Thursday, June 22, 2017

Writing Retreats: Yay or Nay?


It seems like every day I log onto Facebook and see another author who is on a writing retreat.

And I’m so jealous.

I’ve never been on a writing retreat, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve researched different retreats and decided that for me, the best writing retreat is nothing more than a place away from home where I can write without interruption for hours on end. More to follow on that in a minute.

I decided to write this post because I want to hear from other writers—have you ever been on a writing retreat? What was it like? Where did you go? How long were you gone? Did anyone else go with you? Did you get lots of writing done? Was it worth the expense?




There are lots of writing retreats advertised online. After doing some research, what I found is that most of them include hours upon hours of workshops, tours, and activities. As far as I’m concerned, those things defeat the purpose of going on a writing retreat because they take valuable writing time and stuff it full of other things.

It’s possible that I’m just missing the point of a writing retreat. There are obviously lots of writers who enjoy these retreats, but to me they sound like more of a vacation than a time to really focus hard on a manuscript.

And they’re expensive. It’s not uncommon for them to average $2,000 for about a week (and often only five days). And that doesn’t include travel expenses to the exotic places where they’re held.

Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to visit all the places where writers’ retreats are held. I just don’t want to work while I’m there. If I’m going to Wyoming or Costa Rica or Paris or Greece, you’d better believe I’m going there on vacation.



So here’s my dream of the perfect writing retreat:

1.      It’s within easy driving distance of home—not more than, say, five or six hours away.
2.      It’s not at the beach.
3.      It’s a place I can rent. I love VRBO, Airbnb, etc. You can get some great places at low rates.
4.      It’s a place with a rural/woodsy/mountain feel to it.
5.      It has a view. Doesn’t have to be a sweeping vista, but I don’t want to look into the neighbor’s bathroom.
6.      I leave my family at home. It’s not that I don’t love them, but I'm there to work.
7.      Another writer joins me, preferably one who shares my goal of getting a lot of writing done.
8.      I can make meals ahead of time and take them with me in a cooler.
9.      There is wine for the evenings.

With all this being said, I should note that I have taken brief writing retreats in a study room at the local library, though I don’t think of them as real retreats. The library works beautifully. I get tons of writing done, it’s close, and it’s free. What’s not to love about that?



Friday, June 16, 2017

Authors Coming Together for Promotion


by Linda Thorne

In 2015 I published my mystery novel, Just Another Termination. This was not the first time I'd been published, but the most significant as this was my debut novel.

I learned fast about promotion as I scrambled to get my unknown face and book cover everywhere I could. Other authors were helpful and I found out some of the amazing things they come up with to sell their books. The example I'll use here is Murder USA – A Crime Fiction Tour of the Nation.



Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is the author of the Katrina Stone novels, The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. Kristen invited a number of us to join in her book of excerpts from crime novels set all over the United States. My book setting was in the South in a location not yet represented.

I'm honored to have my excerpt included along side those of other authors', some with more publications and more notoriety than me.

Murder, U.S.A. is a collection of excerpts from thirty-one full-length crime fiction (suspense, mystery, thriller) novels organized by a setting somewhere in the United States. Kristen is the editor, but all the authors worked together to set up the formatting and help with editing. The book is still available on all of the the online sites below, at cost from FREE up to $0.99.

Smashwords     Amazon       Kobo        Barnes and Noble Nook
  

Murder U.S.A. is a book you can browse through pieces of the thirty-one full-length novels, just reading enough to know whether you are interested in going further.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Some of my Book Covers - Cover Love

I will admit that I am passionate about book cover design, whether I open that email sent by a publisher and see the cover they created for the first time, or I open the email which my cover designer has created based upon our discussions. I love seeing the cover of my works-in-progress, even when it's not quite right then and there, yet it ends up being a perfect mix of many opinions. The book cover stage is perhaps my favorite part of this business. Okay, I'm a little obsessed with it, and I thank God I've had some amazing cover designers who understood that. (Vonda Howard and Rebecca Pau)

There were covers that I did not particularly like initially, i.e. the publisher's first cover for MAY DECEMBER SOULS. This was my self-pubbed version in 1998:


This was HarperCollins' first re-release version in 2002 - I let my editor know that it was, uh, not depicting the characters or the story, at all. (I wanted to say more)


They ended up changing it and we went with this one (rarely happens, if ever), which I loved. 💓



With THE CHOCOLATE SHIP, at first I didn't see the need for the big straw hat, but I learned to acquiesce, and grew to adore it. I learned to trust, lol!


I did a self-pub cover for the re-release of THE CHOCOLATE SHIP that I won't even show you, as I have no idea what I was thinking. 👎😝

Next was the HarperCollins cover for HOT BOYZ:


On all of my titles, they had used a very expensive artist named Sergio Baradt (back then most publishers used illustrations as opposed to photo images). Sergio had created the image with eight men who all looked the same. The three main characters were not highlighted. But after they asked me to describe each of the three men in detail, Mason, Claude, and Torino, they went to their internal art department and had them change the character's looks, making them more prominent.

Most of my covers by mainstream publishers were amazing. A couple that I liked the best were: DR. FEELGOOD from Kensington Books, and EROTIC CITY from Hachette Books



When I self-published HOT GIRLZ, I really wanted to use this cover by Sergio Baradt, and I reached out to him, but trust me, I could not afford his $1500 quote, though it would've been perfect. These three ladies depicted Mercedes, Venus, and Sequoia to a T:


Also, did you know that when you get your rights back on a book, you must create your own cover if you wish to re-release it? I have done that quite often, and have even changed some ebook covers a second time along the way, which I'm doing now with HOT BOYZ and HOT GIRLZ, to make them more compatible as series titles to the third book in the trilogy, L.A. HUSBANDS & WIVES: The Hot Boyz Finale, which releases on 8/1/17.



FUN!

A couple of my self-pubbed titles that I really like are MORGAN'S MAKEOVER, and TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY:



Here's an interesting twist in creating a cover, and then changing it altogether before the release, as in YOU'VE GOT IT BAD: The Dr. Feelgood Sequel, though I really liked them both:




How do you feel about book covers? For me, once I see the cover, if I have the luxury of it being completed before I finish the manuscript, I kick into another gear simply from the motivation of the visual. The story feels more real.

Also, of course, the cover is the first impression for the reader, and plays majorly into their buying decisions. For that reason alone, it is critical.

Happy writing, happy book producing (including those awesome covers), and happy promotion/sales!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I speak the Queen's English

Image result for queen's english“I speak the queen’s English.” What the heck does that mean? It probably depends on where you are in the world.  During my formative years, it was something I heard repeatedly, especially from English teachers.  They’d emphasize, “You have to speak the queen’s English.” It was a mark of higher social status, of an educated elite and of the successful. But you’ve got to remember, I grew up in St. Kitts, at the time a colony of England. Locally, we spoke a dialect of English and were often chided about it by English teachers who referred to it as “bad language.” Consequently, anyone aspiring to sound educated would speak or write the “Queen’s English.”

But then I came to the US and was thrown in front of a class of 14-year-olds who quickly informed me that Sulphur was spelled Sulfur, oestrogen began with an “e” and neighbour didn’t have a “u” in it. And I defensively said, “I speak the Queen’s English”, to which a student responded, “Which queen?”

Yeah. Which queen?  Queen Elizabeth the second? Queen Victoria? Queen Anne? They did speak differently from each other. After all, language is not static. Language is dynamic.

I got the inspiration for this post from a few of my Facebook friends who keep lamenting about journalists massacring the English language. At first I tended to agree with them.  I even had some pet peeves of my own. Sometime ago some great orator took the poetic license and replaced “people” with “persons”. Now it’s so widespread the word people seem to be non-existent in the Caribbean. I simply hate to hear “persons”. And I despise the term “conversating” when people mean “conversing” (it just sounds illiterate).

However recently I’ve been disagreeing with these Facebook friends. You see, if a great orator, or the most celebrated English literary writer of today were to submit a manuscript in the 17th century using our modern language, it would be discarded as trash because it was not written in the “King/Queen’s English.” Think about it, who today says, “Thou art what thou thinkest! Thy work is but dung.”

Language is dynamic. It changes constantly. It changes even faster when social media provides a communication outlet for every Tom, Dick and Harry. Fifty years ago, the term oxymoron didn’t exist. Now it’s part of the Webster’s dictionary. A century ago there was no such thing as google until 9-year-old mathematician coined the term “googol” as a number with 100 zeros in 1920. Based on that the search Engine Google chose its name. Now we use it as a verb.  How do I know that? I googled it!

When we were younger we had a whole different vernacular from the previous generation.  When we said something was bad, it meant it was good. When we said it was the bomb, it was out of this world in greatness. Some of our slangs and sayings stuck, some of it drifted by the wayside.  Now my children have a different vernacular. A kid in my college class did well, I wrote “excellent” on his paper, he gave me a tight smile. An undergraduate TA wrote “LIT” on his paper, he beamed. My daughter uses “woke” to mean socially aware or enlightened. Some of the terms, the sentence structure, the alternate meanings (not alternate facts ) will eventually become legit in the English language. That’s because language is dynamic and we should embrace it.

So now that you’re “woke” is this post Lit? (Am I using these correctly? I’ll have to ask a teenager.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Guest author Linda Lee Kane: The World Needs Readers

Linda Kane
Linda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, Chilled to the Bones. Clyde: Lost and Now Found and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery are 2017 releases. Linda lives with her husband, three dogs, one bird, and six horses in California. 






I’m not a disciplined or systematic reader. I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye. Most of the time the books I read have nothing to do with improving myself. I mean if I’m happy why would I look for a book to make me happier? Sometimes when I’m walking through a bookstore I’ll stumble across a book that may change me in a trivial way but later, when I’ve thought about it in a more significant way.

When I was younger my constant companions were books about strong, inventive women like, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, women who made a difference in the world. Now I read books that politically affect our lives and compare them with historical books from the past, for example: The White Rose, Kill the Indian, and Save the Man. Those comparisons help me be wary of rhetoric that sounds almost too good to be true.

I’m reminded that reading a book regardless of the grim realities, there is always an affirmation of life. This affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of the retelling in their own way.

Reading books isn’t just a reset and recharge, it isn’t just how I escape. Books help me further engage with people and life.

Books remain one of the strongest ways we have to prevent tyranny but only as long as free people are allowed to read different kinds of books. A right to read whatever you want, whenever you want is a fundamental right that helps preserve all other rights. But reading isn’t just a strike against intolerance and narrowness, mind control and domination: it’s also one of the world’s greatest joys.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Right Name

After one of my books is approved for publication I become almost maniacal checking Amazon to see when they make it available for sale. Nothing was different with my latest YA novel, Barberry Hill. I searched for the title and, what you see above is what I got: 'Showing results for Burberry Hill.' Wait what? No!


I knew going in that it was an odd name, but for me the name felt as natural as the ocean breeze and for most of the process I never considered that the book might be called anything else. I visited a botanical garden in 2013, came across the Japanese Barberry bush, and fell in love. Don't ask me why it appealed to me so, but, when I conjured up a story set on a hill in St. Kitts and decided I wanted the specific location to be fictitious so I would not be bound by existing physical constraints, I chose to call the hill Barberry Hill. I've always struggled to name places and characters in my book, and perhaps it is because the name came to me so organically that I never questioned it, never typed it into a search box, it just felt right.

There was one time, before we were ready for publication, when I considered changing the title. The book involves what we in the Caribbean call 'barrel children.' These are children whose parents live abroad usually to make a better living, and send home barrels of goodies for the children they have left behind. The book also involves guns. And so I thought of renaming it 'Through the Barrel.' The idea was nixed by editors and critical readers alike-the book focuses on the social stratification of the society as reflected on the slopes of Barberry Hill and so the title stayed.

What's your process for naming a book? I hope you are smarter than I am and you enter it into a search engine in advance to make sure your potential readers won't be directed to a completely different product.

P.S.
A few days ago it occurred to me the perfect name might be 'Barberry Hill Boys' since the story revolves around a number of boys who live on the hill. That idea excited me for a while until I realised that the first print run had already been ordered. There was no turning back.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kansas, Harvey Houses, and Books

Residents taught me the history of the small Kansas town of Horton during a recent visit to the town library, where I helped present a check from Sisters in Crime and give a book talk about my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series. The town’s recent population is around 2,000, but in the 1920’s, it held 5,000 souls, all because it sat at a junction of the Chicago, Kansas, and Nebraska Railroad.
Soldiers on horseback, cattle drives, wagon trains on tall-grass prairie trails, river barges, and pony express riders evoke images of nineteenth-century Kansas. However, that era had a short-lived existence. The Pony Express, for instance, lasted only eighteen months. Like black and white TV and eight-track players in the Twentieth Century, new technology took over faster than our forebears of one-hundred-fifty to two-hundred years ago could have imagined.  Railroads brought goods and people along with the new technologies into the Sunflower State and caused a demand for new services.

Entrepreneur Fred Harvey saw the need and developed a vast network of eating establishment and hotels at train depots across the state and beyond. In 1875, he opened a cafĂ© in Wallace, KS on the Kansas Pacific Railway.  A year later, he contracted with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway to build restaurants at its depots. He opened a restaurant in the Topeka train depot in 1876. It did so well that Mr. Harvey opened a Harvey House Restaurant/Hotel combination at the Florence, Kansas train depot.


With Harvey’s strict oversight, Harvey Houses provided good food, large helpings (pies were cut in fourths rather than sixths), fast service, and reasonable prices. More depot restaurants were built, and by 1883, there were seventeen along the train route.  A Harvey House with ornate architecture built in Chanute, Kansas, the Santa Fe’s southern Kansas headquarters, opened in 1896 and now serves the town as its public library.
Nine million dollars are being spent to renovate the grand El Vaquero Harvey House in Dodge City, originally opened in 1900.  By 1901 there were forty-seven Harvey House Restaurants, fifteen hotels, and thirty dining cars.
One of the reasons for Fred Harvey’s success was his decision to replace rough, western male waiters with young females, later including Hispanics and American Indians, who became crews of well-trained waitresses.
They were known as the Harvey Girls and are said to have brought a civilizing effect to the west. They were provided uniforms, room and board, and a better wage than many men of the day. In return, they gave fast, friendly service that drew customers.

At the Harvey Company’s peak, there were eighty-four Harvey Houses at depots along the railway from Chicago to California plus service on the trains and tourist destination hotels and eateries in Indian country, the most famous being at the Grand Canyon. The company was sold by a grandson in 1964, but the legend lives on in the grand old depot buildings that now serve as museums, restaurants, libraries, and town show places. The Harvey House at Union Station in Kansas City is gone, but hasn’t been forgotten. Photos are abundant. Also, Harvey’s CafĂ© in the station is named in honor of the former bustling Harvey House.

I live on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro where my cozy mystery series is set. My husband and I take trips across Kansas in our fifth-wheel RV, with our cats in tow, and we’ve visited many of the towns that had Harvey House train depots. One can travel from the northeast to the southwest of the state and see some of the renovated buildings or the spots where they stood. The town, Harveyville, Kansas, sits along Route 335 between Topeka and Emporia. Landscape changes from the woodland east through the Flint Hills and tall-grass prairie to the rugged west makes the drive even more worthwhile.
Fred Harvey’s family settled in Leavenworth, Kansas. His home is now a museum.

The Arcade Hotel in Newton now hosts a law firm in the old Harvey House Restaurant area.

The original Harvey House Hotel in Wichita was most recently used as a Cox Cable office.

A hotel sits where the beautiful Harvey House in Hutchinson once stood, but the original is gone.

My current work in progress is set in part along I-35 in Kansas and Oklahoma where the railroads grew towns in the 1800's. The first three books of my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series are: CATastrophic Connections, FURtive Investigation, and Nine LiFelines. The Audiobook of CATastrophic Connections is available here or at your favorite audiobook site.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Guest author Bill A. Brier: A Dumb Idea

Bill A. Brier
Bill A. Brier grew up in California and served in the Air Force as a combat cameraman. After hiring on at Disney Studios as a film loader, he soon advanced and moved on to other studios. During his more than 25 years in the movie business as a cameraman, film editor, and general manager, Bill worked on everything from the hilarious, The Love Bug, to the creepy, The Exorcist, to the far out, Star Trek and Battle Star Galactica. Eight years ago, Bill switched from reading scripts to writing mysteries and driving race cars. His first novel, The Devil Orders Takeout, was a finalist in the 2015 Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. His second mystery, The Killer Who Hated Soup, launches this summer. The Brier Patch is Bill’s wildly entertaining blog about his shameless early days in Hollywood.


A Dumb Idea

The natural curiosity of children often prods them into mischief. They get into things. They explore. They take risks.

As adults, that curiosity is too often squelched by that tiny voice inside that says you won’t be good enough, you might fail, others won’t approve.

Eight years ago, I came up with an exciting idea for a novel. But then that tiny voice came knocking—That’s a dumb idea. The funny thing is, later, I learned it was a dumb idea.

While this best-selling idea was percolating in my mind, I told a writer friend that I was thinking of coming up with a mystery that included a talking dog and wondered what he thought about it.

I waited with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for cold toilet seats.

He nodded thoughtfully, stroked his beard, then said, “Bill, if that’s what you want to write, write it!”

Man, pretty exciting.

I went home, ordered a writing book and put a little workstation together. Desk, computer, printer, and a dumpster-size wastebasket for crummy drafts.

I was on my way. Young Jim Bolt, a magnificent golfer whose dog not only finds Jim’s lost balls—any mutt can do that—but the pooch also talks. Says exactly how far to the hole, what club to use, and once on the green, the dog …

Yes! The Devil Orders Takeout was born.

But wait!


Giving birth was one thing. Surviving the terrible twos, fearsome fours, and sucky sixes was quite another. I’d worked six months on a story that sucked. The talking dog needed muzzling. More than muzzling. He needed to be taken out.

Desperate, I searched online for help, found a writer’s group, and was invited to sit in on a meeting. Boy, was I charged. These were real writers. Everyone had prepared a critique of something one of them had written.

Those people knew their stuff. They saw problems I didn’t know were problems. Passive sentences, clichĂ©s, head hopping, too many to be words.

Huh? Better order more writing books. I’d need them.

When the meeting was over, the facilitator asked me to send her a sample of my writing. I danced out the door. Not just anybody gets into her group.

I went home energized—and intimidated. Didn’t dare send her my crappy talking-dog story. I don’t remember what I wrote, but it wasn’t up to snuff. Too much head hopping? Too many to be words?

“Do you have anything else?” the woman asked. A benevolent teacher trying to coax me into giving the correct answer. “Anything at all?”

My throat tightened as I tried to think. “Um … there’s Scamming the Scammer.”

I sent her some funny emails I had written, and she wrote back, “Bill, you are a writer. Welcome to our group.”

Yes!














Determined to make The Devil Orders Takeout as good as possible, I wrote draft after draft, year after year, yet never quite reaching the finish line.

“The funeral scene is much improved,” one person wrote, after I was four years at it. “The boy taking the father’s hand brought tears to my eyes, but what was the police chief’s reaction?”

Another year, more critiques: “Misha’s bosses call him, derisively, The Midget. Why, and how tall is he?”

When someone corrected the word further for farther, I could go no further. As the wise man (or woman) said, “Novels are never finished, only abandoned.”

And that’s how I, as a writer, was born. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Until eventually, I had three completed books.


Go to billbrier.com for more Brier Patch blogs.


Friday, May 19, 2017

How Gritty Are My Mysteries?



My panel topic at Bouchercon 2015 was “How Much Grit Do I Want in My Mystery?” Violent content, bloody images, sexuality, and tough language come to mind when I hear the word “grit.” Gritty movies are rated R. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of gritty is “harsh and unpleasant.” 

Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Robert Crais, Henning Mankell, and Ruth Rendell are just a few of our renowned authors who write the “dark stuff”—noir. And they’re really good at it.

I watch many TV shows where violence runs rampant. The British and Swedish do it best—Luther is breathtakingly violent; the characters in the riveting Swedish drama, Beck, don’t flinch at a little blood; the American Animal Kingdom had a mild, if menacing, start but by the end of the season the violence had reached a nearly unbearable level. Sexuality and language are a natural part of these stories— the characters leave the bedroom door wide open and aren’t likely to say, “Oh, fudge!”

I love these depictions of a grim reality, whether in print or on screen. But do I want to write tales with a “darkness of the spirit?”

No, no, a thousand times, no! Maybe spending so much time with my characters and story makes me fear all that darkness. I write cozies, edgy cozies, but cozies all the same. My violence happens off-page and is minimally described. In one story, I have the killer picking up a weapon and using it. But I left the aftermath to the reader’s vivid imagination. In another story, a character gets killed in a pretty horrific way, but all I mention is the murder weapon. Again, I let my readers fill in the blanks. No gritty details. Sometimes a well-chosen word here or there will paint a complete picture.

My characters love sex and love to talk about sex but when they “get right down to the real nitty-gritty” (see how well the song title fits the subject?) they go off-page. I may sprinkle a mild expletive—or two—into the dialogue. My readers object to profanity and I must respect their wishes. There are ways to suggest swearing and mystery author Naomi Hirahara is so skilled at this that you know the exact word she’s not using. Another mystery author, F.M. Meredith, has this to say about the lack of salty language in her Rocky Bluff P.D. series: “Oh, the characters do cuss, I just don’t quote them.”

But Merriam-Webster has an alternative definition of gritty: having or showing a lot of courage and determination.

My main character, Hazel Rose, doesn’t consider herself to be brave and accepts her crime-solving missions with great reluctance. But, once committed, she will run a killer to earth. Mystery writers, regardless of how noir-ish or cozy their story is, want a determined detective, one with an abundance of “true grit.” It’s true grit that unites crime writers as we restore justice to our fictional worlds.

And it’s true grit that I want in my mysteries.

Back to the Bouchercon panel: Laura DiSilverio, Frankie Bailey, Lynn Cahoon, and I had a lively discussion about grit in mysteries and pretty much covered the points I’ve made in this post. Author Lise McClendon moderated. Here’s a non-very-good photo of us: 


Writers, weigh in. How do you feel about grit in your mysteries?