Characters and Interesting Personalities

Finding Characters and Interesting Personalities

Thank you for visiting with me as I’m touring with one of my Alex Wolfe Mysteries, Credo’s Hope. I’m traveling across the country as I write this, meeting wonderful people and enjoying the many different cultures and personalities found in each of the charming regions I’m traveling through. Have any of you ever noticed how incredibly friendly the people of the Midwest can be? A total stranger in Oklahoma spent almost an hour of her own time helping me find a pet friendly hotel while a young man in Missouri ran through a farmer’s field after my Chihuahua who’d decided she wanted to take her own tour of the Show Me state. As I drove through the southern states, people with wide smiles and heavy southern drawls were only too happy to repeat themselves as many times as necessary to make themselves understood by my uninitiated ears.

One side benefit to meeting such an eclectic group of people is the shear number of interesting personalities and quirks I can use for new characters in my novels. Take for example the waitress in a small town in northern Texas. We’d pulled into a Mom and Pop cafe on the main street of town. What made this town unique was there were no McDonalds, Subways or Taco Bells lining the main thoroughfare. We had the choice of this clean little place with sky-blue naugahyde booths, old-fashioned music players on each tabletop, and hand printed, laminated menus or a dirty little greasy spoon across the street. We chose the Mom and Pops.

betty-boopThe waitress who met us at the door wore blindingly white polyester pants and blouse with a sky-blue trim that matched the color of the booths. She had a pretty, round face and a sparkling gleam of mischief dancing just behind her greenish brown eyes. Our conversation went something like this:

   I pointed to the menu and asked, “So, what do you recommend?”

 

The waitress smiled, and instead of answering my question, asked one of her own. “You’re not from around here, are you?” She didn’t have the typical small town Texas accent, and if I had to place her, I would have said Valley Girl from California.

 

“No, We’re from Arizona. Why?”

 

We were the only ones in the dining room, but she still glanced around to make sure we were alone. Looking back at me, she raised carefully plucked eyebrows, silently expecting me to get her meaning. I raised mine in return, telling her I didn’t have a clue what she was trying to say. Very slowly, and with exaggerated meaning, her eyes slid to the greasy spoon next door. I followed her gaze, and for the first time noticed their parking lot. It was filled with cars and trucks and people standing around both inside and out laughing and jostling each other.

 

Just about that time, the owner/chef of our clean little diner stepped into the room and all of us turned toward him. The portly man had the same round face as the waitress, except where hers was open and laughing, his was pinched with an angry scowl and lowered, glowering eyes. He didn’t say anything to the girl, just motioned with a little waving flick of his hand for her to hurry up.

 

“Be right there, Uncle Brett.” She turned back to us as he retreated into his kitchen. Standing there with her pen poised over her notepad, she smiled conspiratorially at me, pointed across the street with her chin and said sotto voiced, “So, that’s what I recommend.” Her eyes sparkled. “They’ve got a killer chicken fried steak and Ms. Porter makes the most wonderful gravy in the world.”

 

I looked across the street at their full parking lot, then glanced at our lone car sitting in the lot of the cafe looking like a lonely fourth cousin at a family reunion. My attention shifted back to our waitress. “Uncle?”

 

She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen, then leaned in to whisper, “He takes all my tips and keeps them for himself. I’m only here for another two weeks then I’m outta here.”

 

I nodded, stood up thanked her quietly, then sauntered over to the crowded restaurant where I had the most mouth watering chicken fried steak and gravy I’d ever tasted.

 

And that my friends, is exactly where I get the kinds of characters for my books, such as Credo’s Hope, that have my readers writing to say they wish they could actually be friends with my main protagonist, Alexandra Wolfe and her friends who help turn Alex’s everyday life as a detective upside down.

Truth or Fiction?

Truth or Fiction?

Alison and Bear     As a retired cop, and as a writer, especially as a mystery writer, I’ve been privileged to be able to see the lives of some of my characters from both sides of the fence.  One fun question I get to play with while I’m populating my stories is whether my fiction is going to mimic real life or do I get to write the real lives of my characters as though they mimic fiction.

There were many, many times when I was handling a call where my partner would turn to me and say “You know, even if we put this into a book, no one would believe it really happened.” I’ve found that to be true. For example, during a writing seminar, I had the opportunity to discuss my books with one of my readers. She was teasing me about what a vivid imagination I had when it came to one of the chapters in the first book of my Credo series. My protagonist, Alex Wolfe, had to go undercover as a prostitute and my reader refused to believe that all of the situations my character found herself in had actually happened to either me or to some of our undercover vice detectives.  This is a perfect example where fiction mimics the eccentricities of real life.

On the other hand, I’ve had more than one of my police colleagues ask me whether I’ve ever heard of internal affairs because many of the antics of the detectives in my novels would obviously get a real officer fired. My answer always brings a knowing smile and a wistful nod of their head. For twenty years, I had to toe the line. Heck, I was a sergeant in Internal Affairs for part of my career. One of my great joys as a writer is allowing my characters to act like most officers wish they could act if they were living in a fictional world.  It’s very difficult to have to be polite to jerks or to have to call a sweating, foul mouthed idiot sir or ma’am.

What I enjoy even more while I’m writing, is allowing Alex to get even with “superior” officers, i.e. sergeant’s, lieutenants and above, who are less than a credit to their profession. Being a cop on the street is a little stressful but it’s also a lot of fun. Being a cop who has to put up with idiots for bosses is a lot stressful, and no fun. I love allowing my characters to mouth off, or to act unprofessional or even downright juvenile at times. I consider it one of the perks of the writing profession.

So what do you think? Should fiction always mimic real life or should we allow our characters to be a little off the wall and perhaps a little unrealistic? I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

5 Networking Essentials for the Authorial Hermit

Owning a business is hard work, and like it or not, being an author is a business. For the most part, an author is responsible for writing a book (hopefully a fantastic book), getting the book to an editor, working the edits once they return, publishing the book and most  importantly, marketing. If you don’t market your blockbuster, nobody will know it’s out there.

There are many, many, many ways for a hermit to market her book, and I will try to touch on several of them in the next few weeks.   One aspect of marketing that a lot authors seem to neglect is networking. Authors tend to be an introverted bunch so I’ve compiled a list of 5 networking essentials that even the most shy authorial hermit can try.

Networking Tips for the Authorial Hermit

  1. Here’s one that will put you at ease. Don’t try to network with hundreds of people. Joe the plumber who doesn’t like to read not only won’t pass your card around, he’ll probably flush it down the toilet. Better one good networking buddy than twenty Joe the plumbers. Find a few people who know the business, invite them to tea and pick their brain. I have  four or five people whom I can call for advice and who will come running when I call. Why will they come running you may ask…..because of tip #2.
  2. Always be willing to help other people. The idea of networking is an exchange of ideas. Try to discover what you know that someone else might need. Are you really good at WordPress? A lot of your fellow authors need help with their website. Photoshop? Help someone with their book cover. I absolutely guarantee if you help other writers, help will return to you tenfold.
  3. Networking is not always face to face (whew, I can see you wiping your brow over that one) Much of today’s networking is done on the internet. Read blogs and if you see someone with a question or a comment that you can help, do so. If someone has information you think might help you, shoot off an email. One major caveat however, keep the email short and sweet. I once received a request for help from someone who sent me a four page letter explaining what he needed. Remember, other people are just as busy as you are. That said, once you have an established networking friend, don’t be afraid to buy them a coffee so you can chat.
  4. You don’t need to apologize every time you ask for help. Introverts always think they are bothering people and extroverts always think people are thrilled to hear from them. Generally, if you don’t take up too much of a person’s time, they are more than happy to help you over whatever problem you’ve gotten yourself into. Go on, try it!
  5. Finally, Follow Up! People like to know there is someone out there watching out for their best interest. If you help someone, call or email to find out if what you suggested worked. If they helped you, a quick note to say thanks and to say how much you appreciated their help will do wonders for future meetings.
Remember, practice makes perfect. Set a goal to make five new contacts each week, and of those five, maybe one will become an excellent networking contact for you. And the other four? At the very least, there are four more people in the world who might  not wonder why that introverted guy behind the computer over there never takes the time to speak to anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Can Writers Find Interesting Characters?

Thank you for visiting with me as I’m touring with one of my Alex Wolfe Mysteries, Credo’s Hope. I’m traveling across the country as I write this, meeting wonderful people and enjoying the many different cultures and personalities found in each of the charming regions I’m traveling through. Have any of you ever noticed how incredibly friendly the people of the Midwest can be? A total stranger in Oklahoma spent almost an hour of her own time helping me find a pet friendly hotel while a young man in Missouri ran through a farmer’s field after my Chihuahua who’d decided she wanted to take her own tour of the Show Me state. As I drove through the southern states, people with wide smiles and heavy southern drawls were only too happy to repeat themselves as many times as necessary to make themselves understood by my uninitiated ears.

One side benefit to meeting such an eclectic group of people is the shear number of interesting personalities and quirks I can use for new characters in my novels. Take for example the waitress in a small town in northern Texas. We’d pulled into a Mom and Pop cafe on the main street of town. What made this town unique was there were no McDonalds, Subways or Taco Bells lining the main thoroughfare. We had the choice of this clean little place with sky-blue naugahyde booths, old-fashioned music players on each tabletop, and hand printed, laminated menus or a dirty little greasy spoon across the street. We chose the Mom and Pops.

The waitress who met us at the door wore blindingly white polyester pants and blouse with a sky-blue trim that matched the color of the booths. She had a pretty, round face and a sparkling gleam of mischief dancing just behind her greenish brown eyes. Our conversation went something like this:

   I pointed to the menu and asked, “So, what do you recommend?”

 

The waitress smiled, and instead of answering my question, asked one of her own. “You’re not from around here, are you?” She didn’t have the typical small town Texas accent, and if I had to place her, I would have said Valley Girl from California.

 

“No, We’re from Arizona. Why?”

 

We were the only ones in the dining room, but she still glanced around to make sure we were alone. Looking back at me, she raised carefully plucked eyebrows, silently expecting me to get her meaning. I raised mine in return, telling her I didn’t have a clue what she was trying to say. Very slowly, and with exaggerated meaning, her eyes slid to the greasy spoon next door. I followed her gaze, and for the first time noticed their parking lot. It was filled with cars and trucks and people standing around both inside and out laughing and jostling each other.

 

Just about that time, the owner/chef of our clean little diner stepped into the room and all of us turned toward him. The portly man had the same round face as the waitress, except where hers was open and laughing, his was pinched with an angry scowl and lowered, glowering eyes. He didn’t say anything to the girl, just motioned with a little waving flick of his hand for her to hurry up.

 

“Be right there, Uncle Brett.” She turned back to us as he retreated into his kitchen. Standing there with her pen poised over her notepad, she smiled conspiratorially at me, pointed across the street with her chin and said sotto voiced, “So, that’s what I recommend.” Her eyes sparkled. “They’ve got a killer chicken fried steak and Ms. Porter makes the most wonderful gravy in the world.”

 

I looked across the street at their full parking lot, then glanced at our lone car sitting in the lot of the cafe looking like a lonely fourth cousin at a family reunion. My attention shifted back to our waitress. “Uncle?”

 

She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen, then leaned in to whisper, “He takes all my tips and keeps them for himself. I’m only here for another two weeks then I’m outta here.”

 

I nodded, stood up thanked her quietly, then sauntered over to the crowded restaurant where I had the most mouth watering chicken fried steak and gravy I’d ever tasted.

 

And that my friends, is exactly where I get the kinds of characters for my books, such as Credo’s Hope, that have my readers writing to say they wish they could actually be friends with my main protagonist, Alexandra Wolfe and her friends who help turn Alex’s everyday life as a detective upside down.

Questions From Other Writers

Questions From Other Writers

DadOne of my favorite by products of writing books is the chance I get to answer questions from other authors.  I love to teach writers how to write realistic police scenes or dialogues.  Most people are pretty well versed now on police procedures because of the plethora of reality police television shows.  I was recently asked how one officer can handle a particular call so differently from another.  Well, there’s a long answer and a short answer and right now you get the short one.

Actually, there are many answers to that particular question, but I’ll just give you one today to whet your appetite.  Within the confines of the law, there is no one “right” way to do police work.  There are many, many different ways to handle the same situation.  For example, a cop walks up to a local gang member on the street and asks for identification.  The gang member takes off running down the street.  If the cop has twenty years under his belt, he’ll probably watch the young man running away and think to himself “Tomorrow’s another day, Punk.” He knows he’ll run into the kid again.

Now take the same scenario, but make the cop a twenty-one year old rookie fresh out of the academy.  Everyone knows, the chase is on. The rookie keys his mike while he’s running after the suspect, breathing heavily while giving his location and letting everyone in his division know he’s chasing a bad guy.

Two different responses to the same situation.  Maybe the rookie’s response is the right one, maybe the veteran’s.  I guess it all depends on where the writer decides to take this particular scene.

The eBook Buzz from BookBaby’s View

The eBook Buzz from BookBaby’s View

I’d like to welcome guest author, Jennifer Fulford, to my blog today. Her interview with Brian Felson, president of BookBaby, has some great insights concerning the self-pubishing business.

This post evolves from my curiosity about ebook self-publishing and how the trend can help or hurt the unsigned, unpublished author.
Very organically, meaning by a natural outgrowth, the ebook self-publishing business has gained legitimacy with writers who feel the need to take their work to the streets themselves in an increasingly dismal marketplace. Writers are faced with many options and some tough decisions nowadays. Slug out the traditional route, clawing for an ever-shrinking publishing hole, or hold your breath and jump with two feet into self-publishing?
I do believe the stigma associated with self-publishing is as distasteful as you want to make it. If you take yourself seriously as a writer, you logically will also take a serious look at your publishing options. For me, it’s been an evolution. First and foremost, there is the act of writing. There’s the self-education to get better. Then, there’s the coming to terms with feedback and criticism. Somewhere along the way, there is commitment. The last hurdle is the push for publication. For many writers, traditional publication basically means that their work is worthy. They’ve made it. The writing is obviously good. We think getting a book accepted by an agent or a publisher will validate our talent. I’m not so sure anymore about that last statement.
Brian Felsen, BookBaby President
My doubt increased after I spoke to Brian Felsen, the president of an e-publishing startup called BookBaby. Felsen let me hang out with him recently at the Portland, Ore., headquarters of BookBaby, CDBaby and HostBaby and unequivocally made the case for what he calls self-release. (Of course, we want release, in more ways than one!). In terms of economics and marketing, he sees self-publishing as the hands-down winner.
Granted, this is the nice man with the gun who suggested the bus to Cartagena. Disclosure statement: I took no gifts or gratuities to speak with him or to publish this post and the transcript of our interview. I’ll still have to pay the $99 to e-publish my book via BookBaby, if in fact I chose to do so. I simply went on a fact-finding trip, and he was nice enough to cooperate. Laid-back, no question. A man not afraid to use the word poopy in an interview. Sure, he’s running a multi-million dollar company that is breaking into a competitive market, but he was still a nice guy.
BookBaby is new among the electronic book publishers, competing with the likes of Smashwords and CreateSpace. It has released only about 4,000 titles in the last year of doing business. Its competitors have somewhat different models, though I won’t outline the pros and cons here. At BookBaby, you pay an upfront fee, a real person processes your manuscript by hand, and it gets distributed to all the major retailers. The writer keeps 100 percent of the profits after the retailers take their cut. BookBaby has the benefit of being a spinoff of the highly successful CDBaby, a 13-year-old company that is the largest distributor of independent music.
Felsen is an artist and businessman. He writes poetry (no kidding), composes music and used to play rock ‘n’ roll. The way he sees it, self-publishing cuts out a lot of headaches. “It doesn’t hurt you if you release your work now by e,” he said. “Either you can get it pulled down and then get traditional distribution later or still give up the e-rights to it later, if you want to. Or, it’s the calling card for you to get future works noticed, but you shouldn’t put your career on hold and spend tons of money trying to go traditional with awork that’s completed and drive yourself crazy if it’s not imminently happening.”
For e-rights, he says it’s silly to let a publisher take them from you, especially when so little of the revenue from ebooks goes back to the writer. “There’s no warehousing or distribution, there’s really nothing. It’s not rocket science. There’s nothing to it. The sort-of dirty little secret of publishing is that publishers don’t add a ton of value in terms of marketing your work to the readers. They market your work to book sellers. But so many famous authors still have to go to book conventions themselves. They still have to manage their social networking presence themselves, have a website and Twitter accounts and reach out to fans and have contests and do all this stuff that they do, but you’d have to that as an independent author anyway, so you might as well keep the money.”
His logic is this: The publishers and agents are already looking for plug-n-play writers. Why play their game? Do it yourself.  “Now, will traditional publishers look at you different? Well, traditional publishers are going to tell you they’re going to look at you differently because you are out there eating their lunch. So, you know, I talk to people, to traditional publishers, many of whom I’ve interviewed on camera for the BookBaby blog, and they would, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, there’s a stigma to self-publishing.’ Well, of course, ‘cause they’re taking an unreasonable cut with unreasonable overhead, and they’re going out of business, so of course they’re going to say that. But if you’re self-released, and you’re one of the top sellers, or if you win awards, they’re gonna want to sign you so badly and so fast, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s just writing, a family memoirist.’ No, not at all.”
I still believe publishers are looking for high quality. But I also agree that their model of selling to book sellers is dying. They already know that. Where does that leave us whimpering newbies? The outlook, according to Felsen, isn’t all that rosy in traditional publishing. “As bookstores are going away, as the publishing houses are consolidating, the mid-tail author is becoming more and more abandoned. It’s like the shrinking middle class. The mid-tier author is not getting the advances that they were. They’re not getting the publicity that they were; there’s not the outlets that there used to be; advances that are doled out are doled out over three years in quarterly installments, and it’s still not really—the pot at the end of the rainbow is a very small one nowadays, and it’s not for everybody.”
The interview with Felsen is more indepth and worth a read. For every new author (and some of the old ones), every option is on the table. It may mean I’ll need an attitude adjustment to worry less about how my work ends up with readers and to focus more on the real goalsatisfied readers. And those readers will let me know whether or not they’re satisfied, regardless of how I publish.
Jennifer Fulford is a writer living in Portland, Ore. Her weekly blog, Thoughts from jennysound, Notes on a Writing Life, is about her journey to publication. She tweets as @jmfwriter.

How To Write in Three Different Genres

What do Mystery, Psychological Thriller and Fantasy Fiction have in common? Not a whole heck of a lot. Not a lot except for the fact that each category of fiction is populated with characters who just can’t wait to begin living life. Writing in three different genres can be quite an adventure at times. As a retired police lieutenant, writing murder mysteries is obviously the easiest for me. The character’s personalities practically write themselves, and I always know exactly what they’re going to do to get their jobs done.

I don’t outline my work before I begin a book. I let the story unfold as the characters work their cases or live their lives. I’ve found this approach to be comfortable since that’s exactly what happens in police work. That being said, I have to admit that when I write murder mysteries, I follow an unwritten script because I know how cops and victims and criminals act. My psychological fiction, The Door at the Top of the Stairs, is based on a woman who worked as an undercover narcotics officer, so her personality and life flowed easily for me. Even though her experiences as an officer differ from mine, her reactions to those experiences were second nature.

Now, imagine switching genres from mystery and psychological suspense to fantasy fiction. My latest book, The Spirit Child, completely took everything I knew and threw it out the window. I created the characters and hung on for the ride! Holy Spirit Guides became sarcastic or witty instead of the honored wise beings I’d intended. Instead of a minor character staying minor, she took over the whole book! How dare she? Well she did. There were times when I would sit back and laugh at the antics being played out on my computer screen.

Writing a book or a short story is a fantastic adventure where characters have the breath of life breathed into them. People have written to me saying they love my characters and wish they could be their friends and live in their worlds. I believe a person can write in any genre, any time, as long as the people who populate those stories are true to life, un-stereotypical and interesting in their own right.

Welcome to Alison’s Blog

Welcome to Alison’s Blog

     Greetings.  I’m glad you decided to join me as I set out on my journey as a published author.  My first book, The Door at the Top of the Stairs is at the printers as we speak. I loved writing The Door, which tells the story of JESSE SHAUNESSY, an undercover narcotics officer who is kidnapped and tortured, then thrown away by her department as damaged goods. The mind is a powerful ally, and 26-year-old Jesse has no memory of the abduction or the subsequent torture. Inevitably, the protective walls carefully constructed by her subconscious are beginning to crumble.  Insanity, friendship, and redemption are all possibilities dependent upon one choice, one gamble, and two determined women who must risk everything to save one lost soul.
I am also busy formatting my second book, Credo’s Hope, which introduces Detective ALEXANDRA WOLFE, a fresh, funny, tough cop who skates on the edge of the law in her quest for justice. A Mafia boss, a hunky bi-sexual nurse, Alex’s rescued mutt, Tessa, and her exuberant best friend, MEGAN, help Alex turn her everyday life as a detective upside down.
Well, onward and upward as they say!

The Greatest Calling

The Greatest Calling

Burt from Mary Poppins

I recently ran across this quote. “Every calling is great when greatly pursued.” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  When I read it, I thought of the wonderful character Bert in the movie Mary Poppins.  He swept streets, but he did it with such joy that, as a child, I honestly felt I wanted to be a street sweeper when I grew up.  Just remember to try to find the calling that will be great FOR YOU. Find the career that you love as much as Bert loved his and your life will magically turn around, even without the help of that wonderful woman, Mary Poppins.