Sunday, September 27, 2009

Word on the Street - Vancouver

Today, I was at the Word on the Street Fair, in Vancouver. This day-long celebration of reading and writing was born in Toronto over twenty years ago, but has since expanded to other Canadian cities. Each year, all cities hold the event on the same day.

This was my sixth year at the fair and I never grow tired of it. This event is not just about selling books—although that’s a bonus—it’s about meeting friends, new and old, and discussing books, conventions, writers, and publishers, and all other writing-related things. It’s about sharing the love of reading with strangers.

The fair hasn’t changed much over the years and still has plenty to offer everyone: kids’ tents, a tent for poets to read aloud, and two more for novelists and nonfiction writers. One thing I’ve noticed since first attending in 1996 was the growth of graphic novels and comic books. I don’t remember them being much of a presence back then, but these writers now fill one very large room.

Technology has also changed the event a little. This year, Margaret Atwood was reading live from Toronto, yet Vancouver fans could participate in a question and answer session. They also could have their copies of her latest, The Year of the Flood, signed by Atwood using LongPen technology.

It was good to see colleagues again. Many of them travelled a fair distance to get there, but I think all would agree it was worth it. We sold some books, promoted Crime Writers of Canada (you do know there is such an organization don’t you?) caught up on each others’ lives, and exchanged smiles with tons of people on a gorgeous sunny day. What more could one ask for?

To read excerpts of Fatal Encryption and Taxed to Death, visit

Fatal Encryption is available through at and Taxed to Death can be found at

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What James Patterson's Up To and What I'm Up To

Not long ago, I wrote a blog about why I’m not prolific, but James Patterson sure is. The man has written, or co-written, over forty bestsellers. Recently, he signed a contract to write 17 more thrillers (11 adult and 6 for young people) by the end of 2012, for an undisclosed sum. Probably in the millions. I’m guessing he doesn’t do the housework, grocery shopping, and laundry at his place.

Meanwhile, the rest of us plug along as best we can. This week, I received one of the most thoughtful and in-depth reviews of Fatal Encryption I’ve ever had. I don’t know the reviewer personally, but she and I happen to be on the same forum, and I asked her if she’d review my book, and she agreed. Anyhow, the review by Fran Lewis is at

Also, I might have mentioned that I was featured on a blog by The Park Avenue Princess. She offered a giveaway of Fatal Encryption, which ended September 17th. The Princess reported that she had a great number of hits and the winner was very excited to have won a copy of the book. The contest went so well that she’ll be featuring me again, this time with respect to my first Alex Bellamy novel, Taxed to Death. I’m busy preparing something for this feature and will let you know when the contest is underway.

Lastly, I’m very honoured to be a future guest on author Lorna Suzuki’s blog. She’s given me quite a few questions to answer, so I’m busy working on those too. Her blog should be posted by the end of September, but I’ll announce the exact date later.

Thanks to all of those who participated in the giveaway. I really do appreciate it.


Do Blog Tours Live Up To the Hype?

Daughter Am I, my latest novel, will soon to be released by Second Wind Pubishing, so I have to start planning a blog tour if I’m going to do one. I hear so much about how great they are — mostly from the major publishers who don’t want to spend the money to send their authors on an unvirtual tour — that I wonder if blog tours do anything for an unknown author. I know the most popular book blogs do help get the word out, but if one can’t get a guest spot on those blogs, is it still worth doing a tour? And is there any real difference between doing a formal tour and doing guest spots on a few blogs?

In case I decide that a blog tour is worth all the work, would you be willing to be a host?

Daughter Am I is a young woman/old gangsters coming of age tale that is being sold as mainstream, though it could just as easily be classified as a mystery.

When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents—grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born—she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians—former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


While most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released another thriller -- Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack -- each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus BarnhilL
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with for a review right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Makes a Good Writer Great?

Because I love to read, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to review books. Over the past two years, I’ve read everything from bestselling authors to self-published authors who’ve released their first books.

What’s especially jumped out at me lately is the amazing variety of stories. So many new, unknown writers have great yarns with intriguing and unusual premises, yet there’s a little something missing in the writing. Something that doesn’t put these people in the league of an Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, or Doris Lessing, for instance.

I can’t give a simple reason for this. To say that some writers just lack talent or experience seems too simplistic, although there might be a grain of true in that for some. But when you read a book that makes you think “wow, what an amazing writer, what exactly do you mean?

For me, great writing is a combination of things, but mainly I find it in the strength and distinctiveness of the writer’s voice. That tone, essence, and dazzling choice of words paragraph after paragraph, page after page, is what does it for me. Having said that, I’m not sure I have a handle on all the other factors, so I’d love to hear which authors you think are great and why.

A lot of people say you can teach people to write. I think this is true and I think you can even teach people to write well enough to sell their work and earn recognition. But can you teach someone to be a truly great writer? Will they be great if they practice enough? Learn enough? Read enough? Or is it a matter of some have it, and some don’t?

Characters Butting Heads

When I wrote the first draft of my novel More Deaths Than One (and the second draft and the third) I had the hero Bob meandering around his world trying to unravel his past all by himself, and it was boring. Did I say boring? It was moribund. The story went nowhere because there was no one for Bob to butt heads with.

As an aside: this is my current metaphor for a good story — characters butting heads with each other and spinning off in new directions. Too many authors today have their characters butting heads, moving straight back and butting heads again. If the characters don’t ricochet off into a different direction each time, you have characters that don’t change and hence you have a static story.

In the fourth draft of More Deaths Than One, I gave Bob a love interest, a waitress he met at a coffee shop. (Hey, so it’s been done before. The poor guy spent eighteen years in Southeast Asia, and didn’t know anybody stateside. How else was he supposed to meet someone?) That’s when the story took off. He had someone to butt heads with, someone to ooh and aah over his achievements, someone to be horrified at what had been done to him.

From that, I learned the importance of writing scenes with more than one character.

So why am I mentioning this?

Well, I’ve hit a hole in my work-in-progress, a possible weakness. The hero of this whimsically ironic apocalyptic novel, Chip, loses one person after the other until he is alone. There will be plenty of conflict as he contends with his new environment, but it might get boring without other characters for him to interact with.

There will be no problem once he ends up in the human zoo in the second part – his problem there (though not mine as the writer) is that he will have too many people to contend with. The same holds true for the third part of the book when he escapes. So there will be only about sixty pages where he is alone.

I do have one thing in my favor. I am a much better writer than I was when I wrote the first draft of More Deaths Than One, so perhaps I can keep the story going with Chip alone. (Saying I am a much better writer now is not necessarily saying I am a good writer. The first draft of More Deaths Than One was laughably bad. That I found an agent for it says more about the agent than it does my writing. No surprise – he couldn’t sell it.)

Chip does have to be alone at the end of the first part; he has an important step to take and must be by himself to take it. He also has to go through some experiences alone because they are essentially in his mind (or at least he thinks they are), but who will he be butting heads with the rest of the time? I’ll have to think about this.

More Deaths Than One is available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Second Wind Publishing

Monday, September 07, 2009

Free Ebooks!

Free ebooks! Just stop by the Labor Day GiveAway at the Second Wind blog before September 12, 2009, mention the name of a Second Wind book that you'd like to read, and you might win an ecopy.

Now is your chance to read More Deaths Than One or A Spark of Heavenly Fire!

More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire: In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death, insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Her new love, investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

Labor Day GiveAway ends September 12.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Can You Spot a Liar?

I read an interesting article called “He Lied, She Lied” by Kiri Blakeley of about lying. From a writer’s point of view, the article’s especially useful research material because nearly every writer creates characters who lie. Just try and write a mystery without one. Blakeley’s article discusses why, how, and when we lie, plus what we lie about. She also notes some interesting differences between men and women liars. To read more go to

Another useful link at the bottom of Blakeley’s article will take you to an article by Melanie Lindner, also of Forbes, that lists eleven tips to help you determine if someone’s lying. Here’s a few that you can use in your fictional, or even your real life:

# 1: Liars won’t face you directly, but at an angle and with arms and legs crossed.
#2: Liars are more likely to ask you to repeat a question, or to answer with “to be perfectly honest”.
# 3: Liars aren’t particularly good with the details and are more emphatic about being right.
#4: The pauses between their words will often increase.
#5: Liars are often guarded, defensive and less cooperative
#6: Liars tend to use “you” and “they” rather than “I”.
#7: Hand gestures are more pronounced and will match the rhythm of their speech
#8: Experienced liars don’t break into a sweat, but their eyes might shifty eyes and voice pitch will change.

Okay, go ahead and create a liar. Just make him or her a good one!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My Blog Talk Radio Interview -- What Fun!

I just finished being interviewed on blog talk radio, and all things considered, it went okay. Well, there was that part where my mind went blank and I couldn't think of a single disease mentioned in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, couldn't think of a single biological warfare experiment that I researched. Sheesh. I spent years on the research. You'd think at least some of it would have come easily to mind. I did manage to mention a connection between swine flu and the novel, but still . . . it would have been nice to sound as knowledgable as I am about the horrors of biological warfare and human experimentation. And I talked about the Hanta River in North Korea, when it's in South Korea. In the end, though, it doesn't matter. The story isn't about disease, though I kill off hundreds of thousands of Colorado residents with the flu-like epidemic I created. The disease, the deaths, the quarantine are all simply the setting for the story of how insomniac Kate Cummings came alive when all around her people were dying.

What does matter is that I didn't give the right website address for my publisher, Second Wind Publishing. Aaaarrrggghhhh! You can find them at Just goes to show that you can't take anything for granted. Make sure you have website addresses and other pertinent information right in front of you. Don't rely on your memory!

I had fun, though. I'd met one of the hosts, Steven Clark Bradley, author of Patriot Acts, through Facebook. We've had a few interesting email conversations, he's participated in some of my discussions, and he did a wonderful review of More Deaths Than One. During the blog talk show he mentioned that he stayed up late one night to read my book --Oh, how I enjoy keeping men up late at night! What power!

We talked about how I got the ideas for my books, talked about the characters, and I got in a plug for my novel, Daughter Am I, which will be published next month. All good stuff. The best thing about Blog Talk Radio is that, like all blogs, it's forever. So stop by whenever you can. I'll be there.

Blog Talk Two (Today's interview): Back Story -- The Behind the Scenes Look at Writing a Novel

Blog Talk One (My first interview): Talk to Me: Conversations With Creative, Unconventional People

Steven Clark Bradley's review: More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire are available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

You can also download the first 30% free at Smashwords

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Got the "Back to School Blues"?

For many parents, September means one thing: it's back to school time! And that single realization can bristle, stress out and frustrate even the most organized parents. Some even sink into a temporary depression--the "Back to School Blues".

But there's help for you. Really. It's all in how you look at this time of year--or this time in your child's life. The one thing I can promise you, it's temporary.

Let's look at the stress factors:

Back to school means revamping your child's wardrobe. Little Johnny ain't so little anymore, Mom. He shot up four inches over the summer and his jeans end just below his knees. Not really the current fashion statement for a cool dude. And little Lisa has gained a few pounds from all that ice cream. She'll need a size larger, unless you want her bursting at the seems.

Then there's that long list of school supplies, and little Johnny wants that certain brand for his calculator, the one that's $40 more than the no-name kind. Do you cave and kick yourself for being stingy? Or do you hold your ground and teach him a lesson in budgeting? Those lists can equal a car payment if you're not careful. And trust me, you'll need that car, if only just to escape from a house filled with kids whining about homework.

There's also the issue of how your child will get to school. Will he/she travel by school bus, public bus, bicycle or will he/she walk. How will you handle lunches? A lunchbox or lunch at home? Do you need before and after school care?

It's no wonder parents go into a depression at this time of year. If they're really lucky they had a week of unpaid holidays that they now have to make up for, on top of all the school costs. But what's the choice? It's not as if they can buy the pens and notebooks the following month and stretch out the debts.

So how does one deal with the depression of excessive financial debt, plus the fact that little Johnny and Lisa will be gone all day, leaving you alone with nothing to think about other

You remind yourself: it's only temporary. And it is, I guarantee you.

You have approximately 18 years to buy those school supplies, maybe longer if you're forking the bill for your child's college, university or other post-secondary schooling. As your child matures and gets into high school, you might find some of the stress easing off as they take some responsibility for extra-curricular activity expenses. Little Johnny wants to play hockey? Have him contribute a small amount from his part-time job. Or have him work for you. At least you'll feel you've gotten something back from the hundreds of dollars you've spent on knees pads and helmets.

September is a time for beginnings--the first day back to school, back with all their friends, and the day you release them to this new year of learning. It's also a great time for parents to start new projects. These projects will keep you busy and you'll feel motivated by the subtle changes in your home--specifically, the lack of noise.

As a parent of a 19-year-old who has finished school, I can safely say that it's been a few years since I suffered from the "Back to School Blues". I long for September because it signals change--good change. I find I'm most productive in September and January because both months make me feel I can start over, start something new and start something exciting. And thankfully, I don't need a new wardrobe or a list of supplies or a bus pass, and the only teacher giving me homework is me.

Everything is temporary. Enjoy this time with your child. They grow up far too fast.

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif,

bestselling author of Whale Song

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Giving 110% 24/7

If I hear one more person say he is going to give a hundred and ten percent, I think I’ll scream or vomit or do something equally repulsive.

What does it mean, anyway? A hundred and ten percent of what? Once you go beyond one hundred percent, you get into a form of mathematics that I know nothing about. It could be a hundred and ten percent of two hundred percent, which isn’t good. Or it could be a hundred and ten percent of one thousand percent, which is worse.

Unless you flunked remedial math, in which case you might have an excuse for your ignorance, you should know that you cannot give more than one hundred percent. That is the maximum. I’m not certain it is even possible for a person to give the maximum effort. Your energy and fluids and muscles would be so debilitated that you might not be able to recover. But if it were possible to give a maximum effort, the world would be a great place to live because of all you special people.

The only expression ghastlier than a hundred and ten percent is 24/7. When speaking of a business, it might apply, but when it is used for a person, as in “I work twenty-four seven,” it becomes impossible. The only thing a person can do 24/7 is breathe, and with sleep apnea being so prevalent, a lot of people don’t even do that 24/7. You certainly can’t work 24/7. What about sleeping? Eating? Defecating? All these activities subtract from that 24/7. (If you continue to work while on the toilet, I don’t want to know about it.)

There is nothing wrong with hyperbole. It is an acceptable literary form. But please, if you must hyperbolize, be inventive. I’m certain that if you try you can come up with something even more annoying than giving a hundred and ten percent 24/7.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire published by Second Wind Publishing LLC.