Monday, January 30, 2012

Mark Twain and the Value of your Writing

Una Tiers, author of the soon-to-be-released Judge vs. Nuts is my guest this week.
I sue by day and solve crimes at night (lawyer and author) and there is much similarity in my two roles.    In both I create documents and edit, revise and hone until I am satisfied that my point is clear.   
To improve my writing, I read and study other works, even old wills.  That nasty habit led me to the will of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens).  Some report that it was a typewritten document and other reports say that Mark Twain wrote it by hand.  The legal language in it suggests that he at least had a co-author lawyer.  His expressed sentiments about the typewriter suggest he wrote it out by hand.
In his will, Twain talks about the management of his writings, and who should have input on decisions.    The specifics were, according to the document, discussed with his daughter and close friend and are not spelled out.  The royalties for his works were paid into a trust for the benefit of his daughter and later to grandchildren and heirs. 
Shortly after Robert Parker died, an announcement was made that his series books would continue, written by another author.  I don’t know if he made these arrangements. 
It leads me to think of my writing as an asset.  Of course I may not generate enough royalties to buy lunch just yet, but they are assets with great sentimental value for me.  Royalties may not measure the value, unless of course I sell millions of copies of Judge vs Nuts.   
How do you place a value on your writing after you die?  Is there a clause in your will or trust directing the royalties?  Will it fall into the residual clause (everything left) of your estate?  Will any unpublished works simply make you more interesting posthumously?  Pet trusts are very popular, why not a plan for your books?
 At the cemetery, the funeral guy directed the cars to park two across on the narrow (but plowed) roads.
We waited while the pallbearers struggled to maintain their footing, slipping and sliding a little while they carried the coffin from the hearse to the grave.
"What would happen if they dropped him?" I whispered.
In Una's words . . .  
My mystery writing didn’t start out as a surreptitious teaching tool; it started with a need to reduce stress after a particularly awful day in court.  From time to time I added a victim and did more editing than writing.  The process was slow. 
After meeting a slew of mystery writers, I noticed that I was introduced to the day to day life of a librarian, a food critic, a minister’s family, a several detectives and more. 
Given the opportunity, I invite you to meet one attorney on a day to day basis.  We’ll untangle a murder along the way and slip in a great deal of information about the legal system.  Judge vs Nuts will be available in February of 2012.  Join my mailing list for an email for the big release on my birthday.
Thank you to Ellis Vidler, for inviting me to her magnificent blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

First Lines and Setup

Katherine Heigl and Daniel Sunjata (Ranger)
Yesterday I saw the movie One for the Money, based on Janet Evanovich's first Stephanie Plum book. The opening was a little slow (I think my husband dozed off). The film set up the situation, introduced most of the characters, and worked its way toward the problem. Once that was out of the way, it took off and was fun. Most of the casting was quite good, especially Katherine Heigl and Jason O'Mara.
The slow start made me think of the story setup in books. (I can't remember how it went in Evanovich's book except that I was hooked from the beginning.) It's quite a feat to create interest from the first line. Most of us want to explain what's going on before we get to the story. That's usually the first draft stage. Ruthless pruning comes in later stages.
Daniel Craig as James Bond
Ideally first lines, but more realistically first paragraphs, should draw us right in and make us want to keep reading. The opening scene in One for the Money has left me, but Heigl was cute enough to carry it anyway. One that stands out is the opening of Casino Royale, the new one with Daniel Craig. We didn't know anything about the setup but that scene was compelling and dramatic. These two movies are probably not fair examples, because who in the world doesn't know James Bond? And many know Stephanie Plum.
Meanwhile, how does your first line do? I've included a few from recent reads. I only used the first sentence because I didn't get permission and with the current emphasis on copyright laws, I decided to include several and stick to a single sentence. Whole paragraphs are much better and give a better idea of the story, but here they are.
These are all books I enjoyed. Most have samples on the author's website or on Amazon. Try them—I bet you'll want to keep reading.

The vintage Cadillac sailed slowly through the cemetery gates like a battleship looking for its berth. Murder Half Baked by Kathleen Delaney.
What did a man born rich and privileged look like after spending fifteen years in prison and another six hiding in these mountains? Murder Déjà Vu by Polly Iyer.
Eva Molnar had held out as long as she dared. Murder on the Danube by William S. Shepard.
Oh God, I don't want to go in there. To Tell the Truth by Faye M. Tollison.
Dead if you stay, dead if you jump . . . The Past Came Hunting by Donnell Ann Bell.
For the longest time, Nell Marchand believed the happiest day of her life was the one on which she'd married dashing blueblood Daniel Ellis Overton Marchand IV. Fortune's Fool by Jane Sevier.
Claire checked her rearview mirror once more for the mismatched headlights—tonight, thank goodness, no one lurked on her tail. Cold Comfort by Ellis Vidler.
The wrought-iron gates stood open—again. Dear Killer by Linda Lovely.
"I'm moving in with your girlfriend," said James Stuart. Charleston's Lonely Heart Hotel by Steve Brown.
Something didn't feel right. Bad Spirits I by D.V. Berkom.
Except for the mermaid on a weedy patch of sea grass ghosting in her wake, Katrina Hunter's solo sail into Mexican headwaters had been monotonous and uneventful. A Dangerous Harbor by RP Dahlke.
How about sharing your first line? What do you try to accomplish with it? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

When Mayzie Flies the Coop

Lois Winston, author of a delightful mystery series, is my guest this week. 
When Ellis invited me to do a guest blog at The Unpredictable Muse to promote the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, it took me no time at all to decide the topic of my post. I had to talk about Mayzie.
Mayzie is my muse. She’s as temperamental as her namesake, the flighty bird in Horton Hatches the Egg, often taking off for parts unknown and leaving me staring at a blank computer screen at the most inopportune times.
Over the years I’ve discovered some rather unorthodox ways to recapture my AWOL muse and put her back to work. So today I’m going to let you in on one of those unorthodox methods I employ: I’ve perfected the fine art of eavesdropping.
Have you ever thought about how much of our day is spent waiting? We wait, wait, and wait some more. Every day. We stand in line at the supermarket, the post office or motor vehicle, waiting to be waited on. We spend countless hours in doctor and dentist waiting rooms (how aptly named those areas are!) waiting for someone to jab something cold and uncomfortable into our nether regions or perform root canal. And then we sit or lie there waiting for the procedure du jour to end. We freeze our butts off in the bleachers while our kids kick around a soccer ball or toss a football. We hang around the multiplex lobby, waiting for the previous movie to let out, then hunker down in our seats and wait through countless commercials and previews for the next feature to begin. We sit like zombies every morning and evening as the train or bus carries us to and from work. We stand around waiting to be seated in restaurants, then wait for the waiter to take our order and bring our food.
Wait, wait, wait. Maybe some of you already use this waiting in a productive manner by reading or dragging out your laptop to work on your current manuscript. But many of the scenarios I just describe are not conducive to writing or even reading. Just try whipping out that laptop while standing on line to renew your driver’s license, or try finishing a chapter of the paperback you keep tucked in your purse while your legs are splayed wide on the examining table. And if you’re like me, you probably find it hard to concentrate on the bus with the guy sitting next to you casting furtive glances at your computer screen. Or you find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over because the conversations going on around you keep intruding and breaking your concentration.
So instead of trying to read or write, mine those conversations for plot and character ideas.
Who among us doesn’t love to eavesdrop? Don’t deny it. We all do it. Forget baseball. Eavesdropping is the national pastime. And since the onset of cell phones, we can eavesdrop with abandon. Try going anywhere without hearing someone’s personal phone conversation. Whether you’re in a restaurant, on a train, in a hotel lobby, walking down the street, on line at the supermarket, or even in a public restroom, I guarantee there will be somebody nearby carrying on a highly personal phone conversation in a voice loud enough for everyone within a block’s radius to hear. There’s something about cell phones that make people raise their voices. Conversations that would normally be held in hushed whispers are broadcast wirelessly like sports announcers booming play-by-play. Over the last few years I have been privy to the most private details of total strangers, thanks to Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
And don’t forget the best place in the world to eavesdrop -- the hair salon. Women tell their hairdressers intimate details of their lives that they wouldn’t dream of divulging to anyone other than a therapist. And they do so in voices loud enough to carry over the sounds of hair dryers, running water, pumped-in background music, and the chatter of other customers.
So listen. Take mental notes. Those conversations going on around you every day are rich with character and plot potential that will help you corral your wayward muse and force her back to work. It works for me!

Death By Killer Mop Doll blurb: Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack's stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. Before the glue is dry on Anastasia's mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and a member of the production team is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show's new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.

Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at Visit Lois at her website: and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Lois is currently on a month-long blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, and she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter to win a copy, post a comment to this blog post or any of the blogs on the tour. The full tour schedule can be found at her website and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. In addition, she’s also
giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads,

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My KDP Select Experience--with numbers

I wanted to be open about this process, so I'm giving the exact figures.
Sales of my first mystery, Haunting Refrain, had fallen steadily, going from 16 eBooks sold in June to 2 in October. In anticipation of Cold Comfort coming out in December, I did a little promotion for it and reduced the price to .99. It sold 5 at $2.99 and then 10 copies at .99, almost enough to buy a Big Mac. In January I put the price back to $2.99 and signed it up for Amazon's KDP Select program. I chose two days to offer free downloads, Jan 13 and 14. By the end of Jan 14, I had 4,779 downloads. I did this knowing I wouldn't make any money. It was for promotion and name recognition. It reached #3 on the free Kindle Mystery/women sleuths list, #5 on free Kindle romantic suspense, and #98 on the overall free Kindle list. I was thrilled.
As of this morning, HR has had 4,962 downloads with 7 units borrowed. Six units have been refunded. I'm not sure what the "refunded" means, but it may be units that were borrowed and returned. Also, most of those 183 units may be Amazon Prime borrows; Prime members can borrow one book a month for free. If so, any royalties for those units will be based on a percentage of the $700,000 pot Amazon provided, probably a very small amount. The month-to-date reports don't separate borrows from purchases. I'll have to wait for the regular monthly report to see that.
I hoped the Haunting Refrain promotion would help bring attention to Cold Comfort, which was released Dec 4. I don't have numbers for CC, but it went from 194,677 in ranking on Jan 11 to 30,176 on Jan 15, which must mean something. Even the print copy went up in ranking.
The Peeper, the suspense novel I co-wrote with Jim Christopher, had a good jump in ranking (413,049 to 102,923), but I don't see those reports so I don't know what it meant in sales.
For me, this was much better than I hoped. I'm really pleased with it. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Bernadette Walsh, author of The House on Prospect and Gold Coast Wives, is my guest. 
    A few years ago I attended what was billed as the “Griffin Tree Family Reunion.” Four sisters --the roots of the Griffin Tree -- immigrated from County Kerry, Ireland to Brooklyn, New York in the 1920s/1930s. My paternal  grandmother, Gert Griffin, was one of the four sisters.  As many descendants as we could track down -- the branches of the Griffin Tree --  gathered in the Catskill Mountains one summer weekend. Everyone pooled their bits of memories from these four women: pictures, keepsakes and old letters.
     One letter in particular struck a chord with me. My great-grandmother wrote to one of her daughters who’s husband was killed, leaving behind two small children. My great-aunt Agnes was left a young widow, an immigrant, and the only solace available to her from her parents were these thin sheets of paper. Almost eighty years later, the anguish of a mother unable to hug and console her grieving daughter rings through in these letters.
     My great-aunt Agnes lived well into her eighties and after her three sisters passed served as the matriarch of the Griffin clan. Agnes was strong, a survivor. She eventually met and married her second husband, a lovely man with who she had two more children. My cousins today remain a warm, close-knit family. Agnes’ story had a happy ending.  
     But what if? What if her second husband was not such a nice man. What if, left alone in America without the guidance of her parents, without the financial means to support her children, she made some bad choices, the consequences of which could ripple down into the generations. It was these “what ifs” that inspired me to write, The House on Prospect.
Review: "The House On Prospect is one amazing story. 5 Stars" by Miss Lynn' s Books & More
     I have always been a bookworm and had always meant to write a novel “someday.” You know, when I won the lottery and could live in beach house and look out onto the water and be inspired. Four years ago I decided to stop waiting for my winning lottery ticket and sat down and started writing in between work and family obligations, I piled the words on top of each other until they formed sentences, paragraphs, chapters and eventually a book. TheHouse on Prospect is my second novel. My first, a contemporary romance, GoldCoast Wives, was published in November 2011. The first book of my paranormal trilogy, Devil’s Mountain -- Book One of the Devlin Legacy, is due to be published in April 2012. While I’ve hopped around genres, all of my books to date have a common theme: strong women handling what life throws at them the best way they can.  Visit Bernadette's website.           

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Haunting Refrain

This is an excerpt from Haunting Refrain, my mystery with a little romance and a touch of paranormal. 

 Martin looked sick. “Do you have any feeling about the person strangling her? Was it someone she knows?”
“A man, I think. I couldn't see, but I have an impression of size and strength that suggests a man. That's all.” She looked up at him. “Please tell me what this is about.”
“Only one more question. Could you tell what time of day it was?”
“What does that matter?” she asked. “It was dark. Night. Now whose is it?”
He took a deep breath and held out the card. “The sweatband belongs to Kelly Landrum.”
Kate reached for the card, wondering where she’d heard the name. “Kelly Landrum? Who's—”
“She's the girl who's missing!” Venice cried, catching the cup as it slipped from Kate's hands. She took a quick sip and choked.
Kate snatched the card, needing to see it for herself. She read the name. Kelly Landrum. A spot like a teardrop blurred the blue ink. An omen? Please, don’t let it be true.
“Yes, she's the student who's been missing for four days.” Martin kept his gaze on Kate's drawn face. “Her picture is on every newspaper and television screen in South Carolina. Someone found her car here on the campus. The police have been all over the place since then. We should call them, Kate.”
“No! I haven't seen anything that could help them, and I'm not touching that thing again.” Kate retreated into the chair, pulled her knees up under her chin, and wrapped her skirt around her legs, holding herself tightly. If she didn’t, she might fall apart—the image was so strong, so immediate. She touched her throat. And if it was true . . .

"Quirky, engaging characters .... Both Venice and Kate are charmers!" -- Romantic Times 
"The interaction between Kate and her friend, Venice, is priceless." A. McGraw
"...this first novel [is] a good choice for readers who like a bit of the paranormal in their mysteries." -- Library Journal

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Late Bloomers

 This week my guest is Patricia Driscoll, author of Shedding Light on Murder
I’m a debut author. My first novel, “Shedding Light on Murder,” will be released by Five Star /Gale in January 2012. But, I’m no debutante. In fact, I’ve reached a certain age, no specifics of course, where I think I might be best described as a late bloomer.
I started writing after my retirement as a probation officer. When I retired, I looked forward to re-kindling my passion for painting and drawing. Instead, I wrote “Shedding Light on Murder,” a mystery set in Cape Cod.
P.D. James published her first novel, “Cover Her face” at age forty-two, Henry Miller, “Tropic of Cancer” at forty-four and Ian Fleming, “Casino Royale,” at forty-five. Impressive? Yes, of course. But, to me they’re youngsters. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite authors, who are what I consider to be late bloomers. Their stories are truly inspirational.
I read the novel, “Stones From Ibarra,” for the first time, some thirty years ago. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this wonderful book, but I do remember my delight when I learned more about the author, Harriet Doerr. She graduated from Stanford University at age sixty-seven, and went on to win a Stegner Fellowship. “Stones From Ibarra” went on to win the National Book award. She was seventy-four when it was published. She went on to write another novel and a short story collection.
I do remember when I first heard of Frank McCourt. I read an excerpt from “Angela’s Ashes” in The New Yorker Magazine. I have to say, I was blown away by his incredible story and the manner in which he told it. I couldn’t wait to get the book and it became one of my favorites. McCourt was born in Brooklyn, but spent his formative years in Ireland. He returned to the U.S. at age nineteen, pursued an education and taught in New York schools for many years. He published “Angela’s Ashes,” his first novel, in 1966 when he was sixty-six years old. He won the National Book Critics Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography among other notable awards.
English writer Mary Wesley published three children’s novels, two when she was fifty-seven and one when she was seventy-one. Her first adult novel, “Jumping The Queue,” was published in 1983, also at the age of seventy-one. She went on to write nine more novels, including “The Camomile Lawn,” which became a successful British television series. Wesley was known for her freethinking, progressive heroines, who used profanity and led sexually liberated lives. She was appointed a Commander of the British Empire. A quote attributed to her is, “Sixty should be the time to start something new, not put your feet up.”
After leaving a career as an oil company executive, Raymond Chandler decided to write fiction. His first novel, “The Big Sleep,” which introduced detective Phillip Marlowe, was published when he was fifty-one. Between 1939 and 1959, he wrote seven novels. He also wrote screenplays for The Blue Dahlia and Double Indemnity among others. In 1958 he was elected president of Mystery Writers of America.
So, late bloomers, take heart, get going and write that novel you’ve been tossing around in your head for years.
And, if you are a late bloomer, please feel free to add a comment and tell us your story.
“Shedding Light on Murder,” will be released on January 18, 2012. To learn more about the author and her novel, please visit her website at

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Finding Those Dead Spots

When I get seriously into revising something, I dig out the highlighters to help me find the dead spots, the ones that put the reader to sleep. I work on a chapter at a time and read, looking for a specific element in the story. Backstory is usually my first element. I highlight everything that's backstory in that chapter with a yellow marker.

Then I look for description and mark it in pink. Green is for exposition (explaining something to the reader), another good one to check for.

The object is to see at a glance what you've got. Does it stop the action or slow the story? It may depend on the kind of story you're telling, but I'm aiming for a fairly fast pace, especially in the opening scene. If I see much yellow or pink, indicating backstory and description, I know I have work to do.

Green is another flag—am I teaching the reader how to fly a helicopter or entertaining him? How much does she really want to know? The temptation to share all that valuable research you've done can be irresistible, but be strong. Resist.

All these elements slow the story, so they're included on a need-to-know basis. Does the reader need to know this to understand or follow the story? How does it apply to this scene or this action sequence? Is the information shown in small, bite-sized bits or is it a big chunk all at once? Is it broken up with action? These are things to think about.

What do you look for? Which elements put you to sleep? And how do you locate or mark those slow spots?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Right, What You Know

Buy at Amazon
My guest this week is Matt Iden, author of three very good short-story collections that range from "straight crime action to chilling psychological conflicts to darkly humorous situations."
     "Write what you know." It's probably the most common opening line in writers' guides. The implication is that your personal experience is an untapped vein of precious tales, nuggets of story-telling just waiting to tumble into your greedy little paws, if you would just take the time to catch them. You can at least start a writing career from the things that have happened to you, they say. The rest you can make up.
     Problem is, I have a wealth of experiences, but they don't always fit neatly into a story. Friends ask why I haven't written a novel about my time as a seasonal postman or the trip I took to Antarctica. Any idiot, they seem to suggest, could publish a diary like mine, slap a title on it, and have a best-selling book out next week. "Well, yes," I say, squirming, unable to explain that my ideas don't spring forth fully-formed. The novels, stories, and poems all come from the same place, it's true, but experiences all go into a hopper where they stew, swish around, and pop out--sometimes unbidden--onto the page. Or don't.
     Here's one. It's been bothering me for years. One day I was at my local gym. I was done exercising and went to the locker room to clean up. It was the middle of the day, so the place was nearly empty (emphasis on nearly). I packed my gym clothes and turned the corner out of my locker room alcove into the main corridor. Walking ahead of me, with his back turned, was a young, thirty-something guy. He was, which I had occasion to notice because he was buck naked.
     Now, this is distressingly common in locker rooms. I'm no prude, but I go to the gym to work out, not to put myself on display. Unfortunately, it's not that unusual to find one's locker room mates shaving at the sink, weighing themselves, or chatting about stocks and bonds with their neighbor, all 100% in the buff. When I find myself near one of these exhibitionists, I discourage conversation, finish my business as quickly as possible, and keep my eyes unfocused, yet fixed to a point about eight feet off the floor and slightly to the right.
     Alas, this day it was not to be. Blissfully unaware of his audience of one, the man proceeded to demonstrate as he walked down the hall what I can only describe as the most energetic and rhythmic hand jive--using every surface of his exposed body--I've ever had the pleasure to see or hear. It was impossible for me to look away. He wasn't obese, but the...fervor with which he slapped himself made his flesh wobble and turn from pink to scarlet. The wet smackings of palm meeting flesh--flickety flack-whack, skittery flack-swack--rang throughout the locker room, a staccato beat of pectoral muscles thumped, upper arms swatted, and buttocks spanked. The music didn't stop until the man--still oblivious to me--opened the door to the sauna, stepped inside, and ended the performance with the snick of the shutting latch.
     This life episode, as I think you'll agree, is worth writing about. I believe I've demonstrated that. But I'll be damned if I can find an appropriate place for it in one of my crime fiction stories. So, it languishes in my mental crock-pot, waiting to be used at the appropriate time. When I tell this story at parties, people laugh, then ask what book it'll be in.
     "I have no idea," I tell them. "But if you figure it out, will you let me know?"

Author Bio
Matthew Iden writes crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor. His short stories are available in several digital collections--Three Shorts, Three the Hard Way, Three on a Match, and Three of a Kind--as well as the master collection, one bad twelve. His medium-boiled P.I. novel featuring retired Washington DC homicide detective Marty Singer debuts soon in A Reason to Live. Connect with Matthew at his blog Life Sentence ( or tweet him @CrimeRighter.

Sample or buy any of his short stories at