Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5 Writing Resolutions (that I probably won't keep)


 New Year's Eve is fast approaching and many people are thinking about their resolutions. I don't much care for resolutions because I break them faster than I make them. I suppose I could try a little harder, but then again...nah. I mean, it's 2012. The world is going to end in, like, 11 months or something. Resolutions are pointless.

 However, as a goal oriented person who thinks the world might possibly go on anyway, I will attempt to set goals for myself as a writer--even though I'm likely to break these so called writing resolutions.

1. Write every day. How many times have you heard this one? Kudos to you if you already do this! I pretty much do it too, though I often find myself taking holidays off.

2. Try a new genre. I just finished reading a steampunk novel. I don't think I can write that genre so therefore, I will attempt to create a short story within that realm. Challenge thyself to do the same!

3. Learn how to critique like a writer instead of a reader. This is a tough one. Readers and writers read differently. They critique differently, too. Readers are typically very straightforward about what they liked or didn't like, whereas, writers tend to be more technical. I need to be more technical so that I sound like I know what I'm talking about at writing meetings.

4. Self publish something. Yes. I will stop being afraid of the label and just do it already!

5. Manage my time better. No more chasing butterflies when I should be killing ants. I don't know what that means, but I do know that I need to stop goofing on the internet when I should be typing up fantastic and deeply meaningful prose.

What are your writing goals for 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011

What Did You Get?

I didn't get an e-reader, but I'll bet a lot of you did. The only reason I didn't get one is that I already have it! Mary Ann blogged on the reasons to own one a few days ago, so I won't go into all of them here, but my main two are book prices and the ability to carry dozens of books around in my purse. If I've started one book and don't feel like reading that one, I can switch to another. When I come back to the abandoned one, it'll pick up where I left off--automatic bookmarks.

I'll bet you're thinking that now I'll tell you to click at the side to buy one of our books for your new reader (if you got one, which I hope you did!).

Fooled you! I'm not. I'd really like to hear if anyone got really cool presents! I got beautiful things from all my kids, and the most precious gift from my grandkids. Two of my five are step granddaughters, and one of them is spending the school year in Spain, so I didn't get anything from her (but I do expect something from Spain in the spring!). Her sister spent the night here Christmas Eve, along with my son--a wonderful gift in addition to what they brought (good stuff!).

But the other 3 sent the precious gift. My son's two, ages 3 and 5, under my daughter-in-law's direction, put their handprints on two towels, which they then sent to my daughter, who had her 1-year-old add his. He, however, was horrified at the whole concept of fingerpaints all over his hands, and contributed the cutest little print (one on each towel). Can you tell which one is his?

When I called my daughter-in-law to thank them (daughter was on a plane when I opened the package), she pointed out that they were Hand Towels. Get it? Hand Towels? I'm embarrassed she had to tell me!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from All Things Writing!

Merry Christmas readers! We hope your holiday season is bright, cheery, and filled with lots of great stories! Thanks to all our faithful followers and new friends!

Don't forget: We have great titles available for all your last minute Christmas needs. Just click on any of the book covers to the right.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

QR Codes: Promotional Tool for Writers

Finally, my Christmas shopping is done and I can attend to more important things, like my blog post for this week. I'm posting a little late, but hopefully, our faithful readers will forgive me. 'Tis the season and all that jazz...

Today we are going to chat about QR codes and how they can be a great promotional tool for a writer. Recently, I attended the Austin Comic Con. Along with my writing group, I promoted our book All Things Dark and Dastardly. We had lots of hard copy books ready to sell, and both of my colleagues had paperback copies of their books to sell, too.

I was jealous. My novel, Nephilim, is only available in ebook form right now. I felt like I was missing out on a great opportunity to spread my little story about tattooed angels around. Both of my writing friends suggested I make business cards or bookmarks with the book info on it, which made total sense to me.

But then brilliance struck me, (it kind of hurt actually) and I heard the words: QR code. Well, duh! Of course, that's the way to go!

A QR code is a type of matrix bar code that the automotive industry made popular. They've become very common and are used on lots of different things. If you have a QR scanner it will take you directly to the website or other location being advertised. Guess what? Most people can download a QR scanner app directly onto their phone! I'm willing to bet that quite a few savvy iPhone and Droid users have this very thing already. Betting a QR code for your book can be free to inexpensive. Google QR codes and you'll find all sorts of websites willing to set you up.

So what did I do?

Using Vistaprint, I downloaded my book cover onto a glossy postcard/invitation template. On the back side, I included the synopsis, my website, blogsite, and....you guessed it! The handy dandy QR code that takes you directly Nephilim's purchase link on Amazon!

This has been a great tool for my ebook because when I talk to someone about it, I can show them the synopsis and cover, but I also have a way for them to directly link to Amazon so they can buy it right then and there.

So the big question: Has it helped sales of the book? Can't say for sure, but my royalty check was larger last month than I expected it to be. I think writers should use whatever promotional tools are availble to them.

How about you? Any other authors using a QR code?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing Groups

I wonder how many of you writers have a writing group, and if they do your writing any good. It may be that I'm approaching expert status on this, as I've had lots, both online and face to face ones.

All of my online groups have been through my Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter. And some have been for novels and some for short stories. I've had multiples of both kinds. They've all been at least helpful and some have been excellent. It seems that people come and go though, and they last a certain amount of time, then peter out. I can honestly say that my writing is much, much better for those groups.

My face to face groups are, of course, lots more fun, since we're actually physically there and can chat and even eat and drink together--always a plus. The two that I'm in right now are very different, though. In one, we submit a chapter, or about ten pages, by email a few days before our meeting. We print out the pages, critique them on paper, then get together to go over our individual critiques and discuss the finer points. Opinions vary, of course, and not all advice is taken by each writer. That would be a mess!

My other face to face group doesn't critique at all, unless one of us requests it. Our usual meeting is to chat a bit, then do at least one timed writing on our laptops or on paper, from a writing prompt. We then can choose whether or not to read what we've come up with to each other and can ask for suggestions if we wish.

For both of these groups, also, members come and go, but these groups have kept going for years. I get different things from each group I belong to, online and ftf. I'm not one of those writers who doesn't want any critiques! It's like free editing. It's also informative to see what other writers are doing and we learn from each other.

It's the second live group that put out the latest short story anthology, ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY, so our meetings lately are geared toward the book. But I'm sure we'll get back to writing soon.

Long live critters and writing groups!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

5 Reasons to Try an eReader


Okay, now I already know what some people are going to say when they read the title of this post. 

"I like the way it feels holding a real book in my hands."

How nice for you. That's cool. But have you ever actually tried an eReader? I'm not talking about your laptop or computer either. I mean, an eReader like the Nook, iPad, or Kindle? Many of the people who have given me the above response have never actually tried one.

I have to admit it. I was skeptical, too. I'm a writer after all and reading is one of my passions, but when my mother got a Kindle last year for Christmas, I was curious to know how that would go. Mom reads as much as I do and probably keeps Half Price Books in business. My father and I both thought she would never enjoy the Kindle.

We were so wrong....that woman never puts the damn thing down. She and Amazon have a close, personal relationship now, and she feels that every email she gets from them is like a specially tailored love letter.  Her passion for the eReader made me want one in the worst way! My husband broke down and bought one for me this past July, and I have to say it's one of the best investments ever!

Here's a few reasons why:

1. It does feel like you're holding a book. Especially if you put a cover on it! True, most eReaders are a little more light weight, but I still feel like I'm reading a book.

2. Storage. My husband loves the eReader because at long last my books are not piling up everywhere in our bedroom. Now they are all neatly compact and stored on my Kindle.

3. Eye strain. This is another crazy excuse I hear all the time about why an eReader is bad. Most eReaders are designed to make it easy on your eyes, to prevent glare if you are outside, to have bigger font if you need bigger letters. If you're eReader isn't doing that, you've got the wrong one.

4.Expense. Best sellers and new releases are still going to be expensive. However, there are lots of other books out there that are cheap or even free. Also, if you have 3G on your eReader, you can purchase books wherever you are at.

5. Portability. Yep, you can stick them in your purse, briefcase, backpack, whatever. Because they are light weight, they usually don't feel as heavy as toting around a book does.

So if you are considering an eReader for that special loved one in your life, I can also recommend a few books that would make great gifts to try out on it. For example, Nephilim and All Things Dark and Dastardly are both available for the eReader. Click on any of the books links on the right hand side of the page to learn more!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weird Holiday Gifts

I've been seeing some strange suggestions for gifts this year. Maybe Hander Pants, underpants for your hands is the strangest. http://www.handerpants.com/ I wasn't aware that my hands are private parts. Mine never seem to have unseemly discharges. So I can't understand why they'd need underpants.

Here are a couple from Baron Bob: a bacon ornament (http://www.baronbob.com/bacon-ornament.htm) and an inflatable turkey (http://www.baronbob.com/inflatableturkey.htm). The turkey is on sale, maybe because it's after Thanksgiving and going into Christmas people are thinking more of inflatable hams. The bacon ornament is still full price as of this writing.

A voice-activated R2D2 is selling for an astonishingly low price of $199.95 (http://www.hammacher.com/Product/77944) at Hammacher Schlemmer. Where else? These speakers from the same place (http://www.hammacher.com/Product/11987?promo=search) are not only ugly, impractical, easy to break, but are also $60,000.00.  That's not a typo. There are no extra zeroes there. Oh yes, and they weigh 192 pounds.

You could spend over $10 on a piece of wood (http://www.cnbc.com/id/28196936/page/2/) created for the purpose of knocking on wood. Are there people who live in completely plastic houses? Who have no wood anywhere? Or who are constantly hexing themselves and feel a need to always counter it by having a handy piece of wood, a piece of wood that comes in a carrying case? I suppose some people work in plastic places. Maybe. I use my head when I can't find anything else to knock on.

I guess our short story anthology will be looking like a pretty good holiday buy by now! For the low, low price of $9.95--$4.99 for the digital versions--you can immerse yourself in weird tales by a cross section of Austin writers. Well, three of them anyway.

There's a handy link at the side where you can click to get ALL THING DARK AND DASTARDLY. You might need something to clear the sweet taste of sugar plums and fudge from your palate. This'll do it!

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Elliptical Blog

I'm feeling like discussing grammar today. Specifically, punctuation. That odd feeling sweeps over me more often than you'd think. In fact, one of my happiest moments at the Malice Domestic conference this year was discussing punctuation at the bar. Writers--what are you gonna do?

Our anthology group had a discussion as we were doing final edits for publication. Steve and I were of two minds about the ellipsis. I love the ellipsis...it trails off into nothingness, and nothing else will do when that's what you want....

Steve likes to use the three dots both in the middle of the sentence (or group of phrases, if what you've written can't really be called a sentence). I like to use three dots in the middle and four at the end. This was recommended to me some time ago and it seems logical. I've been using it for several years. The three dots are the ellipsis and the other dot ends the sentence with a period. I mean, what about a trailing off question...? (I did see this once as a question?... But I can't accept that.) If the question gets an end punctuation mark, the sentence should too, in my mind.

Both are acceptable in the Chicago Manual, by the way, so that was no help in our debate.

My problem is, I want my punctuation to be logical. Probably a holdover from being a programmer for too many years. I even wish I were British so I could put the period or comma where it belongs at the end of a quote. I hate saying that my werewolf story, "Retransformation," is included in our anthology. I'd much rather say my story, "Retransformation", is included. Why on earth should that comma go inside the quote?

I don't want to be British to the extent that I'd have to drive on the wrong side of the road...just for punctuation, and then only just for some punctuation. I'm too used to using double quotes for dialog to change that.

Do you have grammar/punctuation/spelling idiosyncrasies in your writing that drive other people nuts? If you want to see which ellipsis style we settled on for our short stories, you'll have to get hold of our anthology and page through it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hill Country Book Store Signing

Hey friends, the All Things Writing gang will be in Georgetown tomorrow at the Hill Country Bookstore form 2-4pm. We will be selling and signing copies of our book All Things Dark and Dastardly! We'd love to see our friend, family, and fans there, so come on by.

We will have chocolate....

Also, this is a great chance to walk around the historic square at Georgetown and do some early Christmas shopping!

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's that time of year

I'm falling behind! This blog post is a day late. And, as you can see, I don't have a well thought out topic.

Since my daughter and my 14-month-old grandson came for a week, and my son-in-law for the Thanksgiving weekend, I pretty much took the whole week off. It was worth it--at the time. But I woke up to hundreds of emails this morning, and a late blog.

Now there will be email catch-up, blog catch-up, neglected manuscript catch-up, and, somewhere in there, Christmas shopping. It's a good thing the days are getting longer--oh wait! They're getting shorter. That's not right.

I do think I'll buy a lot of books for Christmas presents, besides giving my own as gifts. It's an easy package to wrap and ship and everyone reads. OK, not everyone does, but they should.

Is it a civic duty to give books to people, even if they might not read them? Is it the socially responsible thing to do? Reading stimulates the brain, raises IQ, and staves off senility. I have no studies to prove my statements, but I make them anyway, hoping they're true.

If you need something light to read while you're waiting for your ordered books to arrive, try this:

Just pick one or two at random. Surely the Darwin winners aren't readers!

Illustration public domain from wiki commons

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Finding Ways to Promote Your Book--Women's Day Ad

I'm always looking for new ways to promote my book, Nephilim. Or any of my other work for that matter. As authors, much of that falls on our shoulders! There are lots of ways to advertise without spending a dime. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, webpages--these have become the staples of book promotions. Recently, I did a virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book and absolutely loved it! Yes, it was something I had to pay for, but it did get my name out there in places I wouldn't have begun to think about, and it garnered some honest reviews about Nephilim. Has it helped sales? I'm not sure yet as I haven't gotten my publisher's statement for October.

Another great opportunity that my publisher provided me with was the chance to place in ad in Women's Day Magazine. Again, I had to pay for it, but Women's Day is a highly circulated magazine and can be found everywhere. My book, Nephilim, had a spot in the Halloween issue and also in the new Christmas issue pictured above.

 I really like the layout of the latest ad, too! Will it generate more sales? Only time can tell me that!

What have you done as an author to promote your work? How far would you go? What's too far? Since many of the followers of this blog are independent authors, I'm curious to know what promotional tools have worked for you outside of social media. Please drop a comment and share with the group!

Monday, November 21, 2011

LAST MINUTE BLOG

I'm posting this just before dashing out the door to meet an airplane. Just after dashing to WalMart for a baby car seat, rear-facing, and a lame attempt at installation. We're hoping our daughter, the baby's mother, will make the necessary adjustments.

I'm sure this is how Steve felt yesterday, making a mad dash to be on time for our radio interview, but getting lost and not quite making it. Mary Ann and I filled in and Hopeton Hay made sure we got Steve mentioned!

Hopeton ushered us into a studio room and I remarked that it was a different one than where he recorded my solo interview a few months ago. When he said this was the "live" studio, my heart stopped. Live? We're going to broadcast live?

Neither Mary Ann nor I had enough time to get as nervous as we could have, and I think it went off OK. As soon as we get the recording of it, it'll be here!

Mr. Hay, by the way, is unpaid, as are all the on air personalities at KAZI FM 88.9. It's a non-profit, community based station, run by people doing it for the love of it. I'm glad Hopeton loves mysteries and interviews authors on his Sunday afternoon show!

(Hint: books make great holiday gifts! See sidebar for ideas.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Your Fans and You

So, as you probably noticed by now, we all went to Comic Con last weekend. While there, our booth was right down the aisle from several of the cast members of Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. Specifically the characters Harmony, Clem, Cordy, Drusilla, and Spike. I resisted as long as I could, but soon found myself standing in line to pay $30-$40 each for a set of their autographs.

Don’t judge me.

Anyway, here’s my point. I walked away from that aisle with five signatures, and five completely different impressions of these people. For example, Cordy (Charisma Carpenter) was very nice, and sweet, and she smiled at me politely, but I really got the feeling she couldn’t wait for me to be gone. Spike (James Marsters) on the other hand, seemed to connect with everyone he talked to. At three minutes before he was supposed to sit on a panel, he didn’t seem concerned in the least that the woman in front of me didn’t have any money for an autograph and just wanted to shake his hand and talk to him a few minutes. He thanked her like she was the first fan he ever had, and he found something in her words he could use to bond with her. On a related side note, Clem (James Charles Leary) was so cool I could write an entire essay on him, but I’ll save that for another day.

So how does this relate to you? Well, most likely you are a writer of some sort. Whether you just blog, have an unhealthy twitter addiction, write short stories for magazines, self-publish, or have a best-selling novel out there, someday you will meet at least one fan face-to-face. They may be someone you went to high school with, or someone who flew across the country to stand in line and shake your hand. Either way, a chance encounter for you will be a Significant Emotional Event for them, and they will remember the nuances of that moment for a long time. Treat them like the gold they are. You touched them in some way, and your words affected them enough that they think a few seconds with you or an autograph has real worth. When you find yourself in that moment, do your best to prove them right.





Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Pitch: How Important Is It?


This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Austin Comic Con with my fellow writers from All Things Writing, Kaye George and Steve Metze. I'd been to the convention last year as an observer and found the whole thing to be really entertaining. Austin Comic Con is a place where you will find all kinds of unique and fun people who are passionate about comics, TV, celebrities, art, costumes, steampunk, action figures, and anything else you can possibly think of. I met some interesting characters who will be popping up in future short stories!

The reason why we attended was because we wanted to sell our new book All Things Dark and Dastardly, and Steve was kind enough to allow us to use his table space! So in addition to all the amazing steampunk gear and gizmos that Steve was selling, there were our novels. Now, if you've ever been to any kind of convention where things are sold, you know that the key is getting a potential buyer hooked on the product. You have to make them think they need it, they can't live without it, that somehow they will be better looking or thinner if they purchase it. It's all about how you spin the pitch!

And this was the most important thing I learned this weekend: I suck at pitching a book.

Yes. It's true. I have a BFA in Theatre Arts. I teach dramatics to my students every day of the school year, but when it comes down to selling my own stuff, I clam up! I smile. I nod. I can answer questions. But I can't begin a conversation about my book!

I think this is due to the way I was brought up.

It isn't polite to talk about yourself to others because that could sound like bragging. You don't want to make anyone feel like they have to do something. Don't be a pest by mentioning that you are selling girl scout cookies.

Since that philosophy is deeply ingrained in my head, it's hard to feel comfortable talking to people about my book or why they should buy it. It makes me feel like I'm giving a really bad book report, and the teacher totally knows that I didn't do my homework or something. Unfortunately, this works against me as an independent author. Since I don't have an agent, face time with potential customers is definitely in my future. Ugh...

On the other hand, I did have the chance to watch Steve and Kaye work their mojo with people. Steve is especially good at getting people to come to the table. That's because he is 100% in character when he is pitching the things he sells. He isn't afraid to call out to the crowd or throw seemingly random info out about the things he created. True, he has a deeper emotional investment in getting his items to sell (money is money, after all, and it cost a lot to make steampunk things and rent a booth at Comic Con), but I felt like he could have worked for P.T. Barnum back in the day and been quite successful. Watching him was like watching a true master of the art of salesmanship. Kaye is also good at chatting up customers. She knows how to strike up a conversation with random people and quickly get them interested in finding out more about our books. I think she collected quite a few business cards from different authors that will come in very handy down the road.

So how important is the pitch? Very. From what I saw, it was key in making a sale. All the things you read about regarding knowing your audience and understanding how to make your work sound interesting is true. Being personable without being pushy is a must. Sounding relaxed and calm is helpful as it puts your customer at ease. Chatting with them about other topics other than just your book or product is a nice touch, too. It shows you care, and whether you do or not, I've always heard the saying, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." So true.

I think a lot of authors think of the pitch is something that is just for agents or publishers. Not true. Even if you have one of those things, you are still going to be in situations where you have to be able to talk about your book to other people. It takes practice and a little thought, too. Yes, you may know your book inside and out, but what do you say when people ask you what its about? Can you get down to a bit sized couple of sentences that zing and make the listener want to know more?

If you haven't guessed, that's one of my new personal goals: getting down the pitch. I have one for Nephilim, and I'm working on one for All Things Dark and Dastardly. Now the key is practicing them. Luckily, I'll have lots of opportunities in the future to do just that!

So how is your pitch? If I asked you for it right now, could you do it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

This is the brilliant brainchild of Jenny Milchman. Jenny has long been an advocate for writers, posting their Made It Moments on her blog, Suspense Your Disbelief, regularly. All her supporters cheered when her book found a publisher this year! Look for it next year.



Now she's advocating for bookstores with Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which started last year and continues expanding in December of this year.

(An offshoot has been Take Your Child to a Library Day.)

Here at All Things Writing, we're doing our part. We're signing at Hill Country Bookstore on TYCTAB Day! Mark December 3rd on your calendar, from 2-4:00.

This should be a fun time since the  historic Georgetown, TX, square will be decorated for the holidays. In addition, that's the day of the Georgetown ChristmasStroll.

If you're anywhere near the Austin area, stop and see us signing "All Things Dark and Dastardly". I know, not a Holiday theme (well, it's thematic for Halloween), but a great gift item for those on your list who like dark short stories.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Comic Con Austin is coming this weekend

For many of you, this means very little. You probably never read comics or, like me, you gave them up (OK, most of them) somewhere in your teens. Well I’m going this weekend, as should you, and we don’t have to crack open a single comic book while we’re there. True, I’ll be selling stuff there and you probably didn’t pay for a booth, but that isn’t the point. The All Things Writing crew and I will be selling top hats, Steampunk goggles, The Zombie Monologues, All Things Dark and Dastardly, a Steampunk role-playing-game, zombie T-shirts, vampire hunter kits, Victorian coins, Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” bottles, and the list goes on.

Let us assume that you did not spend the last few months crafting a room full of wacky merchandice to sell like I did. Probably a safe bet. I mentioned that stuff to give you an idea of what I think will sell there. Now picture the audience that would be interested in that spectrum of items, and the odds are good that some of them are the same types of folks who would be interested in something you’d write some day, or have already written. Still, why does this mean you should go to Comic Con Austin?

1) Your audience might be there – A chance to see what your readers might be interested in. All the agents say you shouldn’t write to trends because the trends are bound to have passed before you get your book published. Still, it never hurts to know what they are and try to guess where they are going.

2) It is rife with “characters” – Many people will be in costumes, and they may or may not be acting out there outward persona. Regardless, this is a perfect chance to do some people-watching in a realm you probably don’t know all that well, and take some notes. When you see someone with the absolutely wrong body type for the superhero they are impersonating, but they don’t seem to care at all about your opinion on how they look in spandex, there’s a story in there somewhere. And the two kids wearing the dark evil “goth” versions of Dr. Seuss characters? Something is going on there too. I won’t even bring up the woman in the blue full body paint under the ancient Spartan armor or the guy who has knitted a suit out of the Magic collectable card game cards.

3) I promise you will see at least one thing there you weren’t expecting – And isn’t that just the sort of little detail that makes books interesting? You might find that one concept you can write down and keep for later. At Comicpalooza some guy brought in a life-sized Dalek robot from the Dr. Who series that actually drove around by remote control. I saw a little kid really think he got to meet superman next to a booth filled with hundreds of cooing tribbles. I saw a whole stand dedicated to “what if superheroes turned into zombies” art. I saw a comic book cover with an Über sexualized Steampunk Sarah Palin on it. I took a picture, but honestly I was afraid to peek inside.






You thought I was kidding, didn't you?


Let’s face it, no matter what genre you write, the sheer energy and creativity of the place is bound to inspire you in SOME way. If you've never been before, or even if you have, come check out the Wizard's World Austin Comic Con this Friday-Sunday, November 11-13. Be sure to drop by the our booth (#428) and say hi to the All Things Writing crew, as well as pick up your copy of All Things Dark and Dastardly… or The Zombie Monologues, or a Steampunk role-playing-game, or some goggles or…

Monday, November 7, 2011

Promotion

This is a blog about promotion, not a promotional blog. (Well, OK, I'll work in a little--what do you expect?)

We're just starting out to promote our short story anthology, ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY, and I'm wondering if I've learned anything from promoting my mystery novel (CHOKE) for nearly 8 months now.

Here's what I've done for CHOKE:
Lots of guest blogs
Signings at book stores (3)
Appearances at libraries (2)
A radio interview
Requested reviews, some of which have happened
(This requires giving away a lot of books)
Attending two mystery conferences since publication
Announcements on most of the lists I belong to
Twitter
Facebook
My own blog
Speaker at a local writers' group
Mention in a mystery newsletter

I attempted to get an article in my hometown newspaper to promote a local signing. That was a fail, but the town where I was signing ran my article. And the hometown paper later did an interview of me.

The most successful, as far as I can tell, were the local writers' group, one of the library gigs, the mystery newsletter mention, and the store signings. It's possible that some of the other things worked, but just not immediately so that I could measure them. I don't know if we'll try all these things, or different ones, but we'll sure try.

Now, we need to figure out how to promote the anthology. We're starting out with a few blog posts (http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/2011/10/14/crossing-over/ and http://spec-fic.rainyofthedark.com/?p=201 so far, more to come we hope), a radio interview in a couple weeks, and a signing lined up on December 3rd, 2-4 PM, at Hill Country Bookstore in Georgetown. We're attending Austin's Comic Con next week (booth 428). There will be more about that here closer to the date. Here we go!



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anyone NaNoWrimoing?


It's November. The scent of writing ambition is in the air! That means writers everywhere are feverishly bent over their computers, typing away at 1667 words (give or take) a day as they participate in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo.

Not me.

I've done it for three years and find it to be lots of fun. However, this year I've got to move on and think about other projects. That's the way it works for a writer who is determined to keep publishing and promoting current books like Nephilim and All Things Dark and Dastardly. Still don't have your copy? Click on the links to the side or at the top of the page to get yours today!

Okay, enough with the shameless plug.

Another writer asked me if I thought there was value in participating in NaNoWriMo. Does it ever come to anything? Aren't "would-be" authors just filling the market place with badly written manuscripts once the process is over?

Yes and no. I think there can be great value in writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. It's a good way to come up with a rough draft for a project or to test out a genre you've been thinking about trying. With the no editing clause that comes with undertaking Nano, you can just turn your inner editor off and write for the sheer joy of writing. No need to worry over spelling, pacing, stilted dialogue or unbelievable characters! It's very freeing.

On the flip side, I do hear horror stories about writers who write the 50,000 words, don't really edit it, and then send it off to agents or publishers expecting to be signed. Those are the people who give the process a bad reputation. I don't care who you are. Nobody writes a perfect novel the first time without editing. Nobody. Go back and spend some time fleshing out your story, beefing up those characters, and cleaning up the dialogue before you get your heart broken with rejection!

But that's just me. What's your opinion on National Novel Writing Month?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Full Moon--Short Story Winner!

Here is the winning story from our All Things Dark and Dastardly contest. Congrats to Carol Redcay! We look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

Full Moon

           Andrea Grover tossed and turned in her single-sized bed. Sweat dripped down her forehead to her neck. She sat up, feeling the pounding of her heart in her chest. What was that? She kept hearing that howling noise every time there was a full moon.
            What was it? A coyote maybe or a wolf? She shivered, feeling the goosebumps form on her body. She sighed and let out a big yawn. She laid her head back down for a second, when she heard the noise again.
            She climbed out of bed, and crept over to the bedroom window. She peeked her head out of it and saw a dark show. What in the world? The shadow was creepy looking and it looked like it was really hairy. Its green eyes stared at her.
            She gasped and let out a shriek. Her bedroom door opened and the light flickered on. Andrea turned around and saw her best friend Natalie in the doorway.
            “What’s wrong? Why did you scream? Did you have a bad dream or something?”
            Andrea’s whole body shook and she felt a chill rush down her spine making the goosebumps form again. “I-I s-saw something c-creepy outside. I-It wasn’t normal.”
            Natalie stared at her as if she had two heads. “Maybe it was just a dream.”
            Why didn’t she believe her? She knew she saw something. It wasn’t a dream or her imagination she saw something. “It looked at me, Natalie. It was brown and hairy. It was in the tree outside my bedroom window. I don’t know what it was but it was creepy and had green eyes.”
            Natalie laughed. “Cole has green eyes maybe it was him in a bear costume.”
            Damn, she wasn’t taking her seriously. Andrea shook her head. “I heard howling, too. It woke me up. It wasn’t a bear.”
            Natalie rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you call Cole and tell him? Otherwise go back to sleep.”
            After Natalie left her room, she dialed Cole’s phone number. It went straight to voicemail. Which was weird because he always answered his phone.
            She went over to the window to see if the hairy creature was still there but it was gone. She did see a glimpse of a man running back into his house. Weird. It was Cole’s house. He lived next door to her. It’s how they met and got to know each other.
           Why was Cole running back into his house at this time of night? He should be sleeping. It didn’t make any sense. She decided to confront him in the morning. She shut the light off and went to bed.


            The next morning after having oatmeal and a glass of milk; she headed to Cole’s house. He answered the door after the third knock. He was wearing a dark blue robe and matching slippers. His chocolate-colored hair was out of place.
            “Hey, beautiful. What brings you here?”
            “I need to talk to you.” She followed him inside of the house and they sat on the couch.
            “Are you breaking up with me?”
            She shook her head. “I called you last night but you didn’t answer. It went to voicemail. Where were you last night?”
            He stared at her carefully. His expression was blank and he didn’t look at her. “I was asleep. I seen that you called but it was two in the morning.”
            She took a big deep breath and let it out slowly. “Don’t lie to me. I saw you running back into your house.”
            He stood up and crossed his arms. “Maybe that was earlier when you saw me. Why were you up that late anyway?”
            She stood up and glared at him. “I couldn’t sleep. The howling woke me up. I also saw something outside my window.”
            Cole looked down at the ground. “What do you mean howling? We don’t have wolves in Louisiana. What did you see?”
            Why can’t he look at me? I get the feeling he knows something I don’t. I have to get to the bottom of this. “I don’t know what it was. It looked at me. It had green eyes and brown fur. I think that’s what was howling and I get the feeling you know it, too, Cole.”
            “Damn it, Andrea. Can’t you just drop it? It was probably just a nightmare.” Anger flashed in his eyes.
            He was hiding something. But what? She had to find out. “Fine, Cole, have it your way. Don’t tell me then, but I’m going to find out either way.”
            Then she stomped her way to the front door and left. She went back inside of her house and paced around in a circle in the kitchen.
            “What the hell is wrong with you?” Natalie asked as she bit into a red apple.
            Andrea flipped her coco brown locks and turned to face Natalie. “Cole is hiding something.”
            Nathalie finished her apple and threw the core in the trash. “Why do you think that?”
            “I just got back from his house and he got pissed off when I asked where he was last night. I looked out my bedroom window last night and I saw him sneaking back into his house. When I asked him he denied it. What would he be doing at two in the morning?”
            “Maybe it wasn’t him that you saw,” Natalie said.
             Andrea frowned. “Then who would it be? He lives alone. It doesn’t make any sense.”


            Two weeks later, there was a full moon again. The howling started again. Andrea couldn’t sleep. She dialed Cole’s number but of course he didn’t answer. They weren’t talking to each other much since their fight. She had to see if he was home. She threw on a pair of gray sweatpants and a matching gray sweatshirt. She pulled the hood over her head and slipped on her tennis shoes.
            She walked over to Cole’s house and knocked on the door. No answer. Her heart pounded louder and louder in her chest. Where is he? Why isn’t he answering the door? She decided to check on him.
            She turned the doorknob and it was unlocked. She crept inside quietly. There was no sign of Cole anywhere. She went in all of the rooms expect his bedroom. She left that one for last.
            The door was shut. She reached for the doorknob and turned it. It swung open and she crept inside. He wasn’t there either. This wasn’t like him. Something strange was going on.
            She just wasn’t sure what it was yet. Something on the floor caught her eye. She picked it up. It was a steak bone. Why would he have this in his room? There was something else weird about the room.
            She noticed fresh and warm drool on his pillow as she reached out and touched it. Gross. She wiped it back on the pillow. There was also a lot of that brown fur she saw two weeks ago on the creature that was outside her window. A loud noise made her jump.
            She cried out and felt the goosebumps form on her body. She turned around and was face to face with the creature. OMG, it was a werewolf! It looked just like Cole. Was it really Cole?
            She had to know. “C-Cole? Is t-that y-you?” She backed into the corner as he approached closer to her.
            The werewolf let out a loud howl. “What are you doing here, Andrea? You shouldn’t be here.”
            “H-how d-do you know m-my name? Is that you Cole?”
            “Yes, it’s me, Andrea. You’re not safe here.”
            Her eyes widen and her body shook. Would he hurt her? She wasn’t sure if he would or not.
            The shock was running through her veins. Cole was a werewolf. How was this possible? “How long have you been a werewolf? This is what you have been hiding from me all this time.”
            Cole howled again. “I was trying to protect you. I wasn’t born this way. I was bitten by another werewolf. You have to find him and kill him. If you don’t, I’ll be stuck this way forever.”
            She put her hands on her hips. “Why should I believe you? I don’t know how to kill a werewolf. What if he kills me first?”
            He pulled a small handgun out of his dresser drawer and held it up. “This is how you kill a werewolf with a gun and a silver bullet. Aim for his heart and he’ll burn up in flames. You have to trust me, Andrea. It’s the only way you’ll live. I love you and I don’t want to lose you.”
            She took the gun from him. “Was it him or you in my tree two weeks ago?”
            “It wasn’t me. He has green eyes, too.” Drool rolled off his lips and fell onto the floor.
            Andrea shivered, feeling creeped out by the fact that her boyfriend was a werewolf.
            He snarled and glared at her. “Get going before I hurt you. He should be close by.”
            Andrea nodded and ran out the door. She didn’t have to go too far to find the werewolf. He was in the tree.
            The werewolf slid down the tree and faced Andrea. This werewolf wasn’t a he. It was a she!
            She looked just like Natalie. “Natalie? You’re the other werewolf?”
            She laughed. “What did you expect? I was born this way. You’re lucky I didn’t kill you yet. Now that you know my secret that is going to change. It was nice knowing you, friend.”
            Andrea couldn’t believe it. Natalie was a werewolf. She had to act fast or she would get killed. She pulled out the handgun that was tucked in her sweatpants. She aimed it at Natalie’s heart and fired. The hit her perfectly and she started on fire right away. Natalie was still burning when Cole came running out of his house. He was human again.
            “Who was he?”
            She shook her head. “The werewolf wasn’t a he. It was a she. It was Natalie.”
            They both watched as her bones burned into ashes and blew away. Natalie was gone. There was nothing left of her. Tears streamed down her face as she thought of losing the only best friend she ever had since she was 17. Now she was 24 and friendless. At least she still had Cole.
            He was always there for her. “What does this mean? Are you only human now or are you still a werewolf when there is a full moon out?”
            He flashed an evil grin. “I guess you’ll just have to trust me on this one.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing Contest Winner Announced and 5 Horror Movies to be Inspired By

Congrats to Carol Redcay, the winner of our All Things Dark and Dastardly writing contest. We had great submissions but Carol's short story, Full Moon, really stuck out. With great writing and a fun twist, her tale definitely fits our theme of dark and dastardly. Full Moon will be posted on our website on Monday, Oct. 31--just in time for Halloween! She also receives a copy of our anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly.

Speaking of the anthology, I want to give a big shout out to our publisher, Dragonfire Press. They were willing to take a chance on our creative talents and we appreciate it! I expect we'll see lots of other great releases from then in the near future.

Okay, my topic today is horror movies. With the release of All Things Dark and Dastardly and the approach of Halloween, my mind turns to the things that inspire me to write. Horror. Cheap scares. Fun plots. Things that go bump in the night. The fact that I need money for groceries. (Cue the nightmare scream!)  I've come up with several movies that I think are worth viewing again, if only for the cheap thrill they provide, and as excellent writing inspiration. I tried to keep my list to less popular films, too. After all, Exorcist and Halloween are always on someones top five.

1. The Fog--No. I'm not talking about the crappy remake. I mean the 1980 John Carpentar original. This movie stars Jaime Lee Curtis and her mother, Janet Leigh. It's also about pirate lepers! Do I really need to say more?

2. Children of the Corn--Based on a short story by Stephen King (see, you never know where your short story will end up), the movie does leave a little to be desired. On the other hand, kids out of control in a corn field has a certain appeal to an elementary teacher such as myself.

3. April Fool's Day--OMG! What are we going to do Muffy? There is a killer on the loose at our lake house! Maybe I should take off my bra so I can think better! (Not actual dialogue, but actual subtext from the movie).

4. Wolfen--Technically they are not werewolves, but shapeshifters. Don't make the mistake of thinking otherwise or people on the internet will get really pissed off and write nasty letters to you. This movie was based on The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber, the same guy that wrote all those alien books that are supposed to be true. Oh, excuse me. They were not officially aliens but "visitors."

5. Motel Hell--Hmmm....a movie about people stopping at a place called Motel Hello (the O is always burned out) is a good start. It only gets better when these people are planted in the ground, still alive but minus their vocal chords. There they are fattened up and eventually used as the meat in the hotel owner's favorite stew. Be sure to eat chili while watching this delightful tale.

What horror movies have inspired you? Which ones make you think, "Gee, I could have written that!"
Share, please!

Monday, October 24, 2011

What is Urban Fantasy?

I haven't seen a better definition than the one given by George R. R. Martin in the new anthology, DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS. I can't copy it here, since it's copyrighted material, but you can see it for yourself if you go to http://www.amazon.com/These-Strange-Streets-George-Martin/dp/0441020747/ and peek inside. His article entitled "The Bastard Stepchild" states his opinion that urban fantasy grew from hard-boiled mystery, with roots in classic horror. These are two genres, he says, that are not compatible at heart. He goes on to say that horror is set in darkness and fear, while mystery, even the hard-boiled type, is about righting wrongs and setting things right.

One can, further, find much discussion on the difference between hard-boiled and noir within crime fiction. Noir, many say, is unrelentingly dark and there are no good outcomes. This guy (http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/002167.html) says noir is always grim. Hard-boiled fiction is a style that has hard characters, tough guys who talk and act rough. My own opinion is that you'll find justice at the end more often in the latter.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_fantasy) disagrees with Martin's definition (although Martin does say that the HEROES, not the whole sub-set of urban fantasy, spring from the two opposing genres). Wiki says, alternately that it's a sub-genre of fantasy and that it's a sub-genre of contemporary fantasy. Wiki also insists on an urban setting. Although the word "urban" is part of the name, I'm not sure a city setting is required. Certainly, some of the stories in the above anthology take place in smaller places than cities, although they're all somewhat gritty.

We're calling our anthology horror, but some of our stories in ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY are urban fantasy. I don't think all of them are, but you can form your own opinion on that.


Images from Wikimedia (except ATDD cover)

 Double Indemnity is a 1944 film noir. It stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. It was directed by Wilder.

Pulp fiction cover from Wikimedia:  Cover, Detective Book Magazine Volume 5, #10 (Winter 1948), Fiction House (defunct co.), pulp magazine, artist unknown

Cover of the fantasy fiction magazine Avon Fantasy Reader no. 6 (1948) featuring "The Crawling Horror" by Thorp McClusky.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Release Day--All Things Dark and Dastardly!

Available today!

Are you in the mood for a great set of dark stories? How about a dash of murder mixed with urban fantasy and horror? Then you need to get the brand new anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly! This book is a compliation of horror, mystery, and urban fantasy short stories by Ausin authors with a distinctly dark side. Here a few nice things that people have had to say about it so far:

"A string of sizzling stories to stimulate your senses and excite the nerves, especially when night falls."--Edith Y.S. Harris, artist and short story writer, www.eyshasfineart.co.uk

"Rough cut gems that twinkle darkly."-- Jack Bates, Derringer Nominee


"Keep an eye on these authors. You'll be seeing their names for a long time to come."--AJ Hayes, featured author in the noir anthology, Pulp Ink.

Published by Dragonfire Press, this book has been an exciting ride for the gang at All Things Writing! We look forward to your feedback and reviews, and hope to dazzle you with more stories in the future. If you are looking for the perfect reading for Halloween, check this book out today! It's available for your eReader, as well, as in paperback. Click the link below to purchase your copy.

Amazon Kindle Store

Amazon Paperback

Untreed Reads

Smashwords

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Character Interview: Tony from Color Me Baby Blue

As you know, the All Things Dark and Dastardly anthology is going to be released this Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. We've had great feedback from our fans, and the excitement is enough to give us all heart palpitations.

Or maybe that's just really bad gas.

Anyway, the link to purchase the book will be up on Friday! Also, on Friday, we will be announcing the winner of our All Things Dark and Dastardly writing contest. We had great submissions, and it was hard to narrow it down to just one winner. The winning story will be posted on our site Oct. 31--just in time for Halloween! They'll also receive a copy of our All Things Dark and Dastardly anthology.

Now on to the topic of the day: A character interview with naughty Tony from Kaye George's fun tale, Color Me Baby Blue. You can find this story in our upcoming book, but here's a sneak peek in to the mind of a fashion savvy killer!

(This interview was taken in a hospital where Tony currently resides.)


MA: Can I call you Tony? Or do you prefer Anton?

**Are you kidding? For a babe like you? Definitely Tony.


Aren't you sweet? That is just a charming hospital gown you have on! I know you are in here partly due to your eye for fashion.  What color would you call that exactly? Did you pick it out yourself?

**I call it baby puke green. What do you think? I have better taste
than this! Hey, isn't this new software handy, though? I can finally
communicate with people through my eye blinks. I've been trapped here
so long. Isolated.


That must be hard.  Just let me know if you get tired of blinking so much. Tell us about yourself and your relationship with your Uncle Leo.

**He was a necessary evil. My stepping stone to financial
independence. He never liked, me, by the way.



I heard Uncle Leo was murdered. What do you think his final thoughts
were regarding the popular Dusky Brown line of clothes?
**Ha. He knew he was so wrong. I could see it in his eyes.

It's too bad he realized it too late!  So which show do you prefer: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Project Runway?
** You do know that those shows are so fake, right? I'm sure I could
design circles around those people. And you know that a lot of
straight guys, like me for instance, are just as good as gay guys.
Bunch of horse...hooey...if you ask me.

Calm down. You'll blink your eyelashes off!  Let's try a different question. If you could choose one color to be buried in, what would it be?**Periwinkle. For personal reasons.

Interesting choice. Are you currently in a relationship with anyone? Is that even possible in your condition?**There is one nurse that has a great behind. Her front isn't bad
either. I'm trying to make a move on her. It's hard when you can't
move, though.

I can imagine. You give "batting your eyes" at someone a whole new meaning. If there was one thing you could do differently, what would it be?**I think I could have done a better job with Miss Manning, Mandy her
name is. I came on a little too fast.

You think? I'm not sure killing someones lover would be called coming on too fast. Some people might call that homicidal tendancies, but whatever. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?**Maybe I should tell them that you don't have to talk really loud to
people who are in the hospital, or wherever the hell I am. Just
because someone can't talk to you, doesn't mean he's not human. He's
still a man.

Thank you for sharing that with us. I'm sure many people will be interested to know about the events leading up to your current...condition.

To learn more about Tony and his murderous fashion choices, check out the story Color Me Baby Blue by Kaye George and located in All Things Dark and Dastardly!

Monday, October 17, 2011

What IS Halloween anyway?

Besides a good time to read scary stories, that is. (Stories like the ones found in All Things Dark and Dastardly, coming October 21st!)

I have a book called "Witches of the World" by Diane Canwell and Jonathan Sutherland that says Samhain, the precursor to Halloween and celebrated on October 31st, celebrated the end of summer. Samhain was a Celtic festival and the end of the year for them.

Many of our Halloween symbols and rituals derive from Samhain. Hollowed-out pumpkins, as well as other vegetables, were placed in the windows and on porches (the Celts evidently had porches) to welcome their dead ancestors and keep evil spirits away. One of these spirits, a very bad one, was called Jack-O-Lantern. This guy wasn't able to get into Heaven or Hell. That's a little inconsistent, since the Celts were pagans back then.

Irish and Scottish immigrants, this book says, brought us the custom of carving pumpkins. I'm glad. It's fun!

The Druids (which I think were Celtic priests, but I'm not sure) lit bonfires to guard against witches and spirits wandering around at harvest time. This book says that this was also the time when Druids imprisoned their victims in wicker cages, then sacrificed them on huge bonfires. Really? The poor little victims couldn't get out of a wicker cage? I wonder what sort of people were Druid victims.

Wiki says that Samhain in Ireland was the end of fighting and trading season, and was a time for tribes to get together. I'll buy that. Halloween today is the beginning of The Holidays. Time for stores to start putting out Christmas and holiday decorations and time for people to start deciding what they're going to do for Thanksgiving.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Cross Genre and Cross Promotion

It helps to network, writers! When our anthology debuts, it will hit more places than we imagined. Here's how this went.

Background: Awhile ago Untreed Reads accepted one of my short stories and it's for sale at their site. (Not a Halloween story, but a darn good one!) They sell e-stories and e-books and have a tremendous distribution system. My story is for sale everywhere I can think of, and lots that I can't.

Present Day Happening: The three of us at this blog are putting out a short story anthology. (You may have heard about this. It's called ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY and will surely be a hit.)

Another Happening: Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads asked all his authors if they had anything to promote for Halloween. I answered that our anthology could be considered Halloween fare since it consists of dark and sometimes scary stories.

 Astounding Happening: Jay asked if he'd like us to promote the anthology. Yes, yes, yes. We get to take advantage of a large part of his wide distribution system. Our anthology will be seen by people we wouldn't otherwise have access to. Win Win.

So, look for the book at Untreed Reads soon after October 21st, our publication date! You can also look for it in the other usual places, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. We'll get links put up here and at ALLTHINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY as soon as they're live.

 Hope you're getting yourself ready for Halloween. Get ready by reading some scary stuff. Prepare to be frightened!

 Casper is in the public domain.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Release Date For All Things Dark and Dastardly: Oct. 21, 2011!


Hear ye! Hear ye! The official release date of All Things Dark and Dastardly is fast approaching! October 21, 2011 is when you can purchase your very own copy of this anthology.

What's it about?

It is a compilation of horror, mystery, and urban fantasy short stories by Austin authors with a distinctly dark side...

For more information, come check out our site for it: All Things Dark and Dastardly.

By the way, thanks to all who entered our October Dark contest. We had great entries and the winner will be selected soon.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Promotion: Chance Encounters

Another writer recently asked me what I felt were the three most effective things I'd done for promotion. I thought for awhile about that. It's not an easy question to answer! I came up with three. I'm not sure they're the most effective (who knows what works and what doesn't?), but they're things that I think have helped me in my writing career.

I'd put networking first. I've done a lot of it over the years, online and at conferences. The conference I've attended the most often is Malice Domestic. That's where I've met so many fellow Sisters in Crime members, and especially fellow members of the Guppies chapter that has been so much help to me. Having met a few of the published writers in person made me brave enough to ask some of them for blurbs when it was time for my novel to come out. All but one gave me wonderful blurbs, for which I am so thankful. Attending Malice for years might have also helped get me my Agatha nomination last year.

Number two, would be commenting on other people's blogs and making myself known to bloggers who host writers. Aside from learning a lot from the bloggers I follow (when I have time), I feel I know the blog hosts a little better. When I've requested guest blogs, I had no trouble getting them. Some bloggers have even asked me to blog for them before I ask.

Third, I would put hanging out in bars. Not just any bars, though. A group I sat with at the bar a few years ago at the Agents and Editors con in Austin invited me to their writing group and this month we're putting out a short story anthology together. That's this group, All Things Writing!

Another chance meeting, also at the bar, was at Malice. I sat next to a fellow Austinite whom I didn't know in person. We had emailed and were both going to look for each other to try to meet up, but Malice is huge and that might never have happened. Janice Hamrick  was a first-time attendee at Malice and also the winner of the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel competition. So her first novel was in the dealers' room, as was mine (though from a much smaller publisher!). I just happened to sit in the chair next to hers the first night I arrived, a happy coincidence. She wanted some guidance on how to get the most from the conference and I tried to help her out. I shepherded her a bit and we ate together a few times. She became a friend and eventually suggested my name to a radio host who had interviewed her (I assume Minotaur got her that interview, but I'm not sure). Now we're doing a panel, together with another local mystery writer, Robin Allen, (whom I also don't know yet!), arranged by that radio host, Hopeton Hay, at a local library.

Hopeton has also agreed to do an interview of me, Steve, and Mary Ann for our ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY release. (Coming October 21st!)

Maybe all of these just amount to networking. But I'm not going to admit that, because then I'd have to come up with two more.

Illustration: Social networking, public domain

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Character Interview: Sitting Down with Fat Bastard


Yes, I know. Today's blog title is interesting. And so is the character I'm interviewing! Once again, we are going to take a station break (so to speak) and chat with a character who is featured in our upcoming anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. This fun persona comes from the darkly creative mind of Steve Metze and his story Aliens v. Fat Bastard. If the title alone doesn't get your interest up about the story, this interview will definitely make you want to check it out!

Imagine that aliens have descended to our planet with the mission of conquering it. How do they plan to show dominance? On the football field! How freaky Americana is that? Unfortunately, the aliens are killing us (literally) during the game. It appears all hope is lost until--well, let's just say one Fat Bastard takes the field.

Let's begin the interview!


Mary Ann: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

 FB: The name Fat Bastard doesn’t do it for you?

Touche. And yes, it certainly paints a picture. Moving on. It seems like football is a big part of your story. Did you realize when you were younger just how important it would become to your life?

Oh no way.  Couldn’t stand the sport back then, can’t stand it today.  But it did help pad my college resume, so, there’s that. 

Ah, the things we do to get into college. So if you could go back and change one day, what would it be?

The day I had with Victoria, of course.  I mean, I wouldn’t try to change what ended up happening, or what she did to me, none of that.  I would just listen to her in a different way… ask her different questions…  

Victoria being the woman who influenced you to take the field that fateful day. Yeah. Considering what happened to you, I'd probably listen to her a little more carefully, too! So are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago?  In what way/s?
That’s a joke, right?  I mean, you’ve seen the statue, right?  Heard the songs?  Seen the music videos, read the graphic novel, played with the action figures… 

Okay, okay. Just trying to make conversation. By the way, your action figure is a little overrated. I much prefer your trading card. Anyway, we all know that the aliens in your story are jerks. What is your personal take on them? Do they have any hygiene issues?
It’s all sort of a blur to me know, but, Spike and Bruiser both, now that you mention it, did have a certain… special… scent.  That might have been what they smell like when they sweat though.  Didn’t really get a chance to hang out much in a social setting since we were trying to kill each other and all…  

That does put a damper on things. What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?
“So far?”  Oh that’s cruel.  Um, sure, well, OK, I would quote something about even the littlest person being able to change the world, but, you know, Fat Bastard.   

Ouch. Sorry. Wasn't thinking. Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?
I think I turned down a few chili dogs I shouldn’t have.  Wouldn’t have, that’s for sure, not if I’d known what I know now.    

What is your favorite past-time?
Did you even read my story?  I think I’m way past time now. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Sure.  Lessee, whenever something is really really important, don’t just sit back and watch.  Wow, that’s lame.  Can I start over?

Ha! You could have had a job writing cheesy sayings for Hallmark Cards. Too bad you're dead, man.

Want to know more about Fat Bastard and his claim to fame? Look for All Things Dark and Dastardly to be released on Oct. 21. And don't forget to enter our All Things Dark Contest! 2000 word entries due on Oct. 1 can be emailed to maryannloesch374@gmail.com.   

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's All in the Atmosphere

Ah, it's autumn. The crisp, cool air. Beautiful leaves turning and falling. Farmers looking forward to a bountiful harvest. Sweaters in the evening.

Well, that was fun to write. But it's just a myth to those of us in central Texas. Here in Austin it was 105 degrees yesterday. The most chance of rain any forecaster will venture is 30 percent, and that's a 30 percent change of scattered sprinkles, not the actual rain we so desperately need. The trees have given up and gone into early dormancy. We'll see if they leaf out next spring. The farmers have plowed under most of the crops for this year, awhile ago. There were a few anemic cotton harvests, but the corn never got above two feet tall and withered weeks before any ears could form.

I had the great good fortune this month to make a trip to cool, wet Tennessee and take a walk in the Smokies on a foggy day that required a jacket. But, if I hadn't actually taken a plane and arrived there physically, I still could have gone. That's the advantage of being a writer.

Any old time I want, I can sit down and conjure up weather. That's part of my setting, after all. If I get thoroughly into what I'm doing, I can write a blizzard and start shivering. My bare toes will turn cold. I'll want a cup of hot tea. Then I'll leave the keyboard and come to. It will shock me that it's over 100 degrees and the AC is valiantly trying to cool the house. I love being a writer!

If you're feeling the need for something with a dark and juicy atmosphere to sink your teeth into, with touches of black humor sprinkled about, remind yourself that our anthology is coming out next month. We here in Austin sure hope it's cooler by then!

Oil on canvas "Autumn Leaves" by John Buxton Knight, public domain

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Judging a Book by its Cover

OK, let’s not pretend that when you look at the artwork on the front of a book it doesn’t influenced your buying preferences. It does. So I wanted to talk about designing a book cover from a semi-professional point of view. The two obvious things to worry about are the aesthetic aspect, and the technical aspect. Let’s start with the aesthetics since that will interest you far more than the technical.

I’ve read up on advice on how to create an amazing book cover, and a lot of it says that you have to design the cover in some unbelievably unique way that no one has ever thought of before.

Eh, I’m not buying it.

In the USA alone, we publish 200,000 to 300,000 new books a year. I find it hard to believe that they are all wrapped in brilliantly original designs. Hey, if there are no original stories any more, why would there be original book covers? I’m not saying copy book covers, but I’m sort of saying copy other books’ covers. You’ve got probably many options in your home, and probably many of the genre you’re interested it. Take a look at them and break them down into their core elements. For example, take a quick count of how many of your paperbacks on your shelf follow this format.

* Quote by famous person at the top
* Title in a bigger font
* Striking picture in the middle
* Subtitle that explains what it is about
* Name of the Author, Editor, or genius who wrote the introduction at the bottom.

Now for Option Two, put the name of the Author, Editor, or genius who wrote the introduction just under the title, skip the subtitle, and leave the picture in the bottom 2/3s.

Those two examples don’t cover every book cover - that would be too easy - but they do cover a lot of them. My point, and I did have one, is that layout shouldn’t be something you struggle with. Copy someone else’s layout, and do it proudly. They spent many hours studying how to copy someone else’s in school, which means if you copy it, you’ll probably be pretty close too. If you want to check your layout, then when you finish it, put it aside, let it sit, go look at several other books, and then glance at your right after looking at a few others. If there is something that seems not right to you about the font, it will probably feel that way to other people too. That’s when you notice the tiny details. The other book probably has that title in all caps, and the author’s name in small caps, and the font probably looks a little thinner than the average words you see on a page. Bad layout, bad fonts, and bad artwork will make your book stick out in a bad way, and will give everyone the impression it was self-published. You’ve looked at a lot of book covers. If something about yours seems off, look deeper until you figure out what it is.

Quick sidenote – don’t try to get really crazy and put the author’s name above the title, unless the author is famous enough to sell the book regardless of what it is about.

At this point you’ve released yourself of the burden of thinking you need a design degree to get the format right, so focus on the fun stuff. What striking picture will really draw the eye? What colors capture the mood of the interior? If the picture or illustration looks professional, you’re 80%-90% there.

The back cover is harder, as you have a lot more interpretations of what should go on the other side of the book. Again I recommend using other works as guides, but the trend is to devote at least a third of it to more praise blurbs, and at least a third of it to a pitch to the potential reader. If you don’t have that many praise blurbs, toss in another image or illustration, or your picture and a bio.

Now let’s shift to some technical aspects. First, you’re probably going to sell your book either as an e-book, or on Amazon. That means people will be looking at your book cover at a fraction of the normal scale. If it is too crowded or detailed, then in miniature, it will look like a blob of color. Shrink it down to a few inches on your screen and ask yourself if it still captivates you.

Second, you need to understand what “bleed” is. The term is used to talk about the edges of the book, with the understanding that no matter how advanced our technology gets, when you send a file to the printer, there is a chance what your set up and what they print will be off a little bit. Most printers require that you leave a ring of blank space on all four sides of the cover, usually about .17 of an inch (1/6th of an inch) or so. The printer should tell you. Most will even give you a template that says “keep all images in this square” or something similar. The color of the book cover should still go to the edge or past it, but no part of the title, the witty praise blurbs, the actual striking image, the price, the barcode, the press logo, none of that should venture into this mystical “bleed” area. In some cases, if you do it, they will print it, and then something goes terribly wrong and you end up with the edges of your letters cut off on the side of the page. With places like Create Space, if it doesn’t fit into their template, they will just reject your design and tell you to do it again.

Third, the spine of your book is also important. The printer should tell you how to calculate the width of your spine based on the number of pages, whether the pages are white or cream, and whether the interior is black and white or color. If your book is less than 150 pages, most printers recommend you not have any words on your spine at all because – you guessed it – spines also have a “bleed,” and if you’ve got to have .17” of blank space on either side, that means a third of an inch of the spine has to be empty. You’ll notice many book spines follow a format too: Book title, author, publisher’s name and logo.

Which brings up point four, publisher’s name and logo. If you have a real publisher, they are probably designing your book cover and you have no say in it. If you don’t, you might consider starting your own publishing company, at least on paper. I don’t want to get too far into ISBNs and barcodes right now, but if you use the ISBN provided by a print on demand company, then when that code is scanned, and several smart phones have apps that will scan them, then that print on demand company (like Create Space) will show up as your publisher. If you don’t want to advertise a book is self-published, you’ll have to buy your own ISBN and create a publishing company. That requires a mildly interesting name and a professional looking logo.

Bottom line, we look at books all the time, and while most of what goes on the cover gets filed away as white noise, some part of our brains register what is there. We notice if the picture on the cover seems good, but not professional. We notice if the font isn’t in all caps, or it is Times New Roman, although we might not catch on exactly why right away. You don’t want a potential reader to get any sort of “this is homemade” vibe from your cover. Copy formats and layouts, and concentrate on the little details that make it look professional, and that one image that will draw the eye.

Oh, and also, write some brilliant story to go on the inside.