Sunday, February 28, 2016

Authors Revered, Authors Reviled, and Lessons Learned

Writing a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, is a combination of commitment, ambition, knowledge, skill, and creativity. Publishing that book is an act of courage, of nerve and probably idealistic naiveté, at least for the first few books. Then we start to figure it out.

This week, one of my favorite authors of all time passed away, the reclusive Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired a love of reading and writing that hasn’t dwindled over time.

Also this week, one of the most despicable human beings to come out of Canada, (yes, we do have them) also published a book. Notorious serial killer Robert Pickton apparently wrote a book from his prison cell, managed to get the manuscript smuggled out of Kent Institution (a maximum security prison), find a Colorado publisher, and another individual put his name on the cover. I won’t mention the title, but I will say that this pathetic excuse for a human being lived not far from where I live and the feelings about his making money from his crimes have upset a lot of people. So much so that Amazon pulled it down after one day. As the CBC article notes, Pickton wasn’t the first Canadian criminal to write a book.

There are other examples of reviled writers. I read an article this week about Salman Rushie whose book The Satanic Verses still incenses followers of Islam so much that, 27 years after the book’s release, there is a renewed call for his assassination. A Guardian article reports that people have already died or faced serious attacks because of that book.

And remember James Frey of A Million Little Pieces, fame who was subjected to public humiliation by Oprah Winfrey’s TV after confessed that his memoir was mostly made up?

At some point in their writing lives, many authors need to deal with ethical and censorship issues. Certainly, all published writers have to face the ramifications, good or bad, of making their books public. I don’t want to get into lengthy debates about these things in this blog, but I do find myself thinking about them, about when it’s okay to publish something controversial and when it is wrong. How far do we go to defend freedom of speech? When do we draw a line in the sand and say enough already…you can’t publish this or that because of what you’re saying or who you are.

I never believed in book banning or censorship, but this week I’ve realized that I’m drawing my own lines in the sand, and that I’ve been self-censoring for some time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the people mentioned above is that publication means that somewhere out there, someone will read your work and that they’ll love it or hate it, or misinterpret it, or misunderstand it, and might even raise a how-dare-you uproar. Like I said, publishing takes courage and nerve. Personally, I also think that it should require some common sense. What do you think?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Do Ambition and Creativity Decline With Age?

I am of an age where many friends and colleagues have, or are close to retiring, from their day jobs. They’re also pondering downsizing their homes or undergoing some other major life transition. This has created interesting and insightful conversations in my life. It’s also raised some poignant issues for me as a writer.

For over fifteen years, my goal was to write and publish five novels. I achieved this in 2013, then went onto publish a sixth novel in 2014, plus a novella in 2015. As someone who’s been writing for 35 years, I still have goals and dreams, but they don’t involve writing a bunch more novels. The truth is, I don’t have a number in mind because I’ve been asking myself how many more years I want to spend tackling full-length books? I’ve been wondering if it would be simpler, not to mention easier, to stick with novellas, short fiction, blogging, and book reviewing. I’ve been wondering if my creativity is slowly diminishing, and along with it my ambition.

I happened to come across a piece in ScientificAmerican that discusses the issue of creative peaks and whether we lose our creative productivity as we age. You can read the piece for more details (it’s not long) but the bottom line is that studies show that an aging brain does not necessarily cause a creative decline. Having said that, there are other factors that do cause creative peaks and declines in one’s life, depending on the type of creative pursuit and the age at which one started. If you think about it, though, there are plenty of creative folks whose best work occurred well into their 60’s and 70’s.

Although ambition is related to creative output for writers, and presumably other creative occupations, it is a different topic. It’s also part of those conversations I’ve had. Many colleagues who’ve published at least one book, no longer feel a burning desire to publish more. Sure, many of them do, but the question often becomes, now what?

It’s a good question. I’ve asked myself that a few times, and the answer is to keep writing because this is what I still love to do after all these years. Writing has kept me grounded, helped me through tough times, given me a purpose, enormous challenges, a reasonably sharp brain, and introduced me to lots of terrific people. So, is my ambition and creative output declining? Truthfully, it’s always come and gone in waves. The unambitious phases may grow longer, but one way or another, my writing will continue. It feels right, like how it was supposed to be, how it was meant to be.

What's in YOUR Character's Wallet?

Or purse, or reticule, or pocket.

You know how the cops on cop shows go through the corpse’s pockets and find Clues? You can do that with your characters. Not just, you know, the dead ones. Or the undead ones, depending on what you write.

This is a great exercise, especially if you’ve been drinking are with a fellow writer who has read your stuff and whose stuff you’ve read; you can tell one another what you think is in the other’s characters’ wallets. You can challenge one another, like, “Okay, what’s in Heathcliff’s wallet?”

I mean, think about what’s in YOUR wallet. Better yet, go through your wallet and SEE what’s in there. Mine has credit card, debit card, driver’s license, rewards cards for hotels and stores, a picture of my mother when she was pregnant with me that was given to me by my husband’s oldest sister who was friends with her back then, the address and phone number of my pal Pat, postage stamps, photos of relatives, a picture of Dennis Kucinich, a photo of a mom and kid I don’t know but found discarded and felt sorry for….

In my purse, now, I have So. Many. Things.

If you’re stuck on a characterization or a plot point, try this exercise, and see if it shakes something loose. It might not bring up anything you want to use, but it might get those juices flowing again, or it might inspire a character twist or depth you hadn’t thought of before.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Introducing Guest Blogger, Luke Murphy

I’m delighted to introduce guest blogger, Luke Murphy, international bestselling author of Dead Man’s Hand (Imajin Books, 2012). Luke played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. His sports column, “Overtime” (Pontiac Equity), was nominated for the 2007 Best Sports Page in Quebec, and won the award in 2009. He has also worked as a radio journalist (CHIPFM 101.7). He lives in Shawville, QC with his wife, three daughters and pug. He is a teacher who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Education (Magna Cum Laude)!

Today, Luke’s blog is Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist. Enjoy!

From a family of avid readers, even as a child, I always had a passion for books. Whether it was reading novels on road trips or writing assignments in school, literature was always part of my life.

In the winter of 2000, after sustaining a season ending eye injury while playing professional hockey in Oklahoma City, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, and a new hobby emerged.

I didn’t write with the intention of being published. I wrote for the love of writing, as a hobby. I continued to hobby write through the years, honing my craft, making time between work and family obligations.

Then I made a decision to take my interest one step further. I’ve never been one to take things lightly or jump in half way. I took a full year off from writing to study the craft.

I constantly read, from novels in my favorite genres to books written by experts in the writing field. My first two purchases were “Stein on Writing”, a book written by successful editor Sol Stein, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King.

I read through these novels and highlighted important answers to my questions. My major breakthrough from Stein’s book was to “Show don’t Tell”. I had to trust my readers. I even wrote that phrase on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor.

The Self-Editing book helped me learn how to cut the FAT off my manuscript, eliminating unnecessary details, making it more lean and crisp, with a better flow. I learned to cut repetition and remain consistent throughout the novel.

I continually researched the internet, reading up on the industry and process “What is selling?” and “Who is buying?” were my two major questions.

I attended the “Bloody Words” writing conference in Ottawa, Canada, rubbing elbows with other writers, editors, agents and publishers. I made friends (published and unpublished authors), bombarding them with questions, learning what it took to become successful.

Feeling that I was finally prepared, in the winter of 2007, with an idea in mind and an outline on paper, I started to write DEAD MAN`S HAND. It took me two years (working around full time jobs) to complete the first draft of my novel.

The first person to read my completed manuscript was my former high school English teacher. With her experience and wisdom, she gave me some very helpful advice. I then hired McCarthy Creative Services to help edit DEAD MAN’S HAND, to make it the best possible novel.

I joined a critique group, teaming up with published authors Nadine Doolittle and Kathy Leveille, and exchanging manuscripts and information. Working with an editor and other authors was very rewarding and not only made my novel better, but made me a better writer.

When I was ready, I researched agents who fit my criteria (successful, worked with my genres, etc.) and sent out query letters. After six months of rejections, I pulled my manuscript back and worked on it again. Then in my next round of proposals, I was offered representation by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

After months of editing with Jennifer, and more rejections from publishers, my dream was finally realized in April, 2012, when I signed a publishing contract with Imajin Books.

Note that Luke’s Book, Dead Man’s Hand will be free from Feb. 13 – 17th!

You can find it at:

Review Blurbs for Dead Man’s Hand

"You may want to give it the whole night, just to see how it turns out."
—William Martin, New York Times bestselling author of Back Bay and The Lincoln Letter

"Dead Man's Hand is a pleasure, a debut novel that doesn't read like one,
but still presents original characters and a fresh new voice."
—Thomas Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Poison Flower

"Part police procedural, part crime fiction, Dead Man's Hand is a fast, gritty ride."
—Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Hush

Review Blurbs for Kiss & Tell

“Luke Murphy scores big with this deep psychological thriller. Just when you think you've got things pegged, Murphy serves up another twist. Fast paced and fun, you won't want to put this book down.”  —Tim Green, New York Times bestselling author of Unstoppable

“An intricately detailed and clever mystery featuring a tough minded but vulnerable protagonist with more than a few demons of her own. The twists and turns kept me guessing to the very end.”
—Christy Reece, New York Times bestselling author of Nothing To Lose

“Luke Murphy’s novel, Kiss & Tell, has lots of twists and turns, and police procedures where the good guy, in this case, Charlene Taylor, is not always good. The characters come to life with suspense, drama, explosive action, and an ending you never see coming.”
 —John Foxjohn, USA Today Best-selling author of Killer Nurse

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Question of Book Promotion Sites

I’ve been reading blogs lately about the viability of paying to list, or place an ad, on book promotion sites. I’ve also talked with several authors who’ve taken part in some sites. While the info coming in is anecdotal at best, there is a common pattern, which is that the sites aren’t as effective as they used to be. Here’s just one example of the same story I’ve been hearing:

Author Melinda Clayton posted a detailed compilation of her promotion results over a two-year period and, like her colleagues, found that they weren’t as useful. She concluded that it’s not a good idea to promote a book more than two or three times on a single site. She also doesn’t believe that the glut of books is the sole reason for diminishing returns, but also attrition. Apparently, a number of these sites are merging or being purchased by publishers like Random House to showcase their own authors.

It’s interesting that, again generally speaking, the most profitable book promotion site for authors, BookBub, is also the most difficult to be accepted into. It’s also hugely expensive to join that elite club. I took a look at their price page and nearly gagged. If I wanted to list one of my cozy mysteries for free, I would have to pay $460. If I wanted to sell it at below $1.00, the fee would jump to $920, and if I wanted to sell my book between $1.00 and $2.00, I’d have to pay $1,600! They say that the average discounted sales on this type of book is 3,620. In other words, if I put my book out there at $1.99 and sold 3,000 copies, I’d make $5,970. Hmm, but is that really true? Numerous authors have reported that BookBub isn’t as effective as it used to be, although it  appears to be still profitable. If you’re thinking of investing that kind of cash, it’s a good idea to carry out your own research specific to your genre.

You can see, though, why that some authors are starting to feel that book promotion sites are the newest parasites in the long list of services designed to take your money without giving back a whole lot in return. And these authors have a point. Some of the sites merely take your money and list your book. Are they actively promoting their lists through social media? Are they targeting specific genres to fans of that genre? Are they living up to the claims that they make?

At this point, I’ve only experimented with three smaller sites for my novella, Dead Man Floating. As it turns out, not all book promotion sites accept novellas, which is another challenge. Whether I sold anything or not will become clear in the royalty statement from my publisher next month. At this point, I’m not even sure which sites I should pursue, if any, given the increasingly challenging odds. If anyone has insightful information to share, I’d love to hear your experiences.