Sunday, August 28, 2016

Featuring Guest Blogger, Judy Penz Sheluk

It’s a pleasure to welcome back mystery author, Judy Penz Sheluk. Judy has just released her second mystery, Skeletons in the Attic, which is the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series. Her debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about her writing journey.

Judy’s blog topic is “Don’t Wait for the Muse”

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie.

I spent the better part of my teen years and early twenties reading Agatha Christie; in fact, I’ve read every one of her books, and credit Christie for my desire to write mysteries. But like Christie, for many years I was an amateur. Actually, amateur is overstating it. I was more of a “want-to be” writer. You know the type: the person who says they’re going to write a book “one day.”

For me, “one day” took about three decades from the time I put down Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s final mystery. In between, I worked as a Credit & Collections Manager, a Sales and Marketing Coordinator, and over the past thirteen years, a freelance writer and editor. It wasn’t my fault, you see. I was waiting for the muse to show up. I knew once the muse made an appearance I’d be ready to write that book.

Except the muse never came. I decided to take a creative writing class from Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian author and poet. It was Barry who told me, “The muse will never come unless you let her know you’re going to be there. Make time to write every day, even if it’s only for thirty minutes, even if all you’re doing is sitting there, staring at a blank page. One day, the words will come.”

They did. Faced with ten days off of all my freelance gigs, I started writing my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, on Christmas Eve 2011. I wrote every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. By the end of that ten-day period, I had a few chapters written. It never got easy…but it did get easier, and by February 2013, I’d finished writing and revising the book. Then I tried to find an agent, and when that didn’t work out, I went to work looking for a publisher.

I knew how elusive that muse could be, and I knew I should start another book, but I couldn’t bear to write the sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. I started Skeletons in the Attic, determined to make it as different from Noose as I could: Noose is written in third person, with multiple (primarily two) POVs. Skeletons, on the other hand, is written in first person, and entirely from the POV of the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. But this time, the Christie quote actually applied to me. Somewhere along the line, I’d stopped waiting for the muse to show up and graduated from want-to be writer to amateur writer to professional. Professional writer. Now that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Here’s a brief synopsis of Skeletons in the Attic:

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?


Find Judy’s books on Amazon HERE:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Have Your Book Buying Or Reading Habits Changed?

I’ve been selling my print mystery novels at farmers markets and craft fairs this summer. It’s one of my favorite things to do as I inevitably have interesting conversations with people who stop to chat about books.

I started selling books through different types of craft fairs six years ago, and I’ve noticed an interesting change in book buying and reading habits. Three and four years ago, a small percentage of customers were asking if my books were available as ebooks, which they were at that time. (Not all of them are at the moment, but that’s another story). Happily, I handed out a bookmark or business card with my website or my publishers’ website with ordering information. I don’t know how many sales this generated, but I imagine there were a few.

Since last Christmas, (always a big sales time for me) I’ve noticed a distinct drop in the number of people asking about ebooks. My print sales are as strong as ever, and I’ve also had people ask if my books were available in audio format (not at this time, no.)

A number of folks have told me that they used to read ebooks, but now prefer print again. There’s something about the smell of a new book, the act of turning a page, and of course there’s been lots of media coverage about lousy sleeps if you read a backlit screen before bed.

Ebooks have not only changed book buying habits and the way we read but, in some ways, I think they’ve also had an impact on our commitment to reading. One thing I’ve also noticed in myself, friends, and colleagues, not to mention numerous blogs on the topic, is that the books we download aren’t necessarily read.

One reason might be the sheer volume of inexpensive books we’re downloading. The other reason is that the vast majority of books I download, for example, are by unknown authors. If I don’t like the opening chapter, I’m far less likely to continue reading with a free or inexpensive book than I would have if I’d invested ten bucks or more on a print book.

A recent blog in Digital Book World discusses eight reasons why people by books. And while it doesn’t compare buying habits from earlier years, it does offer several insights. One of these is that there are books that sell well but are not read. Sometimes, the buyer feels social pressure to read, other times they simply want the book around to show that they are well-read people.

These days, I prefer a mix of print and ebooks. I love reading print books before bed, but as someone who also reads a lot away from home, an ebook is simply easier to carry around in my purse. I read many more unknown authors than I used to, thanks to my ebooks, but I also spend less money buying books.

A sign of the times, perhaps? Or just practicality as I approach retirement age and realize that I’ll be downsizing my home sooner rather than later. Habits change. Preferences change. Technology changes, and one’s own needs change. Book buying and reading habits certainly reflect this.


The Trouble With Scrivener

I got stuck on a story I'm working on in Scrivener. Over the years, I've learned that, if I'm stuck, then I'm doing something wrong. That being the case, I let myself stay stuck while I worried the problem like a dog with a bone. And I figured it out.

By breaking the story into scenes, I want to open every scene and make it a little story, but that isn't what I need to be doing. I need to be selecting detail to be important later, expanding meaningful parts and telescoping other things that need to happen but don't need emphasis.

When I write all in a piece, I do that more-or-less automatically, but concentrating scene by scene breaks that flow.

The correct title for this post: The Trouble With ME!  I need to learn how to break my story into scenes and then analyze them, choosing what to put where. Actually, I need to try yWriter5, putting motifs and behaviors and parallels in the Items database. That way, I can more easily track where I place my mirrorings and resonances and echoes.

Now, I need to roll up my sleeves and make some choices and decisions.

Anybody recognize this reference?
"You know what my grandfather says?"
"What?"
"Get back to work!"
That's what I'm saying to myself. So here I go!
Step 1: Write the climactic scene first. I have the outline, so I know which one.
Step 2: Write the mid-point scene.
Step 3: Write the final falling action / wrap-up scene.
Step 4: Make a note of all the bits I want to salt into the story earlier.
Step 5: Salt 'em in.
Step 6: Trim off the excess.

Yeah, that oughtta do 'er!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Are You Confused About Amazon's Review Guidelines?

A Facebook post from a writing colleague this week suggested that Amazon has again changed its review guidelines, and not necessarily for the better, depending on your viewpoint.

Back in 2015, reviewers (many of them authors) started noticing that their reviews were disappearing from Amazon’s pages. There were different reasons for this. One is that Amazon was trying to clamp down on phony reviews. Two of their strategies were to no longer allow paid reviews or for authors to exchange reviews. It wasn’t a bad idea, but with other Amazon attempts to fix things, this one went awry. Legitimate reviews were being taken down in droves. In fact, I know a few people who simply reposted them and there they stayed, to my knowledge.

I understand why Amazon’s never liked reviews written by the author’s close friends and family members. Based on this week’s comments, however, it’s become clear that Amazon started taking things a step further some time ago.

According to a blog by Michael Kozlowski, dating back to Nov. 2015, Amazon’s new review policies became even more restrictive. In fact, apparently, you can be removed simply by having an online connection with the author you’ve reviewed.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense to me. I have about 4,000 Twitter followers, most of whom are authors. I have another 800 or 900 on Goodreads. Again, 90% of them are people I don’t know and have never interacted with, but since we all love books, I thought why not friend them? It now seems that I could be penalized for this by having some of my 350+ reviews of books that belong to those “friends” deleted. As of today, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Amazon’s bots glom onto my Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads accounts.

What’s really confusing to me is that I pulled a copy of Amazon’s review guidelines and—call me blind—but I don’t see any reference to contacts through an online presence being a factor. So, are the opinions of other bloggers correct or not?

Perhaps at the end of the day, it won’t matter. I have no idea if my reviews are read as I don’t receive feedback. Given that I’ve kept electronic and print copies of every review, I can always post them on my website. So, if Amazon starts deleting my reviews, I may simply exit and rise again, unfettered. Come to think of it, I kind of like that idea.




Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why This Writer is Watching the Olympics

I’ve never been an athletic person. It’s something I made peace with a long time ago, but I do admire any athlete who excels at their sport, whether they win a medal or not. It’s always inspiring to see jaw-dropping performances and the athletes’ elation as they achieve what they’ve spent most of their lives (and probably a great dealing of money) training for.

As a writer, the drama, tension, and anticipation of unfolding events reminds me of a great action novel, where I keep turning the page to see what happens next. These days, I’m switching the TV on day and night for the same reason. Can anything be more suspenseful than watching the best in the world prepare for the 100 meter race?

Can there be anything more devastating than to watch unexpected crashes and injuries during events? I’ve been watching the Olympics for over forty years and I still hold my breath every time I see a gymnast start their balance beam routine.

The Olympics is filled with compelling stories that intersect with one another throughout the games. It’s emotional, political, sociological, and in this Olympics, very much environmental.


Am I going to give up some writing time to watch? You bet. It’s the best reality TV out there, and I never could resist a good story.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Purpose Vs. Point in Fiction

I used to be a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. I was totally enthralled with the first year, but not so much after the second, and even less so after the third. This had nothing to do with the gore and horror; after all, this is a zombie-focused survival story, so it comes with the territory. I also liked the characters and their backstories.

By the fourth season, I found the show increasing difficult to watch as more key characters were being picked off by zombies and others. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the change in the main characters as they learned to live with fear and loss, and sharpen their survival skills.

Clearly, the characters’ purpose was to stay alive, and there were plenty of internal and external conflicts providing huge obstacles to do so. So, why did I lose interest? Because I started to wonder what was the point of all this constant fighting and running away, only to settle somewhere else and have hopes dashed again?

Periodically, the series provided a glimmer of hope that there were safe places to go to, that someone competent and sane would be in charge and offer a safe haven, but efforts to find it inevitably failed, at least during the seasons I watched.

All of this got me to thinking about other stories, where the stakes are high, the conflict and tension immense, and the characters intriguing. Why did those stories work for me while this one didn’t? The answer is that there was always an end-game, a final success that would end the misery, leaving the hero triumphant, albeit physically and/or emotionally damaged.

Sure, some will argue that each storyline in The Walking Dead ends in triumph as Rick and company live to fight another day. But, I still say, why bother? During the years I watched, there wasn’t a cure on the horizon and adequate help was nonexistent.

I realize that everyone has their own definition of what a story’s point is. Why is something being written? What is the reader, or viewer, getting out of it? Is the satisfaction strong enough to keep watching?

My favorite genre is mysteries and they have been since I was a girl. I love that the bad guys get caught and that justice is served. For me this is emotionally satisfying. The story has a point as the protagonist struggles to find the killer and winds up triumphant.


Regardless of whether you’re writing scripts, novels, or nonfiction, make sure your stories have a point, or readers might not stick with you.