Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spotlight on the Caribbean Adventure Series

A few weeks ago, Shauna Roberts introduced a new concept at Novel Spaces - the bragging post. I am the second one to take advantage of this. At the time that I signed up, it seemed like a great idea to do it on February 29, an unusual date, one that stands out. As usual, I anticipated that things would happen faster than they actually did and so, right now I can only brag about events to come, but exciting events nonetheless.

Chee Chee goes to West Africa
When I moved to Ghana, many people asked me if I would take my Caribbean Adventure Series to Africa. The series tracks the adventures of three children and a monkey (Chee Chee) who travel through time. I decided not to pursue that route, however, I have successfully explored publishing a West African edition of the series. The publisher and I are still hammering out the details, however, the new books should be off the press in a few months.

New Children's Series
I am often asked how Chee Chee and Mark, the main protagonist in the Caribbean Adventure Series met. So, I wrote five stories. The first few feature Chee Chee and his brothers and the last two describe when Chee Chee and Mark met. The first story can be viewed on YouTube and in a few weeks will be available in print form. I worked once again with my illustrator Ann-Cathrine Loo and she did an amazing job on creating images that younger children will love. We are now working on creating books for the rest of the series. Separately, there is a completely different children series underway.

Words from my fans
Of all of the things that I can boast about, the one that gives me the greatest joy is some feedback that I received from a group of children in Connecticut. A lady visited St. Kitts and picked up my first book, Adventure at Brimstone Hill, at the airport. She read that to her daughter's class at school and then purchased and read the second and third books in the series. I received this email a few weeks ago.

"We finally had the time to read your third book to the class, and they LOVED it! I split the reading up to two days, and they kept asking when I was coming back to finish it. : ) ... They were all captivated by it, I didn't lose one of them during each of the two readings. : )"

I am corresponding with the children, they asked me some questions about the book and the series. I responded and asked them a few questions in return. They are excited about learning about the Caribbean and about writing ... this is why I write!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lies and Exaggerations

Fiction is about telling lies. And no one minds. In fact, the better you tell the lie, the more your work will be liked. And bought.

But what about the stories authors tell when they’re trying to ‘sell’ what they’ve written? I’ve often been told that I needed to sell myself in order to sell my work. I’ve heard that you need a character, that you need a persona. I’ve known writers who have done this. I’ve seen them become successful. These authors know, and I’m sure most of their readers know, that their persona is not quite identical with their real day to day self. But everyone is enjoying it.

The closest I’ve come is putting on my hat and coat and strapping on my gunbelt for a few author/ interview photos. I can’t tell if it’s helped much, but I definitely had fun doing it. I also exaggerated certain elements of my memoir, Days of Beer, for humorous effect. I think it’s pretty easy to tell where the exaggerated elements are, and there’s not a scene in there that didn’t happen pretty much as I described it. This kind of thing strikes me as an agreement between the author and the readers to enhance the enjoyment for everyone.

But what about when writers exaggerate personal accomplishments in order to create a certain impression of themselves as an expert in a given field. Perhaps they exaggerate their academic credentials, or try to claim more ‘street cred’ for themselves than they in truth have earned. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some erotica authors claim more sexual experience than is likely to be the case. I imagine some western authors have made claims about their western experiences that aren’t 100 percent true.

Of course, at the far end of the spectrum we have writers like James Frey, who appears to have told outright lies about his experiences in his book A Million Little Pieces. Then there’s Margaret Seltzer, Stephen Glass, and Greg Mortenson. Outright liars get found out, though it’s hard to say how much it hurts their sales.

But how much exaggeration does it take of one’s personal story to cross that line into lying? How much is OK and fun, and how much is misleading readers purely for profit or pride’s sake? I wonder about this at times. What do you think?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I write romance

Some time ago during a blog interview I was asked why I wrote romance. The question came back a few days ago when a relative, after snubbing the genre, proceeded to ask me why I wrote romance. Here is my journey:

I read my first romance novel when I was ten years old. It was a Mills and Boon. At that time, my mother called them “dirty books” and forbade me to read them. I hid in the bathroom, under the bed; I climbed the Guinup tree and read it. Just before I got to the end of the book, one of my siblings ratted me out. My mother confiscated it. That was the end of that book, but it left me enthralled with romance novels.

The heroine in that Mills and Boon was tall and astoundingly beautiful with long straight hair and alabaster skin. The hero was tall and handsome with the body of a Greek god, and unbelievably rich. Those heroes looked nothing like me. They didn’t resemble my parents who were both of African descent. My father was less than six feet and my mother was only four feet ten inches and quite rotund. Most of all we were struggling to put food on the table. But that didn’t matter. The book transformed me to another world where all was perfect and beautiful women fell in love with wealthy handsome men.

By my early teens I voraciously read Sweet Dreams Romance and Sweet Valley High novels. The heroines were constantly compared to Carly Simon and Brooke Shields. I didn’t even know who those celebrities were; I just knew they were tall and beautiful… and they didn’t look like me. Of course when I wrote my first romance novel at the age of fifteen (unpublished and now lost forever), the heroine was tall and graceful with long legs, had long straight hair and creamy white skin. The hero was over six feet tall, exotically handsome and wealthy beyond the imagination. By that time I was into Danielle Steele romance.

I devoured Danielle Steele’s wealthy uncommonly beautiful characters: the slim shapely figure type, the long shapely legs, long straight shiny hair. I followed the characters as they traipsed from New York City and California to London, Rome, Paris, Nice, Greece, Italy, all the places I knew I could never afford to go. There were so many royal characters and moguls who presided over mega business empires. Again the common thread: none of these people resembled me.

Finally, in my late teens to early twenties I began to ask, “Don’t poor people fall in love? Don’t black people fall in love?” You see, before then, I had never read or even seen an African American romance. In the books I read, the characters were all upper middle class to rich and if they weren’t, they fell in love with the wealthy heir. Tired of the titled, the wealthy, and the overly beautiful falling in love, I stopped reading romance and devoured mysteries and suspense novels.

Then I discovered Arabesque romance. I read a few, and the lead characters were African American. But again the overly beautiful, the upper middle class dominated. The men always seemed to have some wealth whether it was self made or inherited. It seemed as if the average person did not fall in love. In fact, with the exception of having milk chocolate skin (for females) and coffee cream (for males) the characters could have been the same as any other mainstream romance I had read.

That’s when I decided this world needed more romance that reflected the average person. That’s where Tamara Fontaine, the heroine of “A Marriage of Convenience”, came in. I made Tamara short (originally 5’ 2” but later by the urging of the editor I added two inches to her height). I made Tamara overweight. Not “big boned” as some like to put it, but fat – over two hundred pounds of fat. And I made her jobless, the victim of a recession and corporate downsizing. She struggled financially, she struggled with her self image, she struggled with her weight. However, Tamara grows during the story and blossoms into a confident woman. Yes she falls in love with a very handsome larger than life, accomplished man (I have to leave some room for fantasy) and she does get the man. But somewhere in the story you stop seeing Tamara as a fat short woman. You see her as beautiful and sexy because you begin to see the inside, the wonderful personality and you are rooting for her to get her man.

Many reviewers of the book expressed their appreciation for a heroine that is not the stereotypical model thin or ultra rich. The most common comment I hear from readers is that they can identify with the characters. Tamara embodied the average person.

So to get back to that question, “why do I write romance?” Well, we all need a dream. We need heroes and heroines that look like us, feel like us and go through some of the struggles we are going through. Are all my heroines short and overweight? No. But they are average people who are underrepresented in the romance genre. There are enough writers writing about princes and dukes and wealthy people. Those who struggle financially, those who are not tall and ultra slim and overly beautiful need a happy ever after (HEA) too. That’s why I write romance. To give the average woman (and man) her (his) HEA.

Why do you write your genre? Did you pick your genre or did your genre pick you?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guest author Mia Marlowe: The Devil's in the Details

Mia Marlowe writes historical romance for Kensington and Sourcebooks. Her work has been featured in People magazine and one of her novels is on display at the Museum of London Docklands next to Johnny Depp memorabilia. Her books have been translated into 8 different languages. Publishers Weekly has named her Touch of a Rogue one of the Top Ten Romances for Spring 2012! Mia loves to connect with other writers and readers and invites you to visit her cyber-home,

First of all, thanks to Liane for inviting me here today. I received plenty of writerly advice on my way to publication and I’m always happy to pass on what I’ve learned. So if you’re an aspiring writer, or a reader who’s interested in peeking behind the wizard’s curtain to see what sort things authors angst over, I invite you to pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me as we take a look at ‘the Devil in the details.’

Actually, it’s more like the author’s voice is in the details. For me, the thing that establishes that elusive quality we call voice is word choice. The words we choose establish a tone, create a mood and hook our reader with an unusual turn of phrase. Sometimes it’s a matter of using a word in a totally incongruous setting. My hostess, Liane Spicer, does this brilliantly in the opening of her Café au Lait:

‘This is no way to die.
Shari walked a gauntlet of male eyes as she made her way along the aisle of the aircraft.’ (Liane Spicer, Café au Lait)

First she propels us into deep POV by letting us hear the panicked thoughts rolling around in her heroine’s head. I defy anyone not to read on after that first sentence. Liane could have then told us plainly that her heroine was feeling as if all the guys in the plane were ogling her, but the use of the word ‘gauntlet’ in a fresh way hooks me big time and gives me further insight into Shari’s state of mind. She’s feeling totally threatened, but Liane has shown me, not told me, so. What a lovely compliment to a reader. She respects us enough to let us bring something to the reading experience. Only two sentences in, but I know I’m in for a story well-told.

Details can place a reader in a world that is totally alien. Depending on what out of the ordinary element you choose to use, there is an element of risk. Here’s a bit from my MaidenSong that demonstrates the principle.

‘The wrinkled little face puckered and the newborn shrieked as if Loki, the trickster godling, had just pinched her bottom. Helge wrapped the child snugly in a cat-skin blanket, crooning urgent endearments.’ (Mia Marlowe, MaidenSong)

Mention of Loki lets readers know they are not in Kansas, but the real risk in this little snippet is the cat-skin blanket. It’s historically accurate to the Viking culture, however, I knew I might really upset cat-lovers with the phrase. Using the fur of an animal we think of as a beloved pet telegraphs that this story takes place in primitive culture, one that’s not quite safe. Coupled with urgent endearments, it makes you wonder why Helge is so anxious to quiet the child.

Sometimes a writer will choose an unusual detail and juxtapose a unique sensory connection to create a sense of what sort of story a reader is in for. In my upcoming release Touch of a Rogue, I paired some unlikely details for my first sentence:

‘The bed creaked out a merry rhythm of squeaks and scritches, like a chorus of tree frogs.’ (Mia Marlowe, Touch of a Rogue)

By starting with a bed, I’m letting readers know this will be an adult tale. But the merry rhythm of squeaks and scritches is not a usual sensual detail for a romance. It’s not sexy, but it definitely creates a sensory impression. As a side note, I had to fight with the copy editor to keep scritches. She insisted it wasn’t a real word. It may not be, but I maintain it conveys exactly what I want my readers to hear. Then by adding a reference to tree frogs, a perfectly absurd pairing with a bouncing bed, I’ve implied that Touch of a Rogue is going to have plenty of light moments. And besides, when tree frogs sing it’s because they’re “in the mood for love.”

I was able to make the first sexual encounter in my story a little ridiculous because my hero isn’t in the bed. He’s under it. His lover’s husband came home unexpectedly leaving him with no other choice but developing a deeper acquaintance with dust balls.  And a fresh aversion to tree frogs.

Every word counts. As well as showing clearly what’s happening in the story, our words are all preloaded with tons of subtext. And sometimes, it’s what’s inferred by that subtext that’s even stronger than the surface sense of the prose.  It’s responsible for the tingle a reader gets when she reads a passage and doesn’t realize why she feels that way. Beneath the words, the real story lies. An author depends on her readers to find the true tale embedded in the ink.

GIVEAWAY! I’d love to take questions or comments. If you’re working on something you’d like my input on, ask away. If you’re reading something that’s struck you as out of the ordinary, please share. I’ll reward those who speak up by offering a Touch of a Rogue to one lucky randomly drawn commenter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras Basics for Writers

"It's Carnival time, and everybody's having fun." 
 —from "Carnival Time," Al Jonson

Joyeux Mardi Gras!

The one thing everyone seems to know about New Orleans is that it has a big Mardi Gras celebration. But many people are fuzzy on the details, including writers.

The Carnival Season traditions of New Orleans are so rich that one could write books about them. Here, I'll just summarize the basics and provide links to more information so that you don't embarrass yourself when writing a story set in New Orleans during Carnival Season.

Mardi Gras is on a different date every year because it's tied to the Catholic Church calendar, not the secular calendar. Mardi Gras itself is always the day before Ash Wednesday. It's called Mardi Gras—French for "Fat Tuesday"—because it's the last day before the sacrifices and penances of Lent.

In New Orleans, the season of parties and parades leading up to Mardi Gras day is called Carnival. It starts on Twelfth Night, the twelfth day after Christmas.The first Carnival ball occurs that night. The balls are part of the secret Mardi Gras that visitors and most people who are not from old New Orleans families do not see, including me. So I will focus on what I know, the public celebrations.

One widespread custom is the king cake, which appears in bakeries on Twelfth Night (also known as Kings' Day). The king cake varies from bakery to bakery and is made differently in different homes. But it is always a sweet, oval pastry, usually iced and often with a filling inside. Before baking, a trinket is mixed into the dough; nowadays, for safety's sake, this is a small plastic doll, called the baby, that is soft enough not to break a tooth on and big enough that you probably won't swallow it. King cakes show up at offices, parties, and other places. The custom is that whoever finds the baby must provide the next king cake (and throw the next party the following week).

The official colors of Mardi Gras have remained the same since 1872: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. These colors show up everywhere. Some civic-minded people paint their houses purple, green, and gold to celebrate year-round. Most Mardi Gras beads (discussed later) are one, two, or three of these colors; so are the icing on king cakes, many costumes, Carnival-season clothes, and almost anything else you can think of.

Many people look forward most to the parades or the parties that people who live along the parade route throw. The most parades roll on Mardi Gras Day—barring rain, nine parades, including Rex and Zulu. Although most parades occur in the week and a half leading up to Mardi Gras, in 2012 there were two parades on Twelfth Night. Each parade is sponsored by a club called a crewe, which chooses a theme for the float and then spends the entire year having elaborate floats and "throws" designed and made.

Families generally watch the parades from their porches, their friends' porches, and along the streets and on the neutral grounds (medians) in neighborhoods. The crowd in the French Quarter is rowdy,  and people stand 30 deep; also, tourists congregate in the Quarter, getting drunk and sometimes taking off items of clothing. So few families go to the Quarter on Mardi Gras day; they celebrate with friends and neighbors instead.

As tractors pull the floats down the street, the costumed and masked krewe members, riding horses, riding in cars, or riding on the floats, toss "throws" to the crowd. The most common throws are strands of plastic beads (often coated with a metallic layer) that both men and women wear around their necks, doubloons (commemorative coins bearing the year and name of the parade), and commemorative go-cups (a large plastic cup suitable for safetly carrying your beer or other drink on the street). The most-coveted throw is a coconut decorated by someone in the Krewe of Zulu. Other throws include small stuffed animals, candy, small toys, decorated high-heeled shoes, MoonPies, koozies, and tee-shirts.

Between the floats march great high school and military bands, dance troupes, and flambeaux carriers, who dance with torches at the night parades, a tradition dating back to before there were street lights.

In some neighborhoods, people march on foot from bar to bar or on an improvised route. The most glamorous of these groups is the Mardi Gras Indians. The Indians are small groups of African-American men who spend all year designing and making sewing beads on elaborate, colorful costumes based on Plains Indian outfits.

Mardi Gras day, the parades are done by midafternoon, but the partying picks up. In the Quarter, street sweeping machines start rolling at exactly midnight as mounted police, horses shoulder to shoulder, firmly encourage everyone to go home. Mardi Gras ends with a whimper as tired people slump off.

To learn more:

Large collection of links about Mardi Gras (including etiquette, history in New Orleans, Carnival balls, parade dates, and tips for first timers) can be found here, here, and here.

Learn about the krewes and their history here, here, here, and here.

Information on Mardi Gras Indians and links to more information are here.

In rural Acadiana in southern Louisiana, customs are quite different and include le Courir de Mardi Gras, a celebration that varies from town to town but usually involves costumes, masked riders on horseback who gather ingredients for a community gumbo, other types of begging, singing, and playing pranks. See also this brief overview.

Mardi Gras is so much more than what I've been able to fit in this post. I'd appreciate stories or links shared in comments to help readers understand our traditions better.

Far from home, but always a New Orleanean wherever I am,
—Shauna Roberts

Monday, February 20, 2012

Your Character's Journey - Not Yours

Most of the conversations I have with new writers are about how they might best go about writing stories without feeling guilt as far as, 1) the story actually being similar to their own lives and the people who know it's based on truth being upset, 2) worrying that readers will assume it really happened to them, even if it didn't. The key word is worry.

Worry, doubt, guilt - these feelings will get in the way of your writing and keep you from creating three-dimensional characters. It will keep you from entertaining readers - and the key is to entertain them, not worry about what they will think of you. I always say, "What you think of me is none of my business," which is the title of a book by Terry Cole-Whittaker. I don't mean that in a negative way as in I don't care what you think, but I use that term to say that I cannot worry about your judgement of me, and still be a writer. Therefore, I shed all of that before I sit down to write. I write the character's story from their world, not mine - the actions, thoughts, failures, ideas, successes, addictions, fears, flaws, evils, beliefs, hurts, dysfunctions, disorders - not mine. If I did all the things my characters did - I'd be dead!

A vivid imagination is why we are fiction writers in the first place. We get paid to make things up, so get to makin'. I do think an author's maturity level and life experiences can enrich a story, but you cannot be afraid to "go there" and worry about a certain action being something you'd never do. It's not about you - it's about your characters.

For authors who are conflicted over writing about abuse or murder or sex or whatever - be true to the story. Let your characters surprise even you! I've learned to step aside and not judge. Write your heart out because you know the characters well enough to begin their journey (create a character resume and storyboard w/their photos and neighborhood and workplace, etc.). Take them where they need to be, not where you dare not go. Be brave and be bold. I doubt that Stephen King, after selling 350 million copies, is worried about comparing his own life to the lives of the serial killers and creatures he creates.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Readers will always have something to say, good or bad. You can't please everybody, so don't even try. You will drive yourself crazy if you doubt the right of the characters to be who they are. You created them. So let them be. I do think we share some responsibility in not glamorizing certain actions, but truly, there is no idea or action you could come up with that hasn't been done before in real life. A book without flawed characters is doomed from the beginning - characters must have issues and a goal with obstacles, which creates the conflict.

The thing is to not limit your characters by your boundaries - yes, if you don't want to curse or show certain scenes or abuses that cross the line of your level of integrity and morality for books that have your name on them, by all means honor those aspects before you start writing, and don't go there or don't go into detail - it also depends on the boundaries of the genre. But respect and allow a character to go out of their own bounds. Let them deal with it. And then when it's over, share it with the world, knowing you did your characters proud. Make them unforgettable.

Use your imagination - you are a storyteller, so tell the story. You are creative, so create. You are good enough, you are smart enough, you are a writer!

Write without fear. Don't doubt yourself. It's their journey, not yours!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

We am not sane

In her comment on Dayton's last post, Liane said that, compared to writing original fiction, the world of media tie-in writing sounded unnaturally sane. I had never seen that adjective applied to the industry. The analogy I used when I wrote on the topic back in 2009 (Part One and Part Two) was that a writer of original fiction is a soloist while a writer of tie-in fiction is first chair in an orchestra. You still do your best, but you are always mindful of the fact you are a part of something larger; that your work must enhance the greater whole.

Having an established universe to draw on for inspiration is of course an advantage, but making sure what you write stays within the rules and continuity of that universe requires a type of discipline not asked of writers creating their own worlds. Sometimes there are inconsistencies in established universes – unsurprising in collaborative effort. Finding and building on those gaps, creating a solution to the apparent problem that fits the rules and continuity of the universe, is one of the most satisfying perks of the job. Particularly if you can incorportate real world events in your "patch."

Fans of the original Star Trek may recall that the first time Chekov appears on the bridge, supposedly for a routine shift change, he is grinning from ear to ear. (Note to purists: Yes, I know "Amok Time" aired before "Catspaw." "Catspaw" was filmed first.) Walter Koenig later explained that he was so delighted to be on the Star Trek set that he couldn't stop smiling the whole first day of shooting. In the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Kahn, Kahn recognizes Chekov even though the character had not been part of the on-air crew the season Kahn appeared. When asked about this during a fan Q&A at a convention, Koenig explained that Chekov and Khan had met in the men's room. My story "Indomitable," in Strange New Worlds VII, ties these two bits of trivia together. One of my most prized digital possessions is an email from Walter Koenig complimenting me on how well "Indomitable" captured his vision of Chekov.

Writing for games differs from writing for television or movies. With shows or series readers already have a solid narrative of the universe; the stories exist only to add nuance and texture to an epic already in place. Role players, however, are creating their own narratives using the tools and tropes the game's universe provides. Writing for games provides the readers with a context for their adventures, demonstrates how the forces and factions of the universe work and interact with each other, and provide an over-arching narrative continuity in which the gamers place their own stories. Sometimes this requires presenting game mechanics in ways that appear plausible in real-world contexts. BattleTech combines table-top miniature play with role playing, and bridging the two forms sometimes requires finesse. For example: A BattleMech is a ten-meter-tall walking tank with a mass equal to forty-seven Hummers welded together. In table-top play a BattleMech that has been knocked down can regain its feet in one turn; ten seconds in play time. A hundred-ton machine leaping to its feet like a B-movie ninja strains credulity, so for the benefit of role-players in fiction I describe the maneuver as a complex action requiring several minutes of precise effort. Some table-top purists decry such "distortions," but most understand verisimilitude requires compromise. More than once I've had to back down on my "patches." Another example from BattleTech: The controls of a 'Mech are described as two pivoting pistol grips on the arms of the pilot's chair. I've never driven a tank, though my father did, but I knew managing a giant walking tank should require a bit more effort. In fiction I depicted 'Mech jockeys switching levers and pulling on yokes. However this ran contrary to twenty-five years of tradition, including numerous illustrations of 'Mech cockpits showing the command chair with its two pistol grips and no yokes, wheels, or levers. I had to bring my stories in line with established continuity. (Of course there is a precedent for minimalist controls. A flying submarine is arguably more complex than a walking tank and had exactly the same setup in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.)

I've recounted in the past that my worst experience with an editor involved writing for a game. The editor wanted to add examples of gameplay mechanics and character type to the story and rather than ask for a rewrite, she removed a third of my story and wrote the new material herself. I learned of the change when layout sent me the pages to proof; I yanked my name from the story.

I was thinking about that episode yesterday while editing scenarios for a role-playing game. A scenario gives a gamemaster – GM – the tools for creating a role-playing adventure for the players. A scenario is a narrative that details opponents and secondary, non-player characters (NPCs) presents the players' objectives, describes the obstacles they will face, and provides a tree of consequences or results based on choices the players make at each step of the adventure. The GM uses the scenario to generate an adventure specific to the role players in her group. One scenario was brilliant in concept and complexity: three-dimensional NPCs, plausible internal conflicts within the team, clever and original problems mounting to a climactic confrontation, with utter disaster a real possibility at every decision point.
While the writer clearly understood, and loved, the game, she did not understand storytelling. Groups of words that were not sentences. Groups of sentences that were not paragraphs. Events, descriptions, internal thoughts of the adventurers, and direct instructions to the GM jumbled together – evidently written in the order they'd occurred to the author with no thought to structure or order. I contacted the game's line developer about asking for a rewrite. I was told that the author was a brilliant gamer but "seriously challenged" when it came to prose. What I had was her best work. The line developer instructed me to rewrite as necessary. I did. Five thousand words in six hours.

And the whole time I was rewriting I remembered how angry I'd been at the editor who'd done the same thing to me, lo those many years ago. Media tie-in writing sane? I don't think so.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Word for ‘Freelance’ Is...?

“Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends....”

Remember last month, when I said I wasn’t going to wait for any contracted work to present itself, and that I was just going to get on with writing something, because I was feeling the itch after taking a bit of a sabbatical?

Well, let that be a lesson for you: Don’t tempt fate.

January indeed was a good month so far as pursuing a passion project or two. I finished the revisions on two different stories, and while I was a bit worried about the downturn in steady, paying work I’d enjoyed for a good portion of last year, I was excited at being able to devote time and energy to stories I wanted to write just because I wanted to write them. Whether I might be able to sell them somewhere was and remains a secondary consideration.

After all, another word for ‘freelance’ is ‘resourceful.’

Then I started talking to people about the possibility of contributing something to an anthology for later this year, and something else for an ongoing author-created/"shared-world" novel series. I was giving serious thought to ideas for the novel, and I thought the story for the anthology might actually be my next writing project. There would be no money up front, but the possibility of good e-Book and print-on-demand sales looked promising, and I’d been looking for a way to experiment on such platforms. Good work is where you find it, right?

Another word for ‘freelance?’ That would be ‘agreeable.’

Then, an editor came a’calling. Someone I like, and with whom I enjoy working, wanted to gauge my interest in writing a novel, likely to be published next year. “Absolutely,” I said.

Hey, another word for ‘freelance’ is ‘eager.’

With all of that decided, said editor then asked if I was available for another, smaller project which was getting set to be fast-tracked for publication a bit later this year. Once again, I said, “Sure!” Why? Because yet another word for ‘freelance’ is ‘opportunistic.’

And so, just like that, my writing plate went from being somewhat lacking to full. How fast did things turn around? I got the call last Monday—which included the contract, schedule and payment terms—after which I submitted an outline for the project that Thursday evening, and got approval to start writing the next day. Only because I trust this editor could I be comfortable getting started while the contracts are still being drafted and sent to me. I’ve got a due date, and so a week ago I got cracking.

But, no sooner do I rethink my schedule for the next couple of months than another editor/friend of mine drops me a note, asking about my availability for a project currently in the very early planning stages. Though info was sketchy at this point, I still indicated my interest in principle, because it sounds like it could be fun. Based on expected due dates, that will require reshuffling my calendar a bit toward the end of summer in order to accommodate this new project. And now, we’re soon going to be talking about yet another, separate venture.

This business can be flat-out crazy, on occasion, and the level of crazy often shifts by the day, if not the hour.

“But what about those passion projects, Dayton?” I can hear someone asking. Well, I haven’t forgotten them, of course, but now they’ll get re-slotted in and around these and other tasks as time permits. When you’ve got two kids in school and tuition checks to write, paying work has to come first.

Man, acting like a responsible adult can be such a bummer, some times.

Such is the life of a freelance writer, because another word for ‘freelance,’ as you doubtless know or now have figured out, is ‘adaptable.’ That’s probably the best, most concise way to describe a successful freelancer, whether they’re a writer or pursuing some other profession.

For those of you who also travel this path or who one day hope to do so, here’s hoping your life as a freelancer is just as crazy, just as successful, and just as rewarding.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In the nude

I live on an island located within spitting distance of the equator and the setting on the regional thermostat is stuck at HOT. I don't thrive in heat; it makes me want to do nothing more strenuous than lie around and pant while fantasizing about diving headfirst into a pool filled with chilled watermelon cubes. Focusing on anything that takes actual effort, such as writing, is really asking too much.

The first thing I do on entering the house is strip; once I'm in the privacy of my home I wear little or nothing. I've written roughly half a million words of fiction, most of them in the buff (or close), late at night when the air has cooled enough to render me capable of coherent thought.

My relatives and friends who know of my aversion to clothing are unanimous in their verdict: "Girl, you're CRA-ZY!" I was therefore delighted to stumble across an article this week that proved I was not alone in my strange (to others, utterly natural to me) predilection for writing au naturel. These famous authors did not live in the tropics, to my knowledge, so heat and humidity could not have been that much of a problem for them, but they're kindred naturist spirits.
  • Agatha Christie liked to write in the bathtub. (Sounds lovely, but I'm a shower gal.)
  • Benjamin Franklin liked to take 'air baths' where he sat around naked in a cold room for a couple hours while he wrote. (Air baths rock!)
  • D.H. Lawrence, author of the controversial erotic novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (one of my favourites), liked to climb mulberry trees in the nude before coming down to write. (Um, I'll pass. No splinters in delicate crannies, thank you.)
  • Ernest Hemingway, author of A Farewell to Arms and other classics, wrote nude, standing up, with his typewriter about waist level. (His cousin Edward Hemingway opened Britain’s oldest nudist colony, a nine-bedroom chateau called Metherell Towers, back in the 1930s. Cool!)
  • Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, overcame writer's block by having his servant take all of his clothes away for the day leaving him nude with only pen and paper so he’d have nothing to do but sit down and write. (Wasn't life simple before they went and invented the Internet...)
I'm in such great company. I can't help wondering, though: Are there other closet naturist writers out there - or am I the last survivor of an almost extinct species?

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    News And Shameless Self-Promotion

    Now that Devon Archer has moved on from Novel Spaces, we will have occasional empty blogging slots that our writers will use for promotion and news.

    I believe I am the first to take advantage of this opportunity, and I have several pieces of news to share.

    Campbell Award

    I am in my second (and last) year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. If you are eligible to nominate works and people for Hugo Awards, you can nominate as many as five people for Campbell Award at the bottom of the Hugo ballot.

    Please consider nominating me for the Campbell Award. Last year, it took only 40 nominations to get on the final ballot, so your five votes really do count.  

    A list of people eligible to be nominated for the Campbell Award is posted at Writertopia. Clicking on a name will take you to a page telling you what work made that person eligible. Most pages also have a bio and a list of fiction publications and awards. My own page is at

    You don't need to nominate five works or people in every category on the Hugo ballot; in fact, you can leave entire categories blank. If you vote, the nomination ballot must be received by March 11. Thanks.

    Novel Sale

    Hadley Rille Books, the science fiction and fantasy press that published Like Mayflies in a Stream, will be publishing my novel Ice Magic, Fire Magic.  

    Ice Magic, Fire Magic is a fantasy with strong romantic elements. Its heroine is a woman who is  incapable of doing evil and who must become the ruler of her world. Meanwhile, evil people who want to seize her power are out to stop her.

    I wrote the novel to explore in more depth the good Kirk–bad Kirk dilemma: Can a person who is all good be an effective leader?

    Ice Magic, Fire Magic has some cool elements I had fun creating. The land is sentient and chooses the ruler. The rulers are true servants of the people, and they go barefoot as a constant reminder that they should serve, not be served. Two species of humans share the land; one species wields magic, and the other relies on advanced technology. Women and men work different types of magic; their magic is complementary, and both kinds are needed for the land to thrive. A lonely, 1000-year-old evil spirit tries to influence both the good heroine and her evil opponents. And then there are the ice dragons and fire lizards.

    The book is scheduled for publication in 2013.

    Story Sale

    My fantasy flash story "Moonlight, Reflected in Dewdrops" was published in the January 2012 issue of 10Flash Quarterly. You can read it for free at 

     New e-Books

    My novelette "The Hunt, " despite having been published twice, is hard to find. This science fiction mystery is one of my favorite pieces I've written. So I've put it up at as an e-book. You can find it at

    I hope within the next week or so to put up my 1983 dissertation for Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) on mating behavior of Nicobar pigeons (Caloenas nicobarica) at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Although mating behavior has been studied extensively in other pigeons, to my knowledge my dissertation remains the only such work on Nicobar pigeons, so it will be useful for a few specialists to have it available.

    Of more interest to Novel Spaces readers, this spring, if all goes well, I will e-publish my epic fantasy novel Shrine of the Heavens. More on it later. 

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Keep it simple ...

    West Indian playwright, Paul Keens-Douglas, performs a monologue about a woman entering a beauty contest. Keens-Douglas spends several weeks preparing her, but, the night before the contest, her friends give her the following advice:

    "If you want to win the competition, you have to use big words."

    The result of her attempts to follow this advice is hilarious.

    I suspect that is bit of mis-advice is passed on from generation to generation of writers. You know the books, the ones where you have to read a sentence three times before (a) you understand, or (b) you give up, deciding that you must be an imbecile.

    In my latest editing course, we are analysing sentences that seem difficult to understand and "defraging" them so that we can not only improve them, but we can understand why they leave the reader lost. Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb, co-authors of "Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace," explain one problem very clearly when they state:

    "Readers think sentences are clear and direct when they see key actions in their verbs ... even more, they want characters as subjects."

    Seems simple enough, right?

    Take this sentence:
    "Following the successful resolution of their disagreements, the participants engaged in amicable discussions of the future of the program."

    Seems quite innocuous, however, the actions ("resolution" and "discussion") are hidden as nouns and the characters (participants) seem secondary. Switching it around, the sentence is less pompous and much easier to understand.

    "After the participants' disagreements were resolved, they amicably discussed the future of the program." (I am sure this can be improved even further).

    I said all of that just to say that while flowery language and grand descriptions have their place, much of our writing can benefit from the generous application of the simple rule above.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Where’s the Story? Everywhere!

    I’m teaching a course this semester on writing nonfiction in the field of psychology. That is, term papers, literature reviews, proposals, journal articles, etc. That might seem pretty far away from what fiction writers do, but there are commonalities. In both, for example, you have to focus first on clarity, so that the reader can connect with what you’re writing. Otherwise you’ll accomplish none of your goals.

    Another aspect important to both types of writing is “story.” Certainly, people recognize that story is critical for fiction, but they may think that story is unnecessary, or even detrimental, to formal nonfiction writing. Not true.

    People learn best through stories, and what else are we trying to do in formal, scientific writing but get people to learn something about a particular topic. To be clear, story doesn’t play as big a role in scientific writing as in fiction, and it isn’t conveyed in exactly the same way. But it is important.

    Story in fiction is often about the writer withholding information until a big reveal, and about the element of surprise. This is less true of scientific nonfiction. Scientists are busy folks and do not want to be ‘slowed’ down in acquiring the information they need from a piece of writing. That’s why scientists often read just the “abstract” of an article, which is essentially a synopsis of the piece laid out in about 100 words. In contrast, the fiction reader willingly allows the author to lead them along the garden path, and delights in the thought that there are mysteries still to be revealed. The fiction reader doesn’t want the synopsis; that takes all the fun out of the journey through a story.

    So how does story play a role in scientific nonfiction? It does so in two ways. First, scientific writing often includes case studies and examples to illustrate specific points. A case study is the “story” of a particular person in relationship to an experience, such as a disease process or a brain injury. An “example” is a concise story to illustrate a point, and the best ones have a beginning, middle, and end.

    Second, a term paper, or the introduction to a research article, can be thought of as the story of a specific topic. The beginning introduces the topic, say a particular disorder such as Schizophrenia, in much the same way a fictional story introduces the characters and situation. Next, the scientific article raises a question or questions, a mystery if you will. A term paper explores that mystery and either gives an answer or suggests how the answer can be found. The introduction to a research article says exactly how the mystery is to be solved, and the results and discussion sections of such articles either provide the answer, or part of the answer, or reasons why the answer cannot be found at this particular moment in this particular way.

    Some scientific articles bring the reader to a conclusion that is just as satisfying as any well-constructed thriller. Others leave the ending much more open ended, but isn’t that something that defines the genre we call “literary” fiction?

    There’s no escaping story if you intend to write the kind of material that people want to read and willingly spend their time and money on. Even in poetry, the pieces that people remember best and pass along to others are rife with story. Anyone for Poe and “The Raven,” or Frost and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    One size fits all?

    Writing is not a one size fits all process. There is no standard method to the madness of different writers. Most of all, what approach works for one writer may not necessarily work for another. No time was this more evident to me than this month seeing my third grader write her book report. The assignment was quite creative. They had to read an incredible (unbelievable) story and write a sequel to it.

    The kids had a month to complete this assignment. Knowing my daughter is a consummate procrastinator, I pressured her to begin the assignment as soon as she got it. She chose “Pirates at Port Royal,” written by our fellow novelnaut, Carol Ottley-Mitchell. Two weeks before it was due, she’d completed the reading and I insisted that she begin writing. I wanted her to follow the formula for writing: brainstorming, writing an outline, writing a complete first draft by hand and revising it before typing the final draft on the computer and doing some more editing.

    She began by throwing out ideas using me as a sounding board, however by the time she went to write the ideas down she’d forgotten them. It continued like that for a day before I suggested recording the ideas. She happily used her Nintendo DS to video tape herself as she brainstormed and refined the idea. Unfortunately, she spent the next few days playing around with the video, altering the sound and adding all kinds of weird special effects.

    Of course I put my foot down and told her it was time to write the outline. She made a feeble attempt at an outline, spending two days trying to convince me to let her write the story on the computer, without a rough draft or an outline. I was not having it. I felt she needed to learn the writing process and writing her story long hand without the benefits of spell check and auto correct on the computer would improve her English. Plus a turtle could type faster than she could.

    Three days before it was due, she finally got around to writing a rough draft. After spending the entire afternoon she got only the first terrible paragraph done. Two days before it was due, fearing she would be up long past bedtime the next night, I again pressured her to get it done. She politely informed me that her friend’s mother wrote her book report for her and she hoped I would do the same. When I told her that was never happening I became the evil mother. She managed to reach to the middle of the story by bedtime. I read it and cringed.

    The night before the report was due I finally gave in and told her to type it on the computer and edit it when she was finished. I fully expected her to transcribe what she wrote by hand and then continue the story. She was still typing well past her bedtime. To save time, I told her to print it and I will proofread it while she worked on the rest of the story. To my surprise the story she wrote on the computer was completely different to the story in the hand written rough draft. It was also surprisingly good with few mistakes. She edited while she wrote.

    Here I was trying to get my daughter to stick to a specific formula for writing, and she was forging her own path. What worked best for her was writing by the seat of her pants, starting on the computer and editing as she wrote. The funny thing is, it is the same method I use.

    Not that I hadn’t tried others. In effort to improve my writing skills and efficiency, I have tried many different things. I have recorded ideas. I have written detailed character sketches and outlines. But none of those have really worked for me. What works for me is writing and editing the story mentally, then going on the computer and writing, editing as I write.

    There a lots of tools available to writers, but no one approach fits all writers. Some write by the seat of their pants. Others need detailed outlines, even chapter starters. Some write everything in notebooks before going to the computer. But each writer has to find his/her most effective writing process. Even children, though they need to learn the “writing process” have to forge their own paths and find what works for them and what doesn’t.

    What method of writing is most effective for you?

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Too old

    There comes a time when you have to look reality in the eye and accept that you're just too old for some things. You're no longer a spring chicken. You don't have the resilience and stamina you once had. You're a writer of 'a certain age' - whether 30, 50 or 70 - and you have to focus on efficiency, on putting your valuable energy where it counts. You're too old...
 take crap lying down. Writers have been groomed to be submissive and accepting, to grovel before all-powerful publishers, editors and literary agents. You're too old for that, and now you don't have to any more.
 listen to the people who say you can't start a company at your age, take up spear-fishing, go back to school, or write and publish a book or ten. Don't allow pessimists, naysayers and scaredy-cats to keep you from realizing your potential.
 keep on trying to save people who don't want to be saved.
 be in love with people who don't value, respect and love you back.
 keep abusing your body by feeding it garbage and starving it of exercise.
 hoard your treasures. Wear the pretty outfit; break out the special lingerie; use your good stuff.
 keep blaming your parents for your failings in life.
 allow people to stomp on your spirit. Excuse yourself from that conversation.
 say yes when you mean no, and no when you mean yes. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
        take people for granted. Show appreciation.
 take life for granted. Count your blessings every day, be happy you woke up, and make good use of your time.

    Take a long, hard look in the mirror with all the lights on and tell me: aren't you too old for all of the above? I've discovered that attaining 'a certain age' can sometimes be the most liberating experience of all.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Writing Flash Fiction

    "That sounds so hard!" people often say to me after hearing I'm working on or have published a flash fiction story.

    Flash fiction—generally defined as a short story of 1000 words or less—offers unusual challenges, but that makes it fun. To tell a story and then prune it and prune it again and prune it some more and possibly even prune it yet another time until it's under 1000 words and has no flab left whatsoever is like a game and improves one's skills in trimming.

    Some standard short fiction markets accept flash, and surprisingly many markets specialize in flash fiction (see, for example, lists here and here), so writing flash is more than an exercise.  (Note, though, that some markets pay little or nothing for flash.)

    In this post, I'll give some hints about how I approach a flash fiction story and then summarize tips I found on the Web.

    Some flash markets offer prompts. I like starting with a prompt because someone else has already spent the time deciding whether the idea could be satisfactorily turned into a flash story. I then make lists of possible meanings of the prompt and/or draw a mind map. As I play with ideas, I keep in mind that I need to tell the story with:
    • as few characters as possible
    • only one plotline
    • only one character arc
    • one scene, if possible, or in a few short scenes
    • enough description to create a strong setting
    • words that create a consistent mood throughout
    • a first sentence that intrigues readers
    • a last paragraph that leaves readers satisfied that they have read a complete story (that is, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end)
    I then write the story concisely, but without worrying about the word count. My first draft is usually 1300 to 1600 words. Then I start cutting.
    • First, I get rid of adjectives, adverbs, and phrases that aren't needed.
    • Second, I try to strengthen each verb and noun.
    • Third, I check the word count. I usually am still well above 1000 words, so I look for secondary plot lines (yes, they creep in when I'm not looking) that can be cut, weak dialogue that can be condensed or removed, setting details that can be cut or revealed through action instead of description, and characters that can be cut or combined.
    • Fourth, now that I'm below 1000 words, I revise each paragraph to end on a strong word. As part of this step, I look for passive sentences and test whether rewording them makes them better.
    • Fifth, I add details of action, character voice, and description to make the characters and setting feel as alive as in a long story.
    • Sixth, now that I am above 1000 words again, I repeat all the steps.
    • Seventh, after several rounds of cutting and adding, I polish each sentence and each paragraph so that it is as clean and sharp as possible, then cut or add again as necessary. 
    The rounds of cutting and polishing are more important in flash than in other fiction. Flash is so short that a break in the mood or a wrong word can demote a story from "great" to "good." Also, you have time to make your story a perfect jewel (compared with longer stories, with which the revision and polishing time seems to go up exponentially with increasing word count), and your competition will probably have taken advantage of the extra time to do just that.

    I searched on the Internet for other people's guidelines for writing flash fiction, and here are some tips I found that sound potentially useful:
    • Use allusion to familiar events or literature so that you can avoid explanation. For example, if you have a character refer to President Lincoln, you don't need to give the date or country or describe the clothes.
    • Use clichés and tropes for the same reason.
    • Have a twist or a surprise at the end.
    • Try removing everything except the dialogue.
    • Give your main a single compelling need.
    • Have only a single theme.
    • Get right to the story; don't use introductions.
    • Give as little backstory as possible; imply the rest.
    • Keep the action in one location if possible.
    • Focus on a character or an event or an idea, not all three.
    • In complete opposition to my own recommendation, one Website suggested setting a timer (for an hour, say) and aiming to complete the writing and editing before the bell goes off, because flash fiction "shouldn't be something you belabor."

    Thanks for stopping by. I'll have a special post on Monday the 13th with news and promotion and be back to regular blogging with a Mardi Gras–themed post on February 21.

    —Shauna Roberts

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    By any other name....

    Sometime over the last couple of years Clinere cleaned up its act; or at least its packaging. Restoring or refinishing old furniture is a hobby of mine, something I do to relax. I'm not very good at it, but it's me I'm working on; the hutches and chairs and bookcases are more or less innocent bystanders. Sanding layers of finish and paint down to the wood generates a lot of flying dust, and while I have a mask for my nose and mouth, my ears sometimes need clearing out – which is how I discovered Clineres. These are little plastic do-jobbies with a scoop on one end
    and a brush of sorts on the other marketed as ear cleaners. The original box proclaimed boldly Clineres were a safe and effective way to clean your ears; inside the box was a warning that you should never put anything in your ear. The box has recently been updated to say Clineres are for cleaning the exterior of the ear only – something any washcloth can do. I wonder how this has affected their sales.

    Though all writers focus on the craft of writing, those who make a living from their writing also put a lot of thought and planning into selling what they've written. Packaging, marketing - how we present ourselves and our works - are essential considerations.

    Romance novels make up fifty percent of all fiction sold in the world. This one genre, with its several sub-genres, sells as many volumes as mainstream and all other genres combined. Everything else being equal, a romance novel involving a mystery will outsell a mystery novel. There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a writer who sent her agent a science fiction manuscript about a woman who fell back through time to the medieval court of her noble ancestors and not only brought about humane reforms but married royalty. Her agent told her she could market the ms as science fiction and earn four figures or pump up the relationship, market it as a historical romance, and earn six figures. She did and she did.

    Recently I opined in print that Suzanne Brockmann's "Troubleshooters" series of romantic suspense novels could hold their own as suspense novels without the romance. Take Into the Storm (selected because it's within reach of where I'm sitting). Thumbing through to refresh my memory, I'd say maybe thirty percent of Storm is romance; the rest of the book is a serial killer thriller of Criminal Minds intensity. True, a good part of Storm's non-romance seventy percent deals with the dynamics of the cast of recurring characters within the "Troubleshooters" universe, but relationships – what makes the characters both good and bad human – are part of any thriller. Part of any story involving conflict, in fact. Relationships establish why the antagonist does what she does and what the protagonist stands to lose if she fails. I can't help but wonder if Brockmann had a "you can write suspense and earn $x, or you can write romantic suspense and earn ten times $x" conversation with herself. Or her agent.

    My first love as a reader was science fiction, though now my tastes are more varied (mystery, romance, historical, and western novels now crowd my sf collection). Looking at some of my early science fiction favorites with my now broader sense of the world of fiction, I've begun to notice patterns.

    Anne McCaffrey, whom we lost a few months ago, was a master of novels that blurred the line between science fiction and fantasy; novels in her Dragonriders of Pern series have won awards in both categories. (McCaffrey herself was firm about being a science fiction writer; all of her famous dragons were genetically engineered.) But almost every analysis of her work mentions the "romantic intensity" of her novels. McCaffrey has said that when she began writing sf in the sixties, the genre was dominated by male writers and readers – to the point most female writers used male pseudonyms or concealed their gender – and she set out to write strong female characters to whom female readers could relate. However, her first novel – written years before the Pern cycle – was clearly a romance in a science fiction setting. Restoree is dinged by sf critics for plot elements that don't seem to fit the genre. Those elements are romance tropes: A young woman with no self-confidence finds herself a prisoner in a strange world. Motivated by her feelings for a fellow prisoner and tapping into inner strength she didn't know she had, she overcomes her own insecurities as she battles prejudice and injustice to rescue herself and the other prisoner – who turns out to be the planet's rightful ruler, whom she subsequently marries.

    Lois McMaster Bujold has said her Vorkosigan Saga – which focuses on the life of Miles Vorkosigan, scion of Barrayar nobility, as he takes on the status quo and matures from unconventional, rebellious youth to unconventional, inspiring leader through tales of intrigue, combat, and mystery – is modeled on C.S. Forrester's Hornblower Saga.
    However the series has its roots in her first novel, Shards of Honor, that is itself a romance in a science fiction setting. (Captain Cordelia Naismith is captured by the notorious enemy Lord Aral Vorkosigan, the "Butcher of Komarr," but when the two are forced to survive alone together on a hostile world, she learns the man is nothing like his reputation. He falls in love with her and proposes marriage. She gets rescued and finds herself conflicted about her feelings and loyalties and not trusted by her own people. She flees to Alar's home world in time to see him appointed regent by the dying emperor and help him avert an attempted coup within and to sue for peace without, ending the war. After which she marries him. Cordelia and Alar are Miles Vorkosigan's parents.

    My theory is Anne McCaffrey and Lois McMaster Bujold, either never had the "romance sells" conversation – internally or externally – or if they did, chose to go in a different direction.

    How about you? Do you as a reader know of some titles that are famous in – or marketed as – one genre that you suspect may be more at home in another? Or do you as a writer make decisions on what elements or your stories you develop more fully based on the genre you are pursuing?

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Giving It Away and other Indie Thoughts

    Marissa recently blogged about the Free Bandwagon and posed some questions. I have a few answers based on my own experience. I put two indie eBooks in the Kindle Publishing Select Program (go to KDP's website to read details).

    Like any business decision I gave it some thought. The books I chose weren't selling very many copies on ANY site. So going exclusive on Amazon for a limited time meant not giving up money. I wouldn't do this for books selling sell (25+ books per day, but you can come up with your own definition of "selling well"). So how well did it work? In about six hours on the first day of being free Best Enemies (A Willa Crown Mystery) went from a ranking of over 200,000 to around 450. About 3,000 copies were downloaded. The book also stayed on the free top 10 "women sleuths" list on Amazon for 4 days.

    My take away: free works better if you have a series or the same type of books (genre, sub-genre) that readers can come back to buy immediately. I didn't have a series as part of my backlist, and I have to write the next in the Willa Crown series. Other writers who have connected books with on-going characters report seeing a lot of sales spill over. A lot. For genre writers free works. Well IMHO anyway. I'll be using this tool in the future, but maybe in different ways. I will have a second in a series, a paranormal thriller called Between Dusk and Dawn, finished soon. I'm debating on reducing the price of A Darker Shade of Midnight rather than making it exclusive. Then I'll compare the results and decide on putting one or both in the KP Select program.

    Finally I'd like to give my .02 on another topic. What I call the "Blockbuster Syndrome" has some influence over us indie writers. By that I mean suddenly folks are comparing numbers and rankings, Twitter followers and Facebook "likes" like crazy. Most of the feeling of writers can be summed in, "I want blockbuster success, and I want it now". Which leads to the, "What's wrong with me? Syndrome" or WWWMS?. Symptoms develop like this: Writer A announces she's sold 1,500 books in one day. Writers B-G feel like gum under the shoe of indie publishing. There are books written on not comparing yourself to others, blah-blah-blah. Y'all know I'm a clinical social worker and can talk a blue streak about self-worth issues. Bottom line - write, stop watching numbers daily, and write some more.

    Traditional publishers make lots of profit because they have a lot of books out. They can't depend on blockbusters because editors and publishers get it wrong, a lot. They pay through the nose expecting a huge seller, and flop. They reject a book, said book finally gets published somehow and mega-blockbuster history gets made. You need more books (your product) so readers who like your stories can buy them. Not more tweets, likes, tags and whatever else new comes down the social media pike. I'm not selling huge numbers, but I'm selling. To readers. Not spending time mailing off manuscripts or queries. I'm writing books that people are BUYING.

    Which brings me back to readers. A recent survey shows that 49% of readers choose books based on recommendations- not tweets, FB liks, etc. Word of mouth is king. Getting your books into the hands of people who talk about them to friends is a huge accomplishment (why I like my results with KDP Select).

    Now I'm going to finish writing Between Dusk and Dawn, a story with a sexy heroine and hero who solves crimes and kill off a rougarou or two with the help of a serial killer called The Blood River Ripper. Yes, Louisiana has a Blood River. I made up the serial killer. You can get to know LaShaun Rousselle and Chase Broussard now in A Darker Shade of Midnight.

    If that is too dark for you, enjoy my Willa Crown mystery Best Enemies. A cozy with action, drama and a lot of fun. Oh, and murder. Did I mention the stripper and missing drug money? And how Willa inherits her murdered ex-husband's pregnant mistress, who decides to become Willa's new best friend? Yeah. A lot less dark.