Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Guest Post: Author Gardenia Destang

Gardenia Destang is known in the Caribbean for writing, producing and directing screen plays. She was responsible for "Heartstrings", a romantic drama comprising eight-30 minute episodes that was the first local television mini-series in St. Kitts. She also wrote, directed, and co-produced the well-known Barbadian play “Do you Know Damien”, a two hour production.

Gardenia’s love for writing was given full expression when she decided to move away from script writing and write a novel. Being a perfectionist, Gardenia decided to focus on writing and to leave behind the additional complications involved in producing a play-- organizing the cast, locations, sets, etc. She decided to write a book where she could get carried away in her head with the story and the characters. The end result - Becoming Me.

Keeping your groove whilst writing

I have heard some say that writing is easy, that there is a good story in all of us.  That may be so, but having a story in your head and articulating it on paper for others to feel and appreciate is not always that easy. Initially, you are excited and can easily get a few chapters down, but as the story develops and the characters evolve, it may become more challenging and we lose our “groove”. I know this has happened to me especially as I worked to bring the characters alive to my target audience. Here are a few tips that I have found that have worked for me.

i.    Patterning the Protagonist. I found this to be particularly inspiring when there was a person I could look to, when I would hit a wall in my writing. My inspiration would come from different events, a person’s expressions, their thought processes and their interaction. Using this approach brings excitement to the storyline as I am able to weave these personalities into the plot.

ii.    Finding the Similar. You are not the first and certainly not the last author in your genre and there are others who have been out there much longer than you. Learn from them. Asking questions to assist me in defining my target audience helped to keep my writing focused and relevant.

iii.    Taking a Break! Go out with friends. Socialize! I found that sometimes when I am stuck,  it is best to change my environment. This leads to a refreshing mental break that helps me increase my productivity once I settle back into my writing mode.

iv.    Working with Your Clock. Early mornings and I and are not usually friends. :-) My best work is done at night. Knowing your best 'creativity time' can help you get over the “stuck feeling” and propel you along. While we may push ourselves to complete a chapter a day or within a specific time as a goal, if your mind and heart are not in it and the “time” of day is not right you, would have wasted valuable time.

v.    Using Your Creativity Lens. Since I started writing I have been noting experiences as “book worthy”.  When my creative mood is aligned with my most productive time of day, I am able to accomplish quite a lot, as I intertwine the noted experiences into a building plot. Find your creative lens to capture different life experiences. See how you can link them into a storyline. Remember, that each experience is unique. Build on your experience to create an adventure that is uniquely your own.

vi.    Exercising. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that exercise can boost creativity as the body releases endorphins and serotonin (feel good hormones). Exercise also can put one in a positive frame of mind.  After a good work out I am usually ready to take on much more and I am inspired to put in a few hours of writing.

Writing takes time and patience and your creativity can wane on the way to the finish. Finding things, places and people that inspire you can help you keep your momentum.

Gardenia's Website:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Guest Post: Author Zetta Elliott with a giveaway

Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott moved to the US in 1994 to pursue her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her writing has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal,and Hunger Mountain. She is the award-winning author of three books for young readers: Bird, A Wish After Midnight, and Ship of Souls. Zetta Elliott is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College and currently lives in Brooklyn. 

My family has a history of mental illness. My mother suffers from severe anxiety and both of her parents struggled with clinical depression. My father was what I would call “moody.” His mother, the woman for whom I am named, was committed to an asylum in the Caribbean sometime in the late 1940s or ‘50s. They say she had “fits.”

My older sister is a psychologist and she was able to detect in me the signs of anxiety disorder when I was in my 20s. She gave me some books to read and told me about cognitive behavioral therapy, and I was able to manage my condition without the help of medication. As I continued to read up on mental health, I realized that I had experienced a serious depressive episode as a teenager, though at the time I wouldn’t have called myself depressed. I was just holding on---sleeping too much, skipping classes, avoiding my friends, and immersing myself in books in order to make time pass more quickly. I needed time to speed up because I knew something better was waiting for me. I just knew it. And I was right.

Now that I am 40, I better understand the ways that anxiety and depression have shaped me as a writer. Fortunately, neither condition has been serious enough to impair my ability to function: I have been a full-time professor for eight years, I’ve written twenty plays, twenty picture book stories for children, four novels, a memoir, and numerous essays, though only a fraction of my written work has been published. When depression sets in, I often welcome it, knowing it may enhance my ability to turn inward and become reflective. Anxiety has been more challenging to navigate. The anxious person constantly asks herself, “What if…?” which can lead to endless, unproductive rumination on matters over which I have no control. Yet in order for me to write speculative fiction, I must continuously ask myself that very same question in order to generate narrative possibilities.

Lately I have begun to question whether or not I have a healthy relationship to the past (is it an obsession?). When I visit schools to give author presentations, I always show children the sankofa symbol. We talk about the bird with a gem in its mouth and I remind them that “there is no shame in going back to retrieve something of value you left behind.” As a black feminist writer of historical fiction, I sometimes feel as if I inhabit the past; there is so much that needs to be recovered and the official historical record seems to need endless revision. My literary excavations leave me (and my readers, I hope) feeling empowered in part because as a writer the past, for me, is not fixed—it is fluid, malleable.

For me, immersion in the past is necessary if I want to effectively create a fictional world that is both convincing and compelling. Yet I cannot deny that when I finish a novel and emerge from the past, I find it difficult to rejoin the real world. As a board member of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, I had the opportunity to meet Angela Davis in 2011 and I was struck by something she said. Her advice was, “to not be too ensconced in the present,” and she then told us how her parents had raised her and her siblings to “be prepared for a reality that did not yet exist.” I haven’t yet written anything futuristic but I am moving in that direction with my latest novel, The Deep, and so I keep Davis’ words at the back of my mind.

I write books for young readers that are a blend of historical fiction and urban fantasy. I am Canadian but I have spent nearly 20 years living in the US, and I am fascinated by the history of African Americans in New York City. My two young adult novels, A Wish After Midnight and Ship of Souls, are examples of speculative fiction that centers black youth, black history, and the various black cultures to be found in US cities. My teen characters are Afro-Panamanian, Rastafarian, Afro-German, Muslim, African American, Bangladeshi and Senegalese. They are queer and straight, geeks and jocks, they have dreadlocks and fauxhawks. They represent the multiplicity of blackness in NYC. They represent my hope that black youth will honor the past as they build the future.

Zetta's website: 
Her blog:
Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of Zetta's young adult book, Ship of Souls. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing for Money -- Not!

Good Morning, Readers & Writers.  Greetings from my vacation.  And because it's my vacation, I asked one of the most talented writers I know, novelist and screenwriter Bob Bernstein, to write something unforgettable in my stead.

For those who aren't familiar with Bob's work, he's the author of the Captain Grande Angil mystery series, among other works.  A sea captain himself, Bob knows his way around a salty yarn.  You can learn a lot by visiting his Amazon Author page.

I'll let Bob take it from here.

I started my writing career back in the early 90s when wholesale fish prices fell and the recession turned the charter boat business into a virtual treasure hunt for tourists. Visiting sport divers and fishermen became an endangered species here on the Maine coast, as would the cod in the decade to come. With boat and mortgage payments due, I had to try something else. I bought an old Dell computer and started punching out stories. My first was the retelling of an experience swimming with a pair of humpback whales in Massachusetts's Bay -- shh, don’t tell anyone, the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits fraternization with whales. Anyway, the story ended-up in the pages of a regional boating magazine, which eventually led to a column and a monthly gig writing features for the same magazine, which, in turn, opened the door for gigs with other commercial and recreational boating and fishing magazines.

There’s no question the daily grind of writing for a periodical helps a writer’s productivity. Nothing motivates like a deadline, an in-your-face editor or publisher, and the threat of not getting a paycheck. Conversely, being on your own and writing on spec, particularly a novel, requires a different mind-set, one that must avoid distractions and focus clearly on an end result. For example, right now, I’m alternately thinking of: (1) heading to the marina and opening the hatches in the boat to get some fresh air into the bilge; (2) taking a shower; (3) getting a carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing from the cafe down the street; (4) edging the magnolia in the front yard; (5) bringing my 400 Sky Vodka bottles to the redemption center; (6) calling a therapist to find out if I have ADD or maybe just a drinking problem; (6) emailing M. Night Shyamalan and asking him what was going through his mind while filming After Earth; (7) figuring out how I can scan multiple pages and turn them into a single PDF without simultaneously tearing the remaining hair out of my follicle-challenged head. I could go on, but you get the point.

As Jack Parr once said: “I see my life as an obstacle, with me as the chief obstacle.”

I should be writing the second novel in my Grande Angil Mystery series. It’s there, in it’s own little Scrivener project file, just waiting for me. I feel it beckoning like the call of a Siren, a Siren because while it lies there innocuous and patient on my hard drive, it has the power to consume me thoroughly, heart and soul, holding me hostage for twelve or more hours a day, numbing my legs and turning my arm muscles to pudding. Instead of yanking out roots in the yard, chopping up stumps with a pick axe, diving on moorings, or heading to the north woods to hike a mountain, I’m living out a fantasy in my head and putting it to page and paper. For what?

Sometimes I question what it is that compels me to write. Is it my ego? Do I need some third party to validate me as a person of value? Is it the prospect of hitting the big time and making a ton of money? (HA! That last one always makes me laugh, especially on the day I get my royalty payment.)

Nope, it’s none of the above, because when all is said and done, and I take an honest look at myself in the mirror, I always see the same thing: a storyteller in desperate need of a shave, a good night’s sleep, and a new bathrobe.

Seriously, writers don’t get a lot of sleep, and a lot of them do their best work in their pajamas.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Art of the Pitch

As a media tie-in writer the pitch is something I know well – almost everything I write begins as a pitch to an editor or licensor of the intellectual property for which I want to write. Time was my pitch would earn me approval to submit the story or article without any guarantee of a sale; this is still the case with markets that don't know me. (This, btw, is how you get around the "no unsolicited manuscripts" gatekeeper many publishers use; it's not so much a roadblock as a filter.) With markets that do know me an accepted pitch means I have a contract in hand before I type word one of the story or article.

Most Novelnauts and most of you who read our musings write original fiction. You have no interest in selling a Doctor Who story or creating a new arena for Dungeons and Dragons action. For you the pitch is all about getting your completed ms in front of a new editor – the elevator sales speech or the less-than-a-page follow-up to the chance meeting at the writers' conference. But for many of us the internet is an integral part of marketing ourselves and our work. And a generally effective, low-cost option for increasing our internet presence is the guest blog: showcasing our personalities and skills to a new audience to perhaps entice a few readers to seek out our published works.

To be a guest on an established blog, you need to be invited. And to be invited you need to pitch. Here at Novel Spaces we usually invite writers, editors, and agents known to the Novelnauts or follow up on recommendations of members and readers – but we do get our share of pitches. Some are interesting. Most are like the one I'm quoting below. For those who might be pitching to blogs in the future, I'm presenting this all-too-typical example, received just this week, along with a few comments and my response to the pitcher.

Hello Spencer!
I came across (link to Novel Spaces) and was curious to see if you’re currently accepting new contributors. If so, I’d love to be considered as a future contributor. Here’s what I can offer:
- A unique perspective that may be valuable to your readers.
- Fresh, quality content that readers will love.
- More traffic and increased readership.
- Below are some previously published articles I have written:
(link to article on using natural pesticides to control specific insect types)
(link to article on managing finances as a small business)
Thank you for your time,
(name redacted)

The salutation is either to the admin of another blog to whom this obviously mass-mailed pitch had been sent or a mangling of Liane's last name.
"Came across"? If you're trying to show genuine interest, tell us you've been reading the blog and back it up with examples of articles that impressed or interested you.
No one is looking for contributors; everyone is looking for meaningful, engaging content. What you'd love is not relevant, what you can write about – achievements, unique life experiences, etc. - is.
Weasel words – unsubstantiated generalities meant to create the impression of meaning but devoid of verifiable information – are worse than useless. Using weasel words announces in no uncertain terms that even you don't think you have anything substantive to say. Be brief, of course – you don't want to try anyone's patience – but be specific and never say anything you can't back up when asked (if it's your opinion, be ready to explain why you hold it).
And when you provide examples of your work, be sure it's your best work and as relevant as possible.

Here's my response:
Things to consider as you pursue your writing career:
When soliciting work, taking the time to learn the name of the person you're addressing would probably create a better impression than a punch list of weasel word "benefits".
Also, you may want to consider presenting examples related to the topic of the blog. For example, Novel Spaces is a forum in which professional, published writers share thoughts and insights on writing technique and the publishing industry. In this instance a link to a description of your published novels - whether your own website or your Amazon page - would carry more weight than a link to an article on pest control.
We wish you well in your endeavors.

I imagine 99 out of 100 recipients of (name redacted)'s all-purpose pitch deleted it after the second sentence. Infusing your own pitches with little professionalism will ensure none of them suffer a similar fate.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Like me back! A social media etiquette primer

Social Media Strategy
I believe—seriously—that most authors would prefer to remain virtually anonymous, to send their stories winging off into the world to fend for themselves and then retire to their caves to do what they do best, which is make up stuff and pretend that life outside our pages does not exist. That's probably just me, though. Unfortunately for the introverts among us, authors are required to have a social media (SM) presence these days. Whether an author's involvement in SM is major (think Nathan Bransford) or minor (think, um, me) there are basic rules of etiquette that should be observed or you just might find yourself wondering why everyone is ignoring you.

Actually, they're not ignoring you. They're just too busy interacting with the people who aren't ignoring them. Some people hate the idea of reciprocation in social media, but I've observed that the people who practise it are the ones who thrive in the virtual world. What does reciprocation mean?
  1. When someone 'likes' your page, site, blog, etc., you 'like' theirs back. Especially if you're just beginning to build your network. Especially if it's a fellow author. Those are auto-likes for me. 
  2. When someone makes a comment on your Facebook status, you either respond to it or 'like' it. The latter lets people know that you read their comment and appreciate that they took the time to leave it when there are thousands of other pages competing for their attention. When someone never acknowledges my comments on his/her page I not only stop commenting, I stop visiting. Social media is about interaction and conversation; I don't find any value in talking to myself on the WWW.
  3. When someone mentions you on Twitter or retweets your miniblog, you thank them or retweet something of theirs. It just takes a few seconds.
  4. Even if you're a SM star with many thousands of followers (the thought of which actually makes some of us shudder—or is that just me again...) and it's impractical to engage with all, you always respond to people who have read your book(s)—unless a reader is being a total jackass, of course. Be nice to a reader and you have a fan for life; I count personal responses from authors among the things I treasure and I make a point of buying these authors' books. Many readers will avoid excellent books by a writer they perceive as snobbish or churlish. Just ask VS Naipaul.
  5. If someone takes the time to comment on your blog post, acknowledge him or her. There are those who think it's all about the content or value of the post, but people will comment on the inconsequential post of someone who responds to their comments, or at least acknowledges them, while ignoring the brilliant post of someone who never responds to comments or appears to respond only to those they deem worthy of attention. People take the time to read and respond to posts of those who read and comment on theirs. So if no one is commenting on your posts ask yourself: do I comment on theirs?
Of course, some people just don't have the time for any of this. Some read everything but don't comment. Some don't care either way. My take is that just as in real life, a little politeness and reciprocation helps smooth our daily social media interactions. Whether it's a 'thank you' and a smile in person or a 'like' or 'share' on the web, it can't hurt and it usually helps, sometimes in unforeseen and wildly serendipitous ways.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Event for Joy

I got my first migraine while I was staring at Geoffrey Chaucer’s grave.

I was twenty years old, living away at college in a different country, away from my parents for the first time in my life. It was a full-blown migraine too, not just the headache, but nausea, difficulty with lights, and visual disruption too. One moment I was staring at old Geoff’s grave, and the next moment, there was a strange ropy thing blocking my sight.

I took a step back and looked around Westminster Cathedral at night, looked at the other people, but I couldn’t see anyone’s face, just this strange hallucination, so I made the most obvious sort of deduction that I could.

Clearly, the ghost of Geoffrey Chaucer had reached into my head and fiddled around with the wiring.

I smiled despite the pain and confusion.

It seemed to me that the ghost of Geoffrey Chaucer had found fit to bless me, and this hallucination was the physical manifestation of that moment.

This isn’t as ridiculous a conclusion as it might seem. For me, right then, there was all kinds of magic, and this felt like just another moment of that magic.

I had moved to London, a city that I’d always wanted to go to, and it was better than I’d ever thought it could be. I had fallen in love (with the woman I’m married to now), studied, partied, drank too much, ate too much, saw bands, met authors, toured the city, hitchhiked in Wales, eaten Indian food, met people from the Soviet Union who’d escaped, met people who’d decided to hitchhike in Vietnam before I’d known going there was possible.

One rainy morning, I’d gone into the British Library’s reading room and had the whole place to myself. There were manuscripts lying about: “Ozymandias” lying next to the original handwritten copy of “Yesterday” next to an original print by William Blake next to one of Shakespeare’s folios. There didn’t seem to be any logic to the way they were arranged except that these were all the great works of British literature, and I realized halfway through that I was familiar with every single title.

And I realized that I wasn’t the stupid kid with no future and no hope that I thought I was.

And I realized that I was part of an intellectual community, not just someone on the outside looking in.

And I realized that I had something of value that I could give to the rest of the world.

And I realized that I wanted to write. I was going to be a poet, I decided, right there in that hall looking at those manuscripts.

For me, those days were magic. And it didn’t seem so outrageous to think that Chaucer might be reaching out from the grave and blessing me and my choice to be a part of his world. It seemed right, and I was glad he had done it.

I stood there in the middle of Westminster Cathedral on a cold night in February nauseated, dizzy, headachy, and nearly blind, but mostly what I felt was hope. Writing, traveling, poetry, and Chaucer had all worked together to make even a migraine an event for joy.

John Brantingham’s murder-filled violence can be found in Mann of War, and he writes his own blog filled with the hope and joy his students and friends give to him at

Monday, July 15, 2013

Visiting My Ultimate Idea Factory.

On a glorious Friday last month, I along with my wife and several of my fellow Star Trek writer friends and colleagues were treated to a special tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. For a space enthusiast, visiting this place is like going to Disney World, and it certainly was at the top of my bucket list. After all, I’m a child of the space age. The Apollo astronauts, along with those who’ve flown the Space Shuttles or who’ve lived on the International Space Station, along with everyone who built the machines and other equipment they use and who support them during their missions, are my heroes. As they have since my childhood, they continue to fuel my dreams and fire my imagination, and on numerous occasions they’ve also inspired my writing. So, when the opportunity came along to enter the realm in which they carry out their work (the earthbound part of it, anyway), I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was not to be missed.

The ten-hour plus tour—months in the planning thanks to the tireless efforts of one of our fellow writers and her husband, himself a NASA employee—included visits to the Mission Control Center and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where we walked through full-scale simulated versions of the International Space Station and the next generation of lunar mission craft. We talked to scientists and astronauts about future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. They’re actually exploring the possibility of something akin to “warp drive” in the hopes of drastically reducing the time needed to cross interplanetary and interstellar distances. Why? Because as we learned that day, the biggest obstacle to long-duration spaceflight won’t be technology, but the effects of prolonged exposure to zero-gravity on the human body. Such things are still being researched and considered, and solutions remain elusive, but that’s not stopping the good folks at NASA.

What else did we see? We were shown the newest advances in space suit design, robotics and prosthetics, and we got to visit where meteorites are stored and studied, along with the lion’s share of lunar rocks and other soil samples collected during the Apollo missions. In the midst of it all, there also was a Q&A session where the audience—NASA employees who spend a lot of their time figuring out how to put people and things into space—asked us all sorts of questions about writing as well as the interesting and even symbiotic relationship Star Trek seems to have with real-world space exploration efforts. A common refrain heard throughout the day was that Star Trek had influenced this or that person to pursue their chosen career, and how the show continued to inspire them.

"Hey," as I kept thinking to myself all during the day, "that's supposed to be my line."

And inspired I was. Whenever a free moment presented itself, I jotted down note after furious note about something I’d seen or heard. Ideas were forming in my little monkey brain as fast as my fingers could tap them into my phone’s notepad app. While there were the big takeaways, such as how the next missions to the Moon and other planets will be undertaken, I also was fascinated by less obvious efforts. The prosthetics labs, for example, where engineers are working on exoskeleton-like hardware which will assist astronauts in different gravity environments, also carry with them the potential to be of enormous assistance right here on Earth. While speaking with one of the engineers, I was conjuring all sorts of possibilities for the technology. Space suits and armor for future explorers and soldiers, sure, but also how it might aid paralysis patients, amputees, or those suffering from afflictions like Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative disorders. As I joked at the time, “I think my brain just snapped off its roller.”

Of course, the day wasn't complete without visiting the Saturn V rocket which is on permanent display at the center. I've always been awestruck by this machine, and seeing one that was close enough to touch sent tingles down my spine. Yes, it prompted a story idea or two, as well.

It was an amazing day, providing me not only with a renewed respect for NASA but also a wealth of ideas and inspiration that I hope to channel into future stories. Some of it is already working its way into projects I’m currently writing, and I have plans for others just as soon as I can weave them into my always lengthy “To Do List.”

And, yes, my inner 10-year-old is back to day dreaming about being an astronaut, too.

Is there some place that inspires you this way? Somewhere you’ve never been, but hope one day to visit?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

13 Commandments of Being a Leader

You've heard the phrase “born leader.” I don't believe in the concept. I think leaders are made, albeit from circumstance or necessity.

My first reluctant taste of leadership was running for editor of the high school paper. I had never wanted the spotlight in school or social groups, always the quiet, studious type. However, in my senior year, when I had reservations about the person running for the position, I threw my hat into the ring and won. Soon I discovered I liked being the person making the decisions and improving the newspaper.

Flash forward to my time in the military. In bootcamp, I was made the education officer. This gave me many privileges and responsibilities. Later, when I was promoted, I got my own room in the barracks and required to look after the WAVEs in my unit. I also did inspections, which I took seriously. Being
“by the book” made me immensely unpopular.

This happened again with my job at the Sheriff's Department. When I became secretary to an undercover narcotics team, I wasn't content to sit behind my desk and do transcription. I researched allegations and did background checks on criminals, compiling enough information to hand my detectives fully fleshed-out cases.

The other day I found myself with the realization that I use many of the traits I developed in past jobs and now apply them to my writer's life. I took a page from the bible and came up with these 13 commandments:

Thou shalt earn your credibility.
Honor your words and reputation.
Thou shalt not spam the Internet. Less of you is often more.
Thou shalt offer quality, not quantity.
If thou see a need, use your creativity to fill it.
Do unto others and share information and opportunities.
Thou shalt take responsibility for your education and career decisions.
Thou shalt display strength, not weakness.
Take ye calculated risks and utilize strategy
Be always aware of your image, but don't buy into your own PR.
Honor your worthiness.
Thou shalt make your flaws work in your favor.
Do not covet thy neighbors' success. Use it as inspiration.

And tho you be beset by enemies, thou shalt take the high road. Revenge only lowers you to their level. Give your foes a chance to hang themselves. Feel free to enjoy their downfall.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stories to be told

Photo by Theo Ferguson,
Hummingbird rescue at Yerette
When I read Liane's post on Henry Miller's commandments I was a bit distressed to find that his number one commandment is my greatest struggle: Work on one thing at a time until finished.

Perhaps I have this problem because I write children's books and many young children live in a magical world of wonder. So many things are new to them, so many of their daily activities are 'firsts', they make new discoveries at a rapid pace. 

Perhaps I have this problem because I haven't really grown up myself? Who knows, but I am constantly discovering new ideas, urgent ideas and I find it difficult to work on one thing to the exclusion of all of the others. I have been trying, though; making notes as new ideas come to me and hoping that I will have the opportunity to do justice to everything at some point.

For someone with my particular problem, a trip to Trinidad is like a candy addict's visit to a Hershey's factory. There is so much to see, flora, fauna, natural phenomenon, and many creative man-made features. I saw Trinidad through my children's eyes--it was their first visit--and the view was colorful, lively, and magical.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Writing Like A Man

Friends, Romans, Readers & Writers,  please welcome author Kristen Elise.

“How do you write women so well?”

“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”

Jack Nicholson’s line from As Good As It Gets was met with laughter by men and cringing by women (as we concealed our inner laughter from the men in our lives so as to not publicly condone the statement.) Of course, Nicholson’s character was a romance writer. Had he been a mystery writer, the line might have gone something like this:

“I think of a man, and I take away action and add sap.”

I have been accused of “writing like a man,” a comment I took as a major compliment. Now, before readers and writers of both genders take equal offense and burn me at the stake, please allow me to explain: it’s a fact that author gender matters to some readers. Specifically, it matters more to men.

Attached are a few statistics from Bowker’s publication of “The Mystery Consumer in the Digital Age.” The stats I have are from 2010, but let’s face it, ladies, we haven’t advanced that much in the last three years.

The good news is that to ~90% of women and ~80% of men, author gender makes no difference in how likely the reader is to read a book. The bad news is that 21% of men and 7% of women are less likely to pick up a mystery based solely on the fact that it was written by a member of the opposite sex.

That’s a little disturbing if you’re a female mystery writer: you might presume that 10.5% of all mystery readers already don’t like you, and therefore that maybe you should write in drag. But it’s not really as bad as that. The majority of mystery readers (68%) are women, so we level the playing field a little bit by sheer number.

In the end, male and female authors share almost equal success. If you look at the top 15 mystery writers for readers of all ages, they’re 40-47% women. As for the all-time, hands-down fave – Madame Christie, bested only by Shakespeare and the Bible.

So what makes that 21% of men and 7% of women automatically judge a book by its cover (and by that, I mean the name on the cover?) The answer is: a personal preference for a writing style automatically associated with one gender or the other. And there might be something to the stereotype. Here’s a little experiment:

Below are two randomly selected excerpts from novels I have recently read. And I do mean randomly selected: In each case, I opened the book to a random page and then copied verbatim the first two complete paragraphs. Here they are: 

Excerpt #1:

Turbulence is still turbulent, whether one is flying first class or coach. 

The plane bounced and threw hot tea into my lap. I sat in the exit row in the first class cabin, on the upper deck of a 747, traveling from Los Angeles to Edinburgh. It was my first time in first class, and definitely my first time to enjoy a port tasting at 35,000 feet. However, port and turbulence don’t mix. My stomach danced first with queasiness, then with fear of meeting my Scottish relatives for the first time. To add to my anxiety, my beige cotton khakis were now stained Earl Grey. 

Excerpt #2:

Hugo shrugged. “I’m not paying your salary, so do whatever you like, Boss.”

“Just make sure you do your shit right. That’s all you need to worry about.” Tom reached for his wine glass but, when he saw it was as empty as the carafe, he grabbed at Hugo’s, spilling half on the paper table cloth before getting it under control.

Who wrote each of these? If you guessed #1 Woman, #2 Man, you’re right. The excerpts are from #1 Whisky Descent, by Sara McBride, and #2 The Crypt Thief, by Mark Pryor (and I thank each of them for playing along in this exercise.) 

Did you think the author’s gender was obvious? What gave it away? Do you think your gender comes through in your own writing? And, is that a good thing or a bad thing? I hereby present a fun challenge: In the comment box below, write a line or two under a fake or androgynous name (Kris is always a good one…) Feel free to pull a short excerpt from your own WIP, if you’d like. And let’s see if we can guess your gender.

Statistically, in the mystery market it might be in one’s interest to write like a man. But I’d settle for the success of Madame Christie.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and long-time resident of San Diego, California. She lives with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. Please visit her websites at and

Back cover copy for The Vesuvius Isotope:

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Indiscretion -- here at last

It is here!

A few months ago I went out on a limb and tried something I had never tried before: commissioned fan fiction.  To be honest, before I got the email from Amazon publishing, I had never even heard about fan fiction.  Fan fiction was something that fans did without remuneration out of love for their favorite characters. They wrote in established universes either based on popular books, television series, movies or video games, for which they got no reward except for the joy of seeing their words published for others to see.

But Amazon Publishing has found a way to make fan fiction lucrative, not only for them but for the rights holders and the authors of fan fiction.  It’s the Amazon Kindle Worlds platform.  Amazon obtained the licenses of several popular fiction and authors, both professional and amateur, can write and publish stories based on the characters and themes.  The stories are made available and sold through Kindle worlds., the license holders, and the authors each get a third of the profits.  It’s a win-win situation.

So how did I get involved in commissioned fan fiction?  For the launch of Amazon Kindle Worlds, several published authors were invited to submit stories in established universes for which rights were obtained.  I was one of the authors who accepted. At first I was skeptical as I always am about new things.  But once I got into it I became excited about the prospect of writing in a different genre, using characters not of my own creation and appealing to a whole different audience. 

I wrote in the Pretty Little Liars universe.  And now at last it is available for purchase.  My story, “Indiscretion” by Jewel Amethyst is available at
The best thing about Kindle Worlds is that you can write and publish in your favorite universe and sell your work.  Other worlds include Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Foreworld Saga, Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger, and Shadowman.  In the short time since the launch Amazon Kindle Worlds has added more universes and will continue to expand and grow.

At last, Alison DiLaurentis’s murderer has been apprehended and Rosewood is braced for the trial of the century. But even with Ali’s partially decomposed body discovered and her alleged killer, Toby Cavanaugh safely behind bars, pretty little liars Spencer, Hanna, Emily and Aria aren’t happy. Nor do they feel particularly safe. For one thing, the girls think Toby has been framed. Complicating matters, the mysterious “A,” who has been haunting them since Ali’s disappearance, continues to pester the girls with cruelly taunting texts. The girls believe they have discovered the identity of the real killer and will be able to clear Toby when they happen upon Ali’s diary. But before the sleuths can make it to the authorities, the diary disappears. And that’s just the start of all their trouble – one of the girls is attacked and all are implicated in a fiendish blackmail scheme. Public humiliation and physical danger follow the girls everywhere. At one point, they’re locked in a house and showered with poison gas. The girls still don’t know A’s identity, or who killed Ali, but one thing is for certain: Someone is determined to keep them from finding the truth at all costs.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When Cheating with an Insignificant Becomes Significant

GUEST POST by PYNK on a different yet necessary topic, Infidelity!

Cheating, infidelity, adultery - in each of these circumstances, someone went beyond the expectations of a commitment, and someone was left with the painful decision of staying or leaving, and possibly a broken heart. This subject is always an emotional one that can cause sadness and hurt. Most people have been there, and so have I. This is why I was so excited about the opportunity to write on the subject of infidelity in the novella series, INSIGNIFICANT OTHERS, with bestselling author Carol Taylor.

The Dictionary website defines the word insignificant as meaning; too small to be important. When one steps outside of a relationship for a physical or emotional encounter with someone on the side who is too small to be important, less significant to them than their own significant other, to me, that side person becomes more important; so important that the affair with that person is worth more than the destruction of the main relationship. It takes maturity, wisdom, and devotion to not take that risk. No matter the reason; loneliness, temptation, a loss of will, a hug that went too far, etc., someone ends up getting hurt. Thus, the topic is a passionate one.

The first time I was cheated on was when I was in high school and I found out on the night of my prom that my boyfriend took his ex-girlfriend to her prom the night before (he wore the tux he'd gotten for my prom). Another time, I went out of town with a man to meet his mother for the first time, and she told me she hadn't seen him in a year, when he'd just told me he went to see her three months earlier. (He did travel to her town, but he stayed with his kid's mom). Or even when I sat in my man's car talking to him, and a phone vibrated from under the seat. That was when I found out he had two cell phones; one for me and his family, and one for his five insignificant women. Five minutes later, one of those women called me on my phone (he'd called me from her phone one day and blocked the call) and she asked to speak to him. I told her to call him on his chic-on-the-side phone in 5 minutes, that I'd be out of his life for good and she could have him, and graduate to being the main phone woman. There are many more examples, but the point is, I've been there and I survived, though breakups are not pretty. At one point in my life, I was the cheater, and it was messy, so I can't throw stones. To this day, I don't even consider cheating. It's just not worth it. I live up to my commitments - period.

The story I've written in INSIGNIFICANT OTHERS is called Erotic City: Miami, and it centers around those who swing, and why anyone would do that, in particular, when it's done along with his/her mate. What would be the end result? Does it make things better to join in with someone who wants to satisfy their lustful thoughts for someone other than you? And when it's all said and done, wouldn't that couple really prefer to be monogamous? Is watching your mate have sex with an insignificant partner really worth it, simply because at the end of the day, you're the significant one, the number one girl/guy? I explore quite a few scenarios that will make you think. It surely made Milan Kennedy, the owner of Erotic City swingers club, think. Getting ourselves into situations that go too far, whether out on a lunch date with a coworker, or going to a neighbor's house for a cup of sugar, most times, without will-power, can be a, "Baby, one thing led to another," situation - thus infidelity.

Bottom line, be faithful, keep your word, and if what's good for the goose is good for the gander, fine; just make sure the trysts with the geese don't come back to haunt your loving commitment with your significant other, because he/she may forgive you, but they'll never forget.


Monday, July 1, 2013

The Top Ten Mystery Shows Ever

Let me start here: I expect you to disagree with me. I expect you to argue.

I also expect that there are those out there who are rolling their eyes, thinking that I should be talking about books, not television. But the thing is, when television is done well, I love it, and television has done mystery, crime, suspense, and spy thrillers well, especially well in the last ten years.

Below are my top ten -- some are barely known, and some are incredibly well known. As a crime and suspense novelist, this list is important to me, and these shows have taught me what I love about good story-telling.

I’m leaving out strict police procedurals. Why? I don’t like them as much. Law and Order was certainly interesting, but not as fun for me as some of these others.

10. The Shield -- I start off with a show that seems very much like a police procedural. Our main character is a police officer after all. But this is really a tragedy abobout the slow loss of humanity of a character played ingeniously by Michael Chiklis. There has never in the history of literature been a better dirty cop. He was brilliant and evil, and by the end of every episode, you found yourself buying into his flawed but attractive logic.

9. Sherlock -- There have been a number of good and great remakes of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but this one has to be my favorite. By the way, I could never stand Basil Rathbone (there’s something to argue with me about). There’s something about the way this BBC show captures the essence of the character, his strangeness from Watson’s point of view and the way that he brings the world to life. I am completely addicted to it.

8. Homicide: Life on the Street -- Another long dead show, but it was brilliant. Again, it feels like a police procedural until we realize that it’s not the procedure that’s being followed, but genius of Andre Braugher’s Pembleton and the humanity of Kyle Secor’s Bayliss. There are other characters of course, but these two fit into the mold of the two kinds of competing traditional detectives, the hyper-genius and the knight.

7. Monk -- While this show was ostensibly about a detective, it was truly about man’s capacity for compassion. Our lead character has to look beyond his own hang-ups and difficulties to empathize. In many ways, ridiculous as he was, he represented us. He showed us how to see beyond our own needs and do the things we need to do to change the world for the better.

6. Psych -- The USA channel is going to be featured a lot on my list, and Psych is one of their best. It is fast paced and hilarious. It’s part comedy and part mystery. I think there is a very particular group of people that it appeals to -- gen-xers mostly -- because it is filled with reference that only we would get. I watched it with a twenty year old and had to explain to him that the camera angles were all meant to be funny in one of my favorite episodes. But he hadn’t seen any of the 1980s movies that those angle were referencing.

5. Covert Affairs -- This has great action scenes and is beautifully shot. It is less story heavy and focuses much more on plot than the others on this list, but it makes really great use of Piper Perabo, who is a brilliant actor. She’s a spy who’s probably a bit unrealistically naive, but Perabo plays her so well that we get caught up in her life. She’s a stand in for us who are just as shocked as she is by all that she’s going through.

4. Lovejoy Mysteries -- This BBC show from the 1980s stars Ian McShane of Deadwood fame. It has built up a kind of cult following. Our lead character, Lovejoy, is a scoundrel and antiques dealer who has his own kind of code. He’s willing to cheat -- a little. Those people who go over the line have to be dealt with.

3. White Collar -- This show has built and become stronger. If you start from the very beginning, you’ll like it a lot, but as you go on, you will love it. It follows Neal Caffrey, an art forger and con-man, who has been let out of prison conditionally, as long as he helps Peter Burke, an FBI agent working in the White Collar division. Peter Burke is currently my favorite character on television. Although the show began using Peter as a kind of slightly clumsy buffoon to Neal’s genius, Peter has grown into the true genius of the show who follows a rock-solid code. He is truly a knight for the 21st century.

2. Nero Wolfe Mysteries -- These are absolutely brilliantly done by Timothy Hutton. As far as I am concerned, Hutton can do no wrong. Anyone who loved Rex Stout’s absolutely brilliant novels will fall in love with these. Hutton is apparently obsessed with making sure that he stays true to Stout’s original vision down to the set design and of course to the acting. If you have never seen these, you must rent them right now. Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are the best detectives in literature. I don’t care what anyone else says, and Hutton did them brilliantly. Why would I put this in the number two slot then? Nostalgia. Gen X nostalgia.

1. Magnum P.I. -- No gen-xer can think about Magnum without getting sentimental and weepy. We love him. But it’s not mere sentimentality. The stories were brilliantly developed. The characters were drawn out well. Who didn’t openly weep when Magnum lost his Michelle again and again? Who didn’t gasp when Magnum committed murder in his most important episode? Who didn’t love and hate Higgins at the same time? It was the one show my parents allowed me to break my bedtime for. As far as I am concerned, it was the best thing ever on television. Without Magnum, I wouldn’t be writing crime fiction today.

So, do you disagree? Which part? This is very heavy influenced by my testosterone and age. Should I put Jessica Fletcher in there?