Friday, August 31, 2012

A Difference in Perception

Kindle or Print
Sometimes, even when you’re telling a story, it makes a difference whether you show or tell. The words the audience or reader receives have quite a different effect.
When the reader is told, she doesn’t form a picture or experience an emotion. She accepts the idea and moves on to the next idea. Here’s an example, rephrased from the real book as telling.
Abby heard footsteps but she didn’t see anyone.  She stopped. So did the footsteps. “Who’s there?” No one answered. She was scared. Her dog growled. Abby tried to open the door but it was locked.
Showing takes more words. There the writer or storyteller has to create a scene for the reader to see and experience along with the character. Here’s the same excerpt as Polly Iyer wrote it in her suspense novel, InSight.
She stopped. So did the footsteps. “Who’s there?” Still no answer. Why isn’t someone answering? The hairs on her arms stood erect, charged with electricity. She possessed an uncanny ability to feel another presence, as if all her nerve endings put out tiny sensors. Someone prowled the hall. Daisy emitted a low growl from the back of her throat. Pulse racing, Abby hurried to the side door and pushed against it. Locked. This door was never locked from the inside.
See the difference? Polly isn’t telling you how Abby felt, she’s showing you. You can feel the fear with Abby when the hairs raise, when her pulse races. You can push the door with her and find it doesn’t open.
Here’s an example from Cold Comfort, my suspense novel. I could have said Claire was exhausted and took a pain pill, but I wanted to create a picture.
The men continued to talk. Claire leaned against the car, imagining herself sliding off the fender like spaghetti off a plate, congealing into a lump on the ground. Those little white pills, on top of everything else, packed a wallop. The men droned on.
There are times when telling is the better choice. If it’s on something that isn’t important to the story, or it’s just a nice little vignette that doesn’t go anywhere, it may be better to tell it quickly and move on to something that moves the story forward.
How about you? Do you see the difference? Do the examples that show bring the scenes to life? How do you feel about it?  

Monday, August 27, 2012

History Whispers to Her

At Amazon

Historical romance author Rebecca George is my guest. She's celebrating the release of her new novel, So Whispers the Heart.
Last week I finally published my historical romance, So Whispers the Heart, on Amazon Kindle. It’s a loosely connected prequel to my last book, Call Home the Heart, which was published by NAL in 1989. It was my first new book in 23 years and as I began this novel process of self-publishing an e-book, I could not help but reflect on the evolution—maybe I should call it a revolution—that has taken place in the publishing industry. Since I published my first book, Tender Longing, with Pocket in 1986, everything has changed!
Everything then, of course, was done via snail mail and writers used reams of paper. First, you sent a proposal that included a synopsis with three chapters. No multiple submissions allowed! Then months passed as I waited for rejection or acceptance. Make that mostly rejections. Only then could I send a proposal to another publisher. Now multiple submissions are allowed, you copy your material in an e-mail--no attachments – and usually hear back promptly.
Mainstream publishers today will only read agented or recommended material. In the beginning I had no agent, but in the 80s publishers did accept unsolicited proposals. So I sent my three chapters and synopsis of Tender Longing (not my title) to Pocket and amazingly it was accepted. At the time I had no idea just how unusual that was. It was pulled from the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. That would never happen today!
My editor and I then exchanged boxes of written material: partial manuscripts, completed manuscripts, copy-edited manuscripts and galleys went back and forth through the mail. Altogether I published four books between 1986 and 1989. Then I think I got too busy with raising my daughter and living life in general. But I never quit writing. And between 1989 and 2012 literally everything in the publishing world changed. Actually, you can amend that to read that everything changed within the last four years or so. And it’s still changing!
Since I did not even try to traditionally publish this fifth book I do not know about the status quo today, but I assume the amount of actual paper exchanged between authors and editors is minimal. Probably no hard copies at all are exchanged—far less paper is needed when email suffices. That's a good thing. I’m sure this makes the trees happy.
Next is the cover. As every writer knows, covers are so important. In my pre-historic publishing contracts I never had cover approval. Few authors did. I was fortunate that of my four book covers, two were beautiful and to my liking. The other two—not so much. Back then you took what you got and, as we all know, some historical romance covers can cross the line into…oh, I don’t know…call it “cheesiness.”
In self-publishing my first e-book, I had the final say in cover creation. This was a process I thoroughly enjoyed. I chose the pose, the background and the lettering. Polly Iyer, a great friend and fellow author, designed it for me. I couldn’t be more pleased. In fact, it is probably the favorite cover of my five books.
As for my first four books, I got back all publishing rights and plan to release them soon. Now another author friend and I have established our own publishing company, Valentine Press (named for the fact we both have Valentine birthdays). We purchased and use ISBNs. Although not necessary for e-books, I may want to also publish POD (Print On Demand)—so ISBNs are a good idea.
My first “baby,” Tender Longing, was written on typing paper and copied with carbon using a rented IBM Selectric. The other three books are saved in my attic on old-fashioned large floppy discs. I had all four professionally scanned—I wasn’t about to retype them—and other than a few odd letterings they were delivered back to me on a zip file perfectly formatted for e-publishing.
As I struggled (and I did struggle!) to grasp the intricacies and complexities of e-publishing, there were times (as when writing the blurb) that I thought about how wonderful it was to have a publisher do all this for me. Nevertheless, I forged on. Now that I’ve finally done it, I’m thrilled.
From the slush pile to the world of professional publishers to self-publishing an e-book…it’s been quite a journey. In spite of the glitches, hitches, frustrations and tears, I’ve mostly enjoyed it. In the immortal words of The Grateful Dead: what a long strange trip it’s been!
New Orleans, 1802. Even as Napoleon prepares to change the future of Louisiana, so too is the future of Ninon . Claire about to change. An orphan reared by her doting grandfather, the enchanting and unconventional Ninon enjoys an idyllic and carefree life. Then she encounters a roguish stranger in a dark alleyway. Although the attraction between the two is immediate, the developing relationship is doomed when she learns the stranger is not who he claims to be. Ninon’s life is shattered as she confronts the lies not only of this man she has grown to love but the deceptions of her beloved grandfather as well. Ninon is now compelled to leave her grandfather and travel to England with the stranger who destroyed her world. But a shipwreck alters everything between the two.
Once in London, more lies separate them, and Ninon flees to the security of her grandfather. Torn by love, Ninon struggles to find the truth, but only her heart can find the answer.
About Rebecca
Rebecca George is the award-winning author of five novels. Her newest, SO WHISPERS THE HEART, was released recently on Amazon Kindle. Of her four previously published books, DAPHNE (Pocket, 1988) was a Romantic Times award winner, Best Historical – Love and Laughter. CALL HOME THE HEART (NAL, 1989) was a runner-up for Best Historical of the Year. She plans to release all four previous books on Kindle soon.
A native of Georgia, Rebecca was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia. She went to the University of Georgia where she majored in history. She lives with her three rescued dogs and one (temporary) granddog in a historical district in Upstate South Carolina.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dialogue and Paragraphs

Do you ever have trouble figuring out who said what? I do, and it stops me. I have to go back and figure out the speaker. One of the reasons for the confusion is the way paragraphs are laid out. If one person's actions are lumped in a paragraph with dialogue, it looks as if they go together.
Each time the speaker changes, begin a new paragraph. If the dialogue doesn’t make it clear who’s speaking, use an attribution or action. The reader gets a picture of the scene and knows who’s talking. The action can also reveal the speaker’s mood. Was he excited, striding back and forth? Was he thoughtful, scratching his chin? There are many ways to show it; just make sure each paragraph clearly belongs to someone.
The following examples show why each person has his or her own paragraph with the dialogue in it. 
Read the next paragraph and see who said “I’ve never seen it before”? 
Mark cut the tape and opened the box. “What’s this?” he said, lifting a wooden case out of the foam packing. “I’ve never seen it before.” Karen took the case from him.
From the way the paragraph is put together, it could be either Mark or Karen.
To make it clear, separate Mark’s actions and Karen’s with different paragraphs and put the dialogue with the person who’s saying it.
Mark cut the tape and opened the box. “What’s this?” he said, lifting a wooden case out of the foam packing. “I’ve never seen it before.”
Karen took the case from him.
This way, the reader knows it was Mark who said he’d never seen it before.
Mark cut the tape and opened the box. “What’s this?” he said, lifting a wooden case out of the foam packing.
“I’ve never seen it before.” Karen took the case from him.
This way it’s obviously Karen’s remark.

How about you? Any examples? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Lonely Garret

At Amazon
My guest this week is my friend Kathleen Delaney, author of the delightful Ellen McKenzie mystery series.
Most people picture authors of years gone by as recluses huddled in an attic, no heat, no food, scribbling their lives away, driven to write. They shut out the world and lived in their imagination, creating characters they hoped would live forever on the pages of their manuscripts. They sharpened their quill pens, dipped them in India ink and crossed out all of the lines and phrases they didn’t like. Re-writing was a real challenge in those days.
I’m not sure how accurate the garret thing was or how many authors warmed their freezing hands over a fire of discarded manuscript pages, but they probably had fewer distractions. Authors today have a harder time isolating themselves. Today, we have email, Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, competing for our attention.
There is one thing writers of today and yesteryear have in common, and that is the need to find a quiet place where they can concentrate, where their imaginations can run wild, where they can retreat from the real world and inhabit a world they create, where they meet characters that live only in their imagination until they’re brought to life on the pages of a manuscript. The kind of quiet writers got in their garret is gone. The world intrudes constantly with the ring of the phone, or the ding that says we have another email message.
At Amazon
Charles Dickens barricaded himself in his study and, I’ve heard, was able to so completely immerse himself in his story his pages were stained with tears as he wrote of little Oliver asking for another bowl of porridge or the death of Little Nell. I wonder, though, if some of those tears might have been frustration at broken concentration as a child played under his desk. But, on he wrote. Agatha Christie had a quiet home in rural England, but she spent a lot of time traveling with her husband in third world countries. Trains were often noisy, dirty, jerky affairs, filled with strange sounds, smells and animals. Yet, she turned out book after book. I’m told that Charlotte Armstrong, an author of many mysteries during the 1940’s and 50’s, had so many distractions at home she’d get in her car and drive a block away from home, lock herself in and write. And that was before cell phones.
I don’t think any of them locked themselves in an attic. They may not have had Facebook but they all had distractions and they all got a lot done. Maybe, today, all we need is the will power to turn off the TV, put the phone on answering machine, ignore the ding that says we have mail, and write. Ignore the real world for a few hours. It will still be there when we return from the one we’re creating, from visiting the people whose story we are trying to tell. If Dickens could ignore a screaming child under his desk, we can ignore Sponge Bob turned as high as the volume will go. At least, we can try. If that doesn’t work, I’m told Denny’s is open all night, that it’s pretty quiet after midnight and they give free refills on coffee.
After a rewarding career as a Realtor in California, Kathleen moved to South Carolina and writes full time. She now lives in a wonderful 100-year-old house, with a wraparound front porch, where she and her dogs can wile away a summer afternoon, and a big office, lined with bookcases, where she can spend her days writing. And, as always, reading. You can find more about Kathleen and her books at

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playing Fair with Readers

Forensics team at murder scene
Hmmm. Question. How much information do you have to give the reader? I believe you have to play fair and let the reader know what the main character knows. The detective can’t find a note under the calendar that gives her a major clue and not share the information with the reader.
Withholding important information from the reader, things the main character learns, is cheating in my opinion. It can be up to the reader to put things together and figure out the answer, but the information should be there so she has the same chance as the main character to solve the problem.
Planting clues before you need them is a good way to hide them in plain sight. If you slide them in with something more dramatic or attention-getting, the reader is likely to focus on the dramatic event and not remember the clue.
I'm working on the ending of a story now, and I have a scene with a body. The main character doesn’t know who it is at first, but she sees something that she connects with one of the other characters. No one has seen the person’s face yet, but she remembers the something. The reader saw it when she did, so he or she has the same chance to remember. But I don’t spell it out for a while. Is that fair? I think it is. But you can decide in November when Time of Death comes out. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Birth and Resurrection of All Mystery E-Newsletter

The fun and fabulous R.P. (Rebecca) Dahlke is my guest this week. She's the energy behind the newsletter for mystery fans, readers and authors alike. If you don't know about it, you're missing something good. 
In 2010, I started an e-newsletter for mystery and suspense authors. It ran, free of charge to the authors, until December 2012. I decided to let it go because: 1) authors just weren't with me on how effective this kind of advertising could be, and 2) I had my own books to write.
So I put the website in mothballs but kept the Facebook site, the Yahoo group (which is where authors meet to talk about promotion, and readers come to see what authors are talking about), the Goodreads group for Indie and small press promotion, and a Twitter account.
Since then,  I have put four mysteries up on Amazon/Kindle, and because I understand that my book is a product, I also began a six-month quest for the best and most effective form of advertising my books.
Rebecca's latest book at Amazon
The results were exciting! I discovered that with a combination of inexpensive paid and free promotions, I could sell more books. I thought the results of this were interesting enough to share with my writing friends. So the first thing I did was put together a seven-page handout and speak on this subject with my local Sisters in Crime chapter in Tucson. The handout was necessary because I had a lot of powerful and helpful information to share, but I cautioned my grateful listeners with the following: The only thing I could guarantee about this information was that some of it would change.
That was in June, and sure enough, things have changed… again. One of the sites I listed as smart and creative just bit the dust, and another site, Digital Books Today, has taken a giant leap after only 18 months in the business.  Eighteen months? Gee, All Mystery e-newsletter had started before Digital Books Today… so that meant… but wait! There's more!
In a recent e-mail from the founder of Digital Books Today, Anthony Wessel, he says, and I quote: "Traffic on our Sites: March—8,000, June—16,000," and in their "The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List: November 2011—600+ and June 2012—10,000+ with 38,000 click-outs to books on Amazon."
It is obvious that Indie and small press authors are now using paid book marketing as part of a successful campaign to sell their books. I know, because I was using them too, and the results have been gratifying—except for one thing. As a mystery writer, all of the best e-newsletters had mystery squished in between vampire and memoir.
It didn't take me much more than a nano-second to see that All Mystery e-newsletter was needed.
I ticked off the possibilities for resurrecting this e-newsletter against the fact that it might take some time to gain momentum. Then realized I already had all of my requirements for a good promotion site: Facebook page, Yahoo and Goodreads groups, and Twitter with a small army of Re-Tweet pals.
The website is now up and running. Better yet, September is already SOLD out, but I am accepting submittals for October through December 2012. And, yes, the ad insertions for this e-newsletter are reasonably priced:  $10.00 a book insertion.
Here are links to All Mystery e-newsletter places:

Twitter handle: @allmysterynews
Last but not least, for those of you who would like a copy of my updated copy of that 7 page hand-out for both free and paid promotions for authors, send me an e-mail with "promotion handout" in the subject line and I'll send you a PDF copy. E-mail:
Ask questions if you aren't sure about joining. It's a good group, very helpful.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

From There to Here--Scene Transitions


Have you ever read scenes with no clear viewpoint character, time, or place? Does it stop you while you try to figure out what happened? How Carol got from there to here?
At the beginning of each new scene, the writer should immediately let the reader know three things:
1. Who – whose POV it will be in
2. When – explain the time change between this scene and the last one
3. Where – what is the location of this scene.
There may be a lead-in near the end of the earlier that sets up the next one. This is how I ended one scene in Cold Comfort. Riley has just hung up the phone after promising to check out Claire and her problem.
An image of a small café came to mind. He checked the Christmas shop location on his fact sheet. The café should be close. Maybe he'd eat there tomorrow, see what Mistletoe and its owner looked like.1
Damn it all, he'd sworn never to work with another woman. He fingered the scar. When he finished this job, he was moving to Tahiti—with no forwarding address.
* * *
After a sleepless night and a wasted morning,2 Riley drove into Williamsburg3 and found Claire's street. Her house, a small Dutch colonial, fit the settled, middle-class neighborhood. The shrubs around it grew too high, but overall the white clapboard structure seemed neat and well cared for, conventional, right down to the Christmas greenery on the door. Clearly crime-scene material.

(1) Near the end of the preceding scene we get a glimpse of Riley’s plan for tomorrow.
(2) The time is established in relation to the last scene.
(3) This scene is in Riley’s POV and he’s driving to Williamsburg
Scene transitions can be very simple, such as On Wednesday, Laura drove to the doctor’s office.
Once the reader knows these things, she prepares to share the viewpoint character’s feelings and reactions to whatever takes place and is involved; if the reader cares about the person, what happens in this scene will be of interest. The reader could hate Laura and hope she has a wreck and breaks her neck as long as there is some emotional involvement.
This is the purpose of a point of view—to draw the reader more fully into the story.
Clear transitions make the reading much smoother. We should avoid making the reader wonder or, worse, stop and look back to see if he’s missed something. Things like this drive me nuts, but maybe it’s just me.
How does it make you feel if the transitions are not clear? Does it bother you? 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hickory, Dickory, Doc

At Amazon

My guest this week is Mary Welk, author of novels, novellas, and short stories, including "Hickory, Dickory, Doc."
When interviewed by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love for’s “Five for Five Writers Extravaganza”, author Jane Porter had this to say about the craft of writing: “Great fiction requires great characters. Avoid stereotypes!”
Realism was one characteristic I hoped to infuse in Dr. Ben Benjamin when I created him for the short story “Hickory, Dickory, Doc”.  Given the plot and setting, I needed my veterinarian to be both an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’—someone who was part of the Maryland horse country crowd, but didn’t wholly belong to it—in order to be viewed by readers as a realistic protagonist for this particular story. I also needed his status to be obvious from the start.
To accomplish this, I began my tale by introducing Ben in the company of Lawrence Wainsworth III. The very name ‘Lawrence Wainsworth III’ conjures up images of landed gentry and old money. Toss in the fact that he owns a blue ribbon horse named King Tut and the stable Tut lives in and you can pretty much figure good old Lawrence isn’t worried about where his next meal is coming from.
At Amazon
Ben is the complete opposite of Wainsworth when it comes to money and social status. Rather than describe this difference through a lot of background narrative, I let Ben explain his position in the community in two brief but telling sentences. His comments are in response to Wainsworth’s description of an argument that occurred during a chic party at the local country club.
Who was I to doubt Larry's story? He'd been a ringside witness to the main event, while I, Dr. Ben Benjamin, youthful veterinarian to some of the most pampered horses in the state of Maryland, hadn't even been invited to the Hunt Club Ball.
Ben’s social standing is now clearly delineated for the reader; he may walk and talk with the rich, but the young vet is still considered a servant, albeit a highly educated one. Ben’s financial condition is likewise revealed when Wainsworth asks a favor of him. Ben responds thus:
I hesitated only a second. Lawrence Wainsworth III was a good guy. He was also a very wealthy man. Visions of unpaid student loans danced in my head as I screwed on a smile and replied, “Sure, Larry.”
The dissimilarities between the two characters are further explored when Wainsworth says,
“Jack Fielding and I went to school together at Mansfield Prep. I can guarantee you no graduate of that institution would ever stoop to something as plebeian as stabbing a man with a steak knife."
And Ben’s thoughts on this are: Larry uttered that truism with sublime self-assurance, then dismissed me with a soldier-like two-finger salute. I felt a bit like Alice wandering through Wonderland as I threw my medical bag in the back of my pickup, climbed into the cab, and switched on the ignition. I did a good job of keeping a straight face until I passed between the big stone pillars that guarded the entrance to the Wainsworth property. Then I let out a hoot that could have been heard clear back to town.  My best client had just waved the old school tie in my face, and while I had no doubt of his sincerity, Larry's defense of his former classmate tickled my funny bone. Apparently graduates of Mansfield Prep were not above killing off their enemies as long as it was done in a dignified manner.
At Amazon
Creating credible characters is always a challenge. Often, the best way to answer that challenge is to let the characters speak for themselves.

Chicago native Mary Welk has drawn on her experience in the medical field to successfully knock off sixteen characters in her four-book Readers Choice Award winning "Rhodes to Murder" mystery series featuring ER nurse Caroline Rhodes and history professor Carl Atwater. Caroline Rhodes also appears in the novella FRAMED in HEARTS AND DAGGERS, a romantic suspense three-novella book written in cooperation with two other authors. Mary's short stories appear in HOT CRIMES, COOL CHICKS; DARK THINGS II: CAT CRIMES; and CHICAGO BLUES. Several of her stories are available as Kindle Shorts. A former columnist and feature writer for Mystery Scene and Futures magazines, Mary is currently working on a Halloween novella and the fifth full length "Rhodes to Murder" mystery. Her books can be found at and at B&N. Find more about Mary at

Friday, August 3, 2012

CODY. WYLIE. IDEN. 3 Views, 3 Authors

Photo 123rf
It’s FIRST FRIDAY! Three amazing authors give their takes on one picture in 150 words or less. Their genres, voices, and visions are wonderfully different.

"It's the color of a ruby." The child's awe-filled voice broke the eerie silence following the storm. "Just like the Book of Legends says."
Murmurs rose and blended into a single, querulous hum: "That's all it is. Legend. Only part ruby. Rest … black as night. Not exactly a slipper."
An old woman stepped forward. "Might be. Fashions change."
The child reminded them, "The Book says she came on the wind."
The hum countered, "Aye … seven generations ago."
The woman said, "I've heard rumors of ominous weather down there."
The leg twitched, accentuating its unseemly length. The crowd, except for the woman and the child, stepped back. The child cried out, "She needs help."
The hum accelerated to an angry buzz: "She's not our kind. What can we do?"
"Whatever we can."
"There could be consequences."
"There's always risk."
"Not if we don't get involved."

At Amazon
In the dark shadows of the forest Mira stood out like a psychotic rainbow amongst the bland browns and greens. She had always been different; a bit wild, forever disregarding the rules, particularly when it came to fashion. Her choice of colors had never caused her harm; in fact it would often bring smiles and laughter to those around her.  She loved to smile. She loved to laugh. In the forest, she did both as she skipped and danced along the path in her favorite red and black shoes. The bright pinks, yellows and blues of her outfit swirled around her. It was not, in the end, the colors that killed her, though they did attract the fairies. The creatures didn’t harm her either, though their sudden presence startled her.  Later investigators firmly attributed her demise to the 40 foot fall down the ravine. Cause of death: six inch heels.

I had two reactions to this picture the instant I saw it. In both, I sense the wearer of this get-up is a young girl dressed up in atrocious cast-off clothing from the seventies or eighties.
Those ridiculous heels, they’re good for a laugh. All kinds of scenes—right out of any sitcom—spring to mind.
At Amazon
Unfortunately, writing crime fiction gives you a crooked bent of mind. The other reaction? A murder scene. The girl discovers, then dons all of the blinding fuchsia clothes her mother picked up in 1978. By the time she senses the killer, it’s too late: the scene turns from humor to horror in an instant. She runs, but the heels trip her just as she attempts to escape. The picture captures the horrific irony that it was the very costume that led to her demise.

Sandra Carey Cody
Sandra Carey Cody's latest book, Love and Not Destroy, examines the ways in which destiny is shaped by family secrets. An infant is abandoned in a carriage shed on the grounds of a small town museum. Twenty-two years later, the body of a homeless man is discovered in exactly the same spot. The foundling, now an adult working at the museum, is haunted by the coincidence and thus begins a search for identity that explores the nature of family, of loyalty and responsibility. Sandy also writes the Jennie Connors mystery series, published by Avalon Books. Her website is:

Jen Wylie
At Amazon
Jen Wylie resides in rural Ontario, Canada with her two boys, Australian shepherd and a disagreeable amount of wildlife. In a cosmic twist of fate she dislikes the snow and cold.
Before settling down to raise a family, she attained a BA from Queens University and worked in retail and sales.
Thanks to her mother she acquired a love of books at an early age and began writing in public school. She constantly has stories floating around in her head, and finds it amazing most people don’t. Jennifer writes various forms of fantasy, both novels and short stories.

Matthew Iden
I write fantasy, science fiction, horror, thrillers, crime fiction, and contemporary literary fiction with a psychological twist. A Reason to Live is the first in my debut detective series featuring Marty Singer, a retired DC homicide cop who helps the victims of past crimes while waging his own war with cancer. Marty’s story continues in Blueblood (August, 2012) and Signs (October 2012).
Book link:

Feel free to join in. Add your vision (150 words maximum) in the comments!