Sunday, April 23, 2017

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Nominees

Crime Writers of Canada announced this year’s slate of nominees for the Arthur Ellis Awards at events across the country. Established in 1984, the awards are named after the nom de travail of Canada’s official hangman. (Yes, our country once had one). The Arthur Ellis awards celebrate excellence in crime writing. Eligible books were published in 2016, with the exception of the Unhanged Author, which awards a prize to the year’s best unpublished novel. Good luck to all of the nominees:
Best Novel
Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press
Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Short Story
Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Book in French
Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions
Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire
Best Juvenile/YA Book
Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Norah McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books
Best Nonfiction Book
Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane
Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon
The winners will be announced at a Gala Awards Dinner in Toronto on May 25, 2017. For more information, check out Crime Writers of Canada’s website at www.crimewriterscanada.com




Friday, April 21, 2017

Who's Telling This Story, Anyway?

The other day, I was talking story with a writer friend, and we got onto subject of point of view.
Now, there are two kinds of point-of-view decisions. One is, do you tell the story from first person (I knocked down the door and strode through, a revolver blazing in each hand) or third person (HE knocked down the door). Occasionally, someone writes a book in second person (YOU knock down the door) -- second person is usually, though not always, written in the present tense.

The other kind -- and the kind we were talking about -- is narrative point-of-view, as in who tells the story, no matter what grammatical person you use.

I've had books I just couldn't get going. Pushing that pencil or those keys was like trying to push a chain uphill. Couldn't do it. When that happens to me, I know the story is trying to tell me something. Sometimes what it's trying to tell me is that I'm trying to tell the story from the wrong narrative point of view.

The foremost example is probably the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes is the main character, and has all the action and most of the best lines. Yet the stories are better, told from the point-of-view of his sidekick. We wouldn't be astonished at Holmes' brilliance, if we were inside his head and knew what he knows and followed his inferences and deductions all along.

If you have a book or a story you can't get moving, try writing a scene from the point of view of a different character. Maybe a character you thought was just a bit character needs to be more important. Maybe the whole book is actually about what you thought was a minor sub-plot.

Alice Friman, one of my favorite poets, said that everything you create is a thread that's attached to something in your subconscious. Sometimes what that thread attaches to isn't what you think it attaches to. Sometimes switching out plot lines and narrative characters can sort out what you really want to say, as opposed to what you thought you wanted to say.

It's worth a try!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Lazy Way to Publication

Over the years, I’ve been approached by a number of people who want me to write their story for them…and find a publisher, oh, and maybe an agent. The conversation always comes down to “You do it and we’ll split the royalties.” Honestly, I’m not sure I can hide the chagrin on my face anymore.

These people might have taken the occasional writing course or joined a critique group just long enough to sense how daunting writing a book can be, never mind selling and promoting it. Sometimes, the wannabe author is someone I’ve met socially, or while selling my books, or through a friend.

I call this the lazy way to getting published. Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing against someone wanting to hire a ghostwriter, and I often recommend reputable publishing services to others, but I would never take on the project myself. In fact, I’m highly suspicious of people who want to get from point A to Z without doing a shred of the leg work required, or who refuse to spend a single penny on a good editor, or writer, for that matter.

I’ve given workshops that outline the importance of having a social media presence, and offer simple how-to tips, only to have the occasional attendee say at the end, “I don’t really have to do all that, do I?” Of course not, provided they don’t want to sell any copies. My answer is a bit more diplomatic than that in person, but it amounts to the same thing. If you don’t invest in your idea without doing your homework and spending some dollars, then you won’t get far.

There’s a lot of nice people out there with great stories to tell, but it’s a slippery road to hell to commit your time and skill to someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to write, publish, and promote a book.





Sunday, April 02, 2017

One of the Worst Writing Tips I've Heard

One of the more common writing tips I’ve heard throughout the years is to make sure the protagonist in my books is likable. This is particularly applicable to female protagonists. The consensus was that if readers don’t like her, they’re going to put the book down. So, I’ve worked hard to create at least somewhat likable characters over the years, albeit still flawed.

I’ve come to realize, though, that likability is a matter of reader taste, and to some degree, genre. I write mysteries, which offers a diverse spectrum from light cozies to noir thrillers. Generally, (and of course there are exceptions) cozy readers prefer a likable protagonist who isn’t an alcoholic or drug user. Thriller fans prefer a protagonist who doesn’t spend her afternoons drinking tea with a cat on her lap.

I write amateur sleuth mysteries, which incorporates dark and light worlds, so it can be a bit of a risk, as I might not please either group. Still, I feel compelled to write books and create character that are meaningful to me. All readers bring their experiences, biases, and preferences to the table when it comes to books, and that’s fine. The truth is that no writer will please everyone.

As a writer and a reader, a likeable character isn’t as important to me as a compelling and complex character with a an obstacle to climb or a mission to accomplish. It can be small or global, but it has to matter to the protagonist.

I came across an interesting a piece in Bookriot a few days ago, called ‘100 Must-Read Books With Unlikable Women’. The author argues that female characters are given short shrift by being labeled annoying, among other things. They aren’t allowed the same leeway that male protagonists are, and receive more complaints from readers for their un-likability. Hmm. She might have something there.

I browsed the list to see if there were any mysteries and sure enough, I found Gone Girl and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. There were also quite a number of mainstream novels. I have to admit, I didn’t browse through the entire list, so I’m not sure if there are any fantasy or romance titles there.


But the author makes a good point: there are plenty of great novels featuring unlikable characters in terrific novels. Really, did you find Scarlett O’Hara likable? I sure didn’t, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. In fact, Scarlett’s unlikability was crucial to the story’s success. So go ahead, write unlikable female characters, despite what some of those writing instructors tell you. Just ensure that you’ve got a memorable, compelling story to tell.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editing by Computer or Pencil?

I read an interesting quote from P.J. O’Rourke, which was posted in the Passive Voice newsletter (it’s a great newsletter, by the way). The quote is:

Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory. - P. J. O’Rourke

I’m not sure I agree with O’Rourke’s opinion about pretentious sentences being kept rather than tossed. I spend far more time tweaking and deleting words on the computer than I would if I was still bashing novel chapters out on my typewriter, or writing in longhand. But I do agree with the essential point: writing and editing by computer is not the same as doing so with pencil and paper, or even a typewriter.

For many years, I wrote and rewrote short stories in longhand. It was cumbersome at times, but there was something about the impact of brain to hand to paper creativity that is different than clicking a keyboard.

I used pen and paper in the first place because my secretarial job required me to type correspondence, minutes of meetings, and tax returns, among other things. I therefore didn’t associate typing with creativity.

But as time progressed, I decided to experiment with first and subsequent drafts on the computer, to see if I could speed up the process. It took me years to complete my first three novels, so I had to do something.

I wrote and edited my 5th Casey Holland mystery primarily on the computer. For the final draft, I’ve been printing out chapters and bringing them to my day job. I arrive early, find a quiet place to work, away from my office, and reread everything carefully with pencil in hand. As I’d already completed four drafts, I thought I’d get through it quickly. Boy, was I wrong.

By the midway point, I found myself needing to make important changes. My pencil’s gotten a workout, and it’s been an invaluable lesson. For me, editing on computer is simply not the same as editing on paper. These days, I write and edit in longhand and on the keyboard. Both options are effective, yet neither provides a complete and thorough editing process.

The decision to print out each chapter and edit away from a computer was a spontaneous one. Who knew that it would turn out to be one of the best things I could have done for this book?




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overlooking the Obvious

The membership of the Southern Indiana Writers Group has changed over the twenty or so years we've been together. Some of us have been there the whole time. Others have left, and new members have joined. So, when I began the rewrite on the book formerly known as Eel's Reverence (first published as Eel's Revenge), I decided I couldn't do better than to take it and read it to the group, a chapter at a time.

I knew that the chances were good that the new members would catch things we missed in our earlier days. Sure enough, one of our long-time members caught something and one of our new members caught something else.

As the title implies, what we had all overlooked (chiefly, of course, me, since it's my little world) were obvious. Things that, once pointed out, made me slap my forehead and go, "Duh!"

The main character is a woman, a priest of Micah, a holy man of legend. The main conflict is between her and the priests of a section of coastline called The Eel, who are mercenary hypocrites. Her spiritual stance and behavior are central to the action. And what did I forget?

She's hidden by a family who had prepared a secret room, certain that a "true" priest would come to them, eventually. And I forgot to have them put an altar in the room.

Although she's always saying to others or thinking to herself about what a priest of Micah would do, she never has an inner dialog with Micah, the way Christians pray to God the Father, Jesus, Mary, or a saint. I could pretend I decided priests of Micah don't do that, but that would be a lie. I just left it out. Didn't think of it. Missed the obvious.

I know why I did it: I was thinking about other parts of the story construction. But that's what rewrites are for, and that's especially what getting new eyes on something is for: reminding us of the obvious things we overlooked in writing and editing and rewriting and revising and reworking. And I still missed the obvious!

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Avoiding Burnout

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed occurred over recent months, one that has been mentioned on a number of different blogs. Bloggers have discovered that a number of familiar names in indie publishing are no longer around. Frequent posts to favorite networking sites have disappeared, there's no newly published books, and websites haven’t been updated in some time.

Some believe that the huge number of books now being published annually (I hear that it’s two million or more) has so glutted the market that many authors aren’t selling nearly as many books as they did between 2010 and 2015. Substantial royalties have therefore diminished, forcing some to return to day jobs. Still, others seem to have given up. Keep in mind that a small percentage of authors, particularly in the romance and erotica markets, are still making good incomes.

Another theory also factors in here. Burnout. On indie sites like Kindleboards, authors were touting the necessity of putting out a book every three months to stay visible and on top of Amazon’s mysterious algorithm. To me, this is akin to investing in stocks you don’t know much about, but hoping they’ll rise in your favor anyway. A number of authors have tried to do this with varying degrees of success. As those who follow my blogs know, I’ve tried to step up my pace, but it’s truly difficult.

So, I was really interested by a recent blog that discussed burnout…what it really is, and how to overcome it. Author BelleCooper identifies burnout as a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It seems that burnout is not just a matter of overworking, but of losing enthusiasm for what you’re doing to the point where you become inefficient and unproductive. I’ve seen evidence of this in my own life, so I’ve been taking steps to avoid complete burnout.

First, I put four of the six writing projects away to focus on just two. Secondly, I’m improving my diet, getting more rest when needed, and exercising more. Third, I’m adjusting my life/work balance by spending more time with friends, planning, weekend getaways, and even a couple of vacations over the next twelve months. A rarity for me!


It’s already helping. There’s more I can do, and Cooper has other great tips. If you feel like you’re working too hard and are becoming jaded by the lack of reward for your efforts, then please read her blog. Maybe it will help.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Dead Man Floating and Other Novella Stuff

As some of you know, I began writing mystery novellas a while back, and was delighted when Imajin Books published my first Evan Dunstan mystery, Dead Man Floating, in September, 2015. To that end, my book is currently on sale for 50% off on Smashwords this week until Mar. 11). You can use the code, RAE50, and find the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/573302

I had hoped to finish the second installment last year, but real life responsibilities got in the way. I’m now working on the final edit and will submit the manuscript to Imajin next month.

The second novella has a Christmas theme, and Evan’s feisty, eccentric grandmother plays a key role in what is tentatively titled Crafty Killer. Since the setting takes place at a seniors’ Christmas craft fair, the title fits, but I’m never completely sure until I see it on the jacket cover.

I’m also working on the third installment, which has no title right now, but it’s a ghost story set at the post-secondary campus where Evan works as a security guard. The story’s inspired by my real life work in campus security, where rumors of hauntings in some of the older buildings circulated now and then. I never saw anything, but I didn't work graveyard shifts, and that’s when the real ghost action happened, or so I was told.

I didn’t set out to use holiday themes for this series, but it’s worked out that way. Whether I’ll do the same for the fourth book Is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned!




Sunday, February 26, 2017

After a Nine-Year Absence, I’m Self-Publishing Again

It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since I released my second Alex Bellamy mystery, Fatal Encryption in 2008. The book first appeared in paperback, then a couple of years later in ebook format.

After that, I landed a contract with traditional publisher, TouchWood Editions, who released four of my Casey Holland mysteries. Working with TouchWood was an interesting, eye-opening experience and, although they helped me in many ways, we’ve now parted amicably. I’m now ready to publish the fifth Casey mystery, Knock Knock, myself.

It’s really interesting to compare how my self-publishing experience has changed from 2008 to 2017. First, what’s stayed the same? Hiring a good editor and jacket designer, for one thing. In my last post, I discussed my dilemma about choosing an image for the jacket cover. I’ve now found an experienced jacket designer, whose work and price I like, and who was recommended to me by a colleague. At the moment, I’m in the process of completing a detailed questionnaire about the book to give their designers a clear idea of what’s been done, and what should be done.

I’ll plan some sort of launch as I did with Fatal Encryption. I have a venue in mind for a possible fall release, but details needs to be ironed out. I’ll tell you what else stays the same…preparing a detailed, to-do list that includes acquiring an ISBN, preparing front and back matter, and the crucially important back cover blurb.

So, what’s changed? Again, based on the recommendation of several colleagues, I’ll be publishing through CreateSpace this time instead of a local printing service, and ordering far fewer copies at a time than I did with Fatal Encryption.

Although, I’ll be seeking review requests, as I did last time, back in 2008, I spent a small fortune mailing copies of what was a fairly large book to interested reviewers. This time, I’ll send PDFs; reviewers seem to prefer them anyway.

My marketing plan will also be different, but we’ll get to that in later posts. Meanwhile, I need to finish the final edit before handing it over to my editor next month. Production is underway! It’s an exciting time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When Characters Won't Behave

Some writers feel that their characters are autonomous; they speak and act on their own, and the author just follows them around and writes things down.

I'm not one of them.

Yes, your characters have to seem to be autonomous. Your characters have to seem to speak and act spontaneously, out of their own inner realities. But I see myself as more of a director than a biographer.

If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character -- in my imagination, now, they don't actually speak to me; I may be odd, but I'm not a practitioner of alternate sanity .... I lost my place. Oh, yeah: If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character is all like, "I just don't feel that. What's my motivation?" then I'm all like, "Fair enough. Let's talk about that."

See, I don't like pushy characters (with the obvious exception of Bud Blossom), but I don't like sock puppets, either: characters who obviously speak and act at the writer's will. You know the kind where you go, "I can see why the author wanted her to steal the secret code and plans, but I don't understand why she wanted to."

So, when characters don't want to say or do what you want them to, you have choices:
  • Give 'em their heads and see where they take you
  • Get out the cattle prod and herd 'em back in line
  • Sit down with 'em and yak around until you come up with reasons that make sense in their contexts
  • Get all evil wit' it and plant false memories so they believe they have motive.
.
By which I actually mean, tweak their backstory. That's one reason I like to leave backstory a bit vague, so I can fill it in as I need it. Also lazy.

CHARACTER: "But I'm not afraid of dogs! I love dogs!"

ME: "You don't love ... um ... red dogs. Yeah, see this dog is red. 'Member when that red dog knocked you down and bit you on the chin when you were two?"

CHARACTER: "...No, I don't."

ME: "Blocked it out. That's how traumatic it was."

CHARACTER: "Oh, yeah. Big red dogs. I always cried when the teacher read a CLIFFORD book."

ME: "Right. Right. So sad. Poor baby. Ready for the scene, now?"

Some writers work out the backstory, characters, and plotlines ahead of time, so they don't run into this sort of thing. Me, that much planning doesn't work for. Neither does just going with the flow. Not a plotter, not a pantser, I call myself a panther. I outline enough to get me through the story, but leave things loosey-goosey enough that, if something more interesting than what I have planned comes along, I can pounce on it like a hungry panther.

Oh, and Bud? It's the cattle prod and the cow dogs for Bud. YES, I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU AGAIN. YOU ALWAYS MANAGE, DON'T YOU?

~sigh~ It isn't easy being me.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Book Cover Dilemma

I was in the mall this week, looking at all the winter clearance sale racks. It’s something I don’t do often, mainly because the many choices in department stores make my head spin. I’m better suited to the smaller boutiques, where there are maybe 40 racks instead of 90.

I’m discovering that the same is true when it comes to choosing a suitable book jacket image for my fifth Casey Holland mystery, and this is causing me a great dilemma. Even by using key words, there are thousands upon thousands of images to go through.

I remember doing this when I chose the cover for Fatal Encryption back in 2008, and it took a long time. But I was very clear about the image I wanted, a decision I don’t regret to this day. The cover for this book is a little more complicated, which adds to my dilemma.

Knock Knock is a story about a group of vicious home invasions that have been targeting seniors, many of whom also ride a particular Vancouver bus. Since my protagonist is a transit security officer for a bus company called Mainland, Public Transport, each cover has a bus related theme on the cover. They were designed by the in-house designer of my former publisher.

This time, a large part of the story takes place in residences. Thus, the second dilemma. Searching under the categories of mystery, home invasion, homes, and buses has presented some interesting images, and the choices are beginning to make my head spin.

To save costs and time, I was hoping to choose an image before I hire a jacket designer, but I’m now wondering if I should simply leave it to the expert.

Incidentally, I’m also intending to produce a Casey novella this year, the title of which is Man in a Gold Satin Thong. Really, the cover’s a no-brainer for that one, don’t you think?

If anyone has any suggestions to assist me in my search, please let me know! Thanks!




Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Deep End 2nd Edition Released!

At last, my fourth Casey Holland mystery, The Deep End, has been reissued in ebook format! This means that I’m finally caught up on reissuing previously published books and can now look forward to releasing new titles. The 5th Casey installment, Knock Knock will appear later in 2017, along with a brand new Casey Holland novella!

The Deep End is available at:


I also have a couple of local gift stores selling the paperback version, which you can find on the homepage of my website.

Here’s the blurb:

Transit security officer Casey Holland is surrounded by troublesome teens—her thirteen-year-old ward is dating a manipulative boy, a group of juvenile shoplifters attack her on the job, and during her first volunteer shift at a youth custody center, she is shocked to find a friend’s grandson, Justin, inside.

Shock turns to horror when the facility’s director suffers a fatal heart attack in front of her. A second death and rumors of illegal activity at the correctional facility make Casey wonder whether Justin is partly responsible or potentially in danger. As Casey fights to protect her ward, her friends, and the youths at the center, escalating violence threatens to change her life forever. Who will live and who will die?

The Deep End, the fourth installment of the Casey Holland mystery series, will have you compulsively turning its pages until the explosive conclusion.

Praise for Casey Holland mysteries:

The National Post - “Kong’s writing is no-nonsense at best . . . the end result is a mystery that fits the bill.”

The Hamilton Spectator -  “A good read with urban grit and a spicy climax.”

Quill & Quire - “The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.”

Crime Writers of Canada - “Purdy Kong keeps the action fast and furious . . . Casey is a perfect heroine for our times, a combination of thought and action.” – Lou Allin

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Latest Publishing Stats Released

I read a lot of blogs on the state of state of publishing. I have to tell you that the contradicting information and opinions about whether ebook sales are waning and print resurging is enough to make one’s head spin. If I want real data, though, I go to the folks from AuthorEarnings (AE) who gather incredible amounts of data to provide a snapshot of the publishing scene. Recently, they produced an incredibly detailed report on the state of publishing in 2016. It’s long, but has been prepared in easy-to-read graphics. It would take far too long to list every highlight, so browse at your leisure HERE.

So, are ebook sales dropping? AE’s short answer is no. In fact, their data shows that they increased by 4% in 2016 over 2015. Also, print sales among traditionally published books actually dropped through venue retail venues, chain bookstores, and Barnes and Noble in 2016. What did increase was sales from Amazon’s own print publications.

AE says that in 2015, “agency” contracts eliminated retailers from discounting ebooks from large traditional publishers, so Amazon raised discounts on their print books instead. Thus, the surge in sales. Apparently, Amazon has cut back on the discounts in 2017, which is already showing a cooling off of print sales.

Now, for non-traditional book sales, here’s surprising info: 43% of all ebook sales are going to books without ISBN numbers. And it’s not just self-publishing authors who are skipping the ISBN, but small traditional publishers as well.

Back in the day when I first started publishing, an ISBN number was essential. You couldn’t sell anywhere without one on the back cover. Things have clearly changed, which has also skewed the sales/publishing data of those who rely solely on books with ISBNs for their stats. In other words, there is a whole world of ebooks being sold outside the conventional means, and AE is one of the few who are paying attention to that.

You likely won’t be surprised to learn that romance and thriller/suspense novels still sell the most ebooks through both traditional and non-traditional means. My genre, mystery, is also fairly popular, along with fantasy, science fiction, and general fiction. A detailed, somewhat more complex look is spelled out in their report.

There’s much more in AE’s report, and it’s important for any writer who cares about where and how their books are likely to sell in the near future. As I’ve mentioned many times, consumer buying habits are changing, price matters, and, in my opinion, it’s still a good idea to work with Amazon than against them, at least for now…




Sunday, January 22, 2017

How Many Books Can You Write In A Lifetime?

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but these days I’m overwhelmed with the reality that I’ve been juggling six different writing projects, including four novels and two novellas, for some time. Actually, one of them I haven’t worked on at all this year, but that needs to change.

There are different ways to look at this. One is that I’m a professional writer. I write, publish, and sell novels, and am paid through royalties and direct sales. For me, working on more than one book at a time is how I continue to be a professional. The other upside is that pretty much all of 2016 was spent writing new work, which isn’t something I can say every year. In hindsight, it was a pretty awesome experience.

But the downside? Well, given that I also have a 5-day-a-week part-time admin job, a mother with dementia who needs more attention, and a 2,500 sq. ft. home that requires cleaning now and then, it all becomes a bit much at times. On these short, dark, damp winter days, I feel my energy and my spirits wane, especially after one of my regular bouts of interrupted sleep.

After weighing the pros and cons, it comes down to two things: I still love writing, and I can choose to stop anytime. I created this life. I can also dismantle it. These are my choices, and on those overwhelming days I find myself wondering about the latter.

It was invigorating, therefore, to come across a blog this week on Quartz Media, about how Isaac Asimov, author of nearly 500 books, wrote so much, and yet struggled with some of the same issues that plague me. It was good to know that I’ve already been using some of his strategies, like working on several works in progress.

The piece of advice that resonates with me most is Beware the Resistance (part of this means being paralyzed by persistent insecurities about one’s writing). For me, editing a book to a satisfactory, publishable state is challenging. Maybe I should adopt one of Asimov’s other strategies, which is to not strive for perfectionism.


In Asimov’s world, taking on six writing projects is normal and necessary. So, maybe I’m on the right track after all. I just have to keep figuring out ways to play down the negative self-talk and stay focused on completing some of these projects. This year, the plan is to publish two books. We’ll see how it goes.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Story Arcs


At the critique group meeting the other day, we were talking about story arcs. In case you haven't heard of them, they're pretty much what they sound like: the arcs of stories.

Story arcs are traditionally shown like this:
Not very helpful. Better ones break that up into sections, like First major conflict, Decision to act, Frustration of hopes, Change in direction, and so on. That can be helpful, although I find it more helpful in shaping the story after I've written the first messy blob of it. Most stories aren't really like that, though. Most stories are more like this.
Yes, here I go again. Although the story, itself, has an arc, each character in the story has a story arc.
Connie Willis is a mistress of this. Mom and I just finished reading the Black Out / All Clear set, and it illustrates the point perfectly.

Each character has a goal, then a revised goal, then another revised goal, constantly changing as circumstances change, plans are frustrated, and/or understanding of the situation alters. EACH ONE has a different story arc. Sometimes their arcs intersect; sometimes they run parallel, in cooperation or opposition.

"There are all sorts of things going on behind the scenes," one of them says, speaking of people they can't directly interact with who are aware of their difficulties and are doing everything they can to send help. Those people have story arcs. The reader may not be privy to them, but they have arcs, and they need to make sense.

As the book(s) progress(es), the arcs interweave until THE END, when it's clear that all that mish-mash was one big story arc, after all.

(By "dead guys," I mean backstory: sometimes, something that happened before the story begins has a presence in the story. Marley, as Mr. Dickens puts it so well, was dead, to begin with.)

All those arcs could also represent the main plot, the secondary plot, the minor plot, the running gag, some of which may belong to the main character, some may belong to secondary or minor characters, some may belong to an animal.

You know what I'm talking about: On any given episode of Boston Legal, for instance, there were always two trials going, each with its own story arc, usually at least one relationship story, and one or two running gags that had some kind of closure by the end of the episode, as well as a piece of at least one arc that continued over several episodes.

But how do you track that, when you're writing?

yWriter5 has a character timelines function, like index cards, but index cards work just fine. I love index cards, me. You can write each character in a different color, or get different colors of index cards, or just put a distinctive mark on the corner for each character.

Write out the elements of that character's arc on cards (one for A meets Q, one for A gets job at L's firm, one for A overhears L and B discuss murder). Write out the elements of each character's arc. Then you can arrange them in the context of the overall story arc, to see where it makes sense for each element to take place in relation to everybody else's elements.

Word to the wise: vacuum the floor first; you're gonna needa lotta room, for the cards and for dancing in frustration as you work it all out.

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

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Beneath the Bleak New Moon 2nd Edition Released!

I’m happy to announce that my third Casey Holland mystery, Beneath the Bleak New Moon has finally been reissued in ebook format!

I had plan to release this title back in November, but you know what they say about real life interfering with the best laid plans…However, after Christmas I caught up and am now working on the fourth installment, which should be released later this month.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon is available at:


I also have a couple of local gift stores selling the paperback version, which you can find on the homepage of my website, or you can contact me if you wish a signed copy.

Here’s the blurb:

The unthinkable happens while transit security officer, Casey Holland, is dealing with an unruly pair of teenage twin girls on the M7 bus. Young journalist, Danielle Carpenter, is determined to identify the racers and asks for Casey’s help.

But helping Danielle isn’t easy. She’s not only reckless but on a personal vendetta. When Danielle goes missing and a suspected racer is murdered, Casey is compelled to step up the search for answers.

The third installment in the Casey Holland Mysteries, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, is a wild ride that will hold you in suspense until the end.

Praise for Casey Holland mysteries:

The National Post - “Kong’s writing is no-nonsense at best . . . the end result is a mystery that fits the bill.”

The Hamilton Spectator -  “A good read with urban grit and a spicy climax.”

Quill & Quire - “The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.”

Crime Writers of Canada - “Purdy Kong keeps the action fast and furious . . . Casey is a perfect heroine for our times, a combination of thought and action.” – Lou Allin


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

As I’ve written in the past, I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, but I do have goals. To me, a resolution and a goal aren’t quite the same thing. Resolutions involve one or two firm decisions to make a change or improvement no matter what. Goals are less stringent and don’t necessarily mean making a big change, but rather tweaking things here and there.

In a way, it’s also an odd contradiction for me. Looking back on my year-in-review this time last year, my plan was to cut back for 2016, as I’d taken on too much in the two previous years. And I did cutback. I gave fewer workshops, which required a fair bit of prep time, and reduced the amount the number of blogs I wrote.

Although I didn’t publish any new work this year, 2016 was still a year for goal achieving. I finally obtained my rights back to my Casey Holland novels and reissued five of six novels in multiple ebook platforms. This project is nearly complete, as I work on the last Casey novel now.

I’ve also been working on five different writing projects: two novellas and three novels. One of them is a fantasy which has been new and interesting challenge. It’s something I’d put off for years, but started last January. Now, I’m almost finished the first draft.

Despite the cutbacks on workshops, I still participated in 18 writing-related events this year; many of which were bookselling opportunities at a wide variety of locales. Have you ever sold books at a winery? It’s great fun. You get to drink, your customers drink, and everyone is friendly and chatty.

While book sales chugged along, I also managed to read and review 47 books, and write about the same number of blogs. So, will I cutback a little more this year? Perhaps. I’m still doing my part-time day job and enjoying it. My mother’s dementia becomes an increasing challenge for our family, but that’s life. In 2017, I also hope to publish another Casey Holland mystery and one novella.

If had to make a resolution for 2017, it would be to continue to do my best with whatever time, energy, and skill I have. We’ll see how it goes a year from now. Meanwhile, I wish all of you a creative, productive, and healthy new year!