Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just When You Think You're Ready

Last week, I finished going over the first set of proofs for my upcoming mystery The Opposite of Dark, due for release in March 2011. My job was to look at the copy editor’s suggested changes and make any last minute changes myself. This step in the production process is a culmination of input from myself, the publisher, and two editors. The copy editor made some great suggestions and I added a couple of small ones. But what struck me was that I still found three typos in the manuscript that none of us had noticed.

After thirty years of writing, proofreading is clearly a skill I still need to work on. It’s tremendously important and, based on the number of errors I’ve read in published novels this year, terribly overlooked by nearly every writer. I’ve noticed a few errors in traditionally published books from small and large houses, but the vast majority of them are coming from independently published books, which is a shame. I’ve read a lot of self-published stories these past couple of years with excellent premises and great characters, but the number of typos and missing words is distracting. Really, we all have to do better. People are paying for our books, and they deserve the best we’ve got to give.

On another note, I, Robin Spano, and Elizabeth Elwood will be at Black Bond Books in Ladner this Saturday, November 6th from 1 to 3 p.m. to discuss mysteries and mystery writing. So, please come join us for some fun at Black Bond Books, 5251 Ladner Trunk Road, Delta, BC.

My Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest author Maria Zannini discusses cover art

Today's special guest is Maria Zannini, author of True Believers, a science fiction romance. Maria, thank you so much for visiting and sharing your book cover experiences.

Cover Art Confidential

If you want to stab an art director through the heart, take away her privilege of calling the shots. I was an artist and art director for more than thirty years. It's hard to let go and allow someone else to design your work.

If you've never had a cover designed for you before, let me put your mind at rest. They'll pretty much ignore your ideas.  It's not personal—just business.

Let's take True Believers for example.

• I asked for a warm color palette for the cover. They went with fire engine hot.

• I asked for an elaborate font. Since the main character, Rachel is an archeologist, I thought something like carved stone would work well. After a little negotiating (read: begging) I got the font "Traditional Arabic". It was definitely better than the first choice.

• I asked for the heroine to be young with exotic Middle Eastern features. After all, her father is none other than Gilgamesh, formerly of Sumer.  

…well, she's dark-haired anyway. :grin:

After the kerfuffle Bloomsbury caused using a white model for LIAR, a novel that demanded a young black woman, I think publishers are becoming more mindful about casting a little closer to the true race of a character.

But in this business, it's all a matter of degrees. Go too far in the wrong direction and you can create an incident of viral proportions.

After the incident with Bloomsbury ended up with egg on its face. Yet all the publicity was a boon to the author by virtue of grassroots movement. So even bad covers can work in your favor if you've got an angle.

I can't complain. Carina did all right by True Believers. It's not the cover I would have designed, but judging by the response, it's a cover that drives attention. And in the publishing business that's all that matters.

Authors: Have you liked all your covers? Are there any you would have designed differently?

Readers: Do you expect a cover to tell you what's inside or are you content simply with the tone the art represents?


Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS.

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead. 

Follow Maria here:

Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thoughts on the Surrey International Writers' Conference

This weekend, I attended the 18th annual Surrey International Writers’ Conference. This conference for writers has been gaining a lot of attention as one of the friendliest, most informative, and fun conferences in North America, and it is. I mean, where else would you see well known crime writer Anne Perry mingling with attendees. She even sat in on a workshop offered by agent Ken Sherman that I attended, and later thanked me for helping out at the volunteer desk during agent/editor appointments. And I saw this friendliness everywhere. With about eighty enthusiastic volunteers, it’s no wonder things ran pretty smoothly.

For those of you who’ve never heard of SIWC, this is a three-day event (four for those taking masters classes) that offers oodles of workshops and panel discussions on nearly every topic imaginable. While the most of the workshops focus on some aspect of fiction, there are workshops for poets, nonfiction writers, and film script writers. Three, ninety-minute workshops happen simultaneously in nine different meeting rooms, so picking and choosing a workshop of choice can be a tough decision. But you’re free to come and go discreetly, and many attendees have to because their agent/editor appointments are also scheduled throughout the day.

One of the beauties of this conference is the opportunity for authors to have short, one-on-one sessions with editors and agents to pitch their work. There is also a blue pencil café, where you can have a few pages of your work evaluated. Pitch practice sessions are also offered to go over your approach before you do the real thing.

This was my sixth conference over a thirteen year period. Three years ago, I had the good fortune to win an honourable mention in the short fiction category and receive an award from Jack Whyte and Diana Gabaldon. This time, I made the shortlist, but alas, no prize. Still, it was worth it to write short stories again, and actually finish a piece.

For the first time, I attended a masters class, and this one was conducted by thriller writer James Scott Bell, who provided a really informative look at taking fiction to the next level. Even though I already knew many of the writing tips given in workshops, there were still a handful of intriguing ideas that have made me rethink how I approach things like setting and story structure. For anyone who’d like more information about next year’s conference here’s the link to give you more information: Enjoy!

My Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rubicon Ranch is Days Away!! Read It As We Write It.

After months in preparation, Rubicon Ranch, a collaborative novel that will be written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing, is just days away!

Recently widowed writer/photographer Melanie Gray finds the body of an eight-year-old child in the desert. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill Riley Peterson? It could be anyone in this upscale housing development. Everyone is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda.

The girl’s parents, Jeff and Kourtney Peterson have an eight-year-old secret they will do anything to defend, perhaps even going so far as to kill their own child. If she is their own child.

Honor student Dylan McKenzie has a secret life that gives him a feeling of empowerment. Does he find murder even more empowering?

Psychologist Mary “Moody” Sinclair, has already killed one child. Is she adding to her resume?

Sleepwalker Cooper Dahlsing is afraid he might have killed the girl. But is she his first victim? Or his second?

The motto of private investigators Mark and JamieWestbrook is: “Make a quick buck, and don’t get caught.” Could murder their way of making a quick buck, or perhaps their way of not getting caught?

Self-appointed neighborhood guard, eighty-two year old Eloy Franklin keeps watch for anyone who dares to endanger his Rubicon Ranch. Was Riley a danger?

Sheriff Seth Bryan, a recent transplant, is overqualified for his job. Still, he finds compensations, his most recent being the mysterious Melanie Gray. Does she have something to hide? Or is she only protecting herself . . . from him?

So who dunnit? We don’t know and won’t know until the end. With so many great authors involved, anything can happen! To make the unveiling of the killer even more interesting, after all the evidence has been presented, you can tell us who you want the killer to be.

We will post one chapter every Monday, beginning October 25, 2010, at: Rubicon Ranch. We hope you’ll enjoy reading the novel while we are writing it. To make sure you don’t miss a single chapter, you can subscribe by email at the Rubicon Ranch site:

Please join us on our adventure -- it will be fun for all of us.


Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Importance of Being Important

In The Art of Creative Writing, Lagos Egri states:

Whatever a character does, it is for one basic purpose -- to strengthen his position in life and his security; all the chameleon-like changes for one reason only -- to remain alive, to be secure (overcome insecurities), to be happy, and most of all, to be important.

Never overlook the importance of being important.

Man has nothing more precious to defend than his self-declared importance, and he will defend it with his last breath.

This sounds like a good start to developing a character, or at least a character’s inner conflicts. In fact, this is one of the themes of the grieving woman book I want to write. With her husband gone, so is her sense of self, along with her sense of importance. She might not have been important in the world’s eyes, but she was important in her own eyes because she was important to him. She tries to find importance through other people, but in the end realizes she has to find it in herself.

So, in the book you are now reading (or writing) what makes the character feel important? What does the character do to defend his or her sense of being important? How does the character strengthen his or her position in life? How does s/he struggle to remain secure? What insecurities does s/he have to overcome? Is the character happy? What does s/he do to remain alive, both physically and mentally? Does s/he find happiness? Does s/he find importance?

Let's talk.


Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I.

Story v Novel In A Flash

What's The Difference?
Novel = Break open the moment.
Story = Collapse the moment.

And there you have it: a book on fiction writing in a nutshell.

"Breaking open the moment" is a phrase I picked up from the Green River Writers, and it means dispersing what's happening from a simple statement into an experience.

In any piece of fiction, there is a pivotal moment: an important thing happens, an important discovery is made, an important epiphany is experienced. That moment might be the climax of the action (the Ring of Power is destroyed) or it might be the result of the action (Boo Radley returns our friendship).

Novels take that moment and expand it with explorations of setting, multiple characters and characterization, emotions, senses, details, internal dialog, background, relevant subplots and dialog.

Short stories have all these things, but collapse them, trimming subplots and multiple characters down or out, suggesting rather than exploring. The pivotal moment is front and center, and the diffusion of that moment is minimal.

Flash fiction has been defined as from 300-1000 words, but I've seen "flash" as short as six words (Hemingway's "For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.") up to 2000. As you can see from the Hemingway example, flash fiction can be so collapsed that even the pivotal moment is only implied.

So there you have it. Love to write novels and want to write a short story? Get an idea for your novel's pivotal moment and collapse the surrounding elements. Distill them to their essences. Love to write short stories and want to write a novel? Write a short story and then break open the pivotal moment. Sound easy? No? Maybe or maybe not, but I assure you it's doable.

Go forth, ye writers! Go forth and have fun with it!

Marian Allen is the author of EEL'S REVERENCE, a fantasy

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Interesting Stats From a Harris Poll

Recently, I was reading about a Harris poll conducted among 2,775 American adults who’d read at least one book in the past year. The poll found that half of the adults had read a novel and the other half had read nonfiction. 48% of the fiction readers said they read mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels, while 25% said they read science fiction. This surprised me, as I thought it would be the other way around. Another 25% said they read literature, although that somewhat ambiguous term wasn’t defined. 21% of those polled also claimed to read romance novels and 11% said they read graphic novels. 8% of readers read chick-lit and 5% read westerns.

Among the nonfiction readers, 31% read histories, 29% biographies, 26% religious and spirituality books. Political books were read by 17%, self-help books by 16%, current affairs were at 14% and true crime was reading by 12% of readers. Business books came in at only 10%.

I found it interesting that 42% of the 18 to 33 age group were reading literature, and that only 18% of this group were reading graphic novels. Readers 65 years or more were more likely to read crime novels (61%) and westerns (9%). Not surprisingly, 57% of women read mysteries, but only 39% of the men polled read in this genre. Needless to say, far more women read romances than men, although 3% of the men did. Women also read more chick-lit and religious books, however 32% of men read science fiction compared to 20% of women. When it came to nonfiction, however, more men than women were reading history, political and business books.

Not a lot seems to have changed over the years, except perhaps the increased interest in graphic novels. But as a mystery writer, it’s good to know that a lot of people still enjoy them. A savvy mystery writer will pay particular attention to the general tastes of women 65 or over. In the mystery world, authors are often warned to never kill or abuse a cat or a child in their story. The demographics in this poll could explain why.

My amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Possibility of Something Wonderful

I have never seen the point of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I always figured that those who wanted to write wrote and those who didn’t write didn’t really want to. I used to be in the first category, and gradually slipped into the second. After the past couple of years of editing, promoting my books, and blogging, I lost the habit of novel writing. Apparently, I don’t really want to write the books I want to write, otherwise I would have been writing them.

Thinking that perhaps there is a book I want to write that I don’t know I want to write, I signed up for NaNo. The theory is that if you churn out the words without worrying about what you are writing, perhaps “you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and an ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.” At least that’s what the NaNo people say.

I’ve always been a slow writer -- never been able to write 1,000 words in a day let alone the 1,670 words I’ll need to write to achieve my goal. The last time I tried writing for word count rather than content, I talked to my hero but didn’t add a single word to my poor work-in-pause. (see Pat Bertram Introduces Chip, the Hero of Her Work-in-Pause, a Whimsically Ironic Apocalyptic Novel (Part I) and Pat Bertram Introduces Chip, the Hero of her Work-in-Pause, a Whimsically Ironic Apocalyptic Novel (Part II))

I won’t be adding to an existing book this time. (The above mentioned WIP is still paused.) I’ll be trying to write from scratch, following any idea no matter how silly, since there won’t be time to think of alternatives. The way I figure, I haven’t a thing to lose since I haven’t been writing anyway. At the very least, by doing NaNo, I will get into the habit of writing again. I’ll probably have fodder for several blog posts. But possibly, just possibly, I’ll come up with something wonderful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heroes and Villains, Villains and Heroes

All heroes need a flaw to make them human, but it seems as if heroes today are more flawed than heroic. Perhaps that is why villains need to be so despicably evil -- it makes the unadmirable hero shine in comparison. Well, maybe not shine. Gleam dully, perhaps. If not for the utterly evil villain, we would think that the hero's actions were villainous. I suppose, in the fiction world, the end justifies the means, but the more unrealistic the villain, the more I'm aware that the conflict is an artificial construct. It seems that authors are trying to outdo each other to created the villainiest villain, but I don't think a writer has to resort to such theatrics to write a good story. We've talked before about the villain being the hero of his own story (which means that the hero is the villain of the villain's story). So, if a hero needs a flaw, a villain needs an unflaw -- something good to make him seem heroic, at least in his own mind.

What do you do to keep your protagonist and antagonist in conflict and still keep it real? What is your hero's flaw? What is your villain's unflaw? Why does your villain think he is doing the right thing? If the story were inverted, and you told it from the villain's point of view, what would make your hero seem villainous to him?

If this is too restricted a topic, or if it is too deep for a fine October evening, we can talk about our current projects. What are you working on? If you're not writing now, what are planning or hoping to write?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Giller Nominees Announced

This week, the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists were announced. Nominees include three novels and two short story collections:

Anabel by Kathleen Winter, novel from House of Anansi Press
The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud, novel from Gaspereau Press
The Matter With Morris by David Bergen, novel by Phyllis Bruce Books/Harper Collins
This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky, short story collection by Thomas Allen Pub.
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod, short story collection by Biblioasis

The Giller Prize awards $50,000 to the winner and another $5,000 for each finalist. This year, finalists were selected by Canadian broadcaster and journalist Michael Enright, American writer and professor Claire Messud and award-winning author Ali Smith. 98 books were submitted from 38 Canadian publishing houses.

The prize was established as the Giller Prize in 1994 by Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a former literary editor at the Toronto Star, and is awarded each November. Something for all you Canadian writers to shoot for!

My amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Benefiting From How-To Books

Although I’m a fan of how-to writing manuals, I don’t read them voraciously. In fact, a number of books are still on my to-be-read pile and have been for a long time. I used to subscribe to Writer’s Digest and bought a number of books related to mystery writing. I have about of dozen titles, and one of my favorites is Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons. I’ve also read a number of good how-to books including ones by Dean Koontz and Michael Seidman.

Three years ago, I was at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and attended a workshop on point of view by journalist and mystery writer, Hallie Ephron. She too had written a how-to book called Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. I bought the book because I enjoyed the workshop so much, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last week. The reason is that I’ve discovered the benefit of going through a how-to book whenever I’m working on a new novel, and that doesn’t happen often. I’m now working on my sixth mystery, and as I started reading Ephron’s book, ideas were already flowing for my book before I’d finished the introductory chapter.

I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but I find how-to books completely inspiring. The ideas flow so fast that I wind up using two notebooks: one for making notes I want to remember about mysteries in general, and a second for specific notes regarding my current WIP. All these notes slow down the reading process a fair bit, but it’s worth it. Ephron’s book is geared toward those who are planning to write their first mystery and while I already knew a lot of her tips, there’s some great stuff I learned and need to remember when incorporating my own red herrings and plot twists. If you’re interested in writing mysteries, I recommend this book, but regardless of what you write, pick up a how-to book and see if it brings inspiration as well as knowledge.

My amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, October 01, 2010

Lancelot's Lady excerpt #3

If you haven't read the previous two excerpts, you can read them at The Cajun Book Lady (excerpt 1) and Gem Sivad (excerpt 2)

Excerpt #3...

The butler glanced toward the door. “Nurse Simpson, why don’t you take a break for an hour or two?”
JT nodded. “Anna will take good care of me.”
As the door slammed shut behind the nurse, Rhianna took a step closer. “Mr. Lance, my name is Rhianna McLeod.”
“Rhianna?” JT sighed. “Well, yes. I guess you are.”
Confused, she turned to Higginson. “I don’t think he remembers writing me about the nursing position. He even contacted the hospital I used to work in and―”
“I hate it when people talk as if I’m not in the room,” JT fumed. “Of course I remember you, uh…Rhianna. And I do want you to be my nurse. Higginson! Make up the Rose-Mist Room for Ms. McLeod. She’ll be staying with us indefinitely.”
“Are you sure?” Rhianna asked, surprised. “You may want someone more experienced. I’ve only worked in one hospital and one nursing home before coming here.”
Higginson cleared his throat. “Have you checked her references, sir?”
“References are for untrusting fools. It’s my blasted memory that’s disintegrating, not my eyes.” JT eyed the door. “And references sure didn’t make a difference with Nurse Dracula. Which reminds me…see that the old bat gets a nice severance package.”
As the butler’s footsteps faded, Rhianna was at a loss for words. “I…uh…thank you.”
“You can thank me by getting my pills over there.” JT pointed to the nightstand. “The ones in the red bottle.”
She fetched his medication and quickly scanned the bottle. The prescription was for Vicodin, a narcotic pain reliever. She shook out two pills and poured a glass of water before approaching his bedside.
“Thank you, Ann―Rhianna.” His breathing was strained.
“Are you feeling all right, Mr. Lance?”
“JT, my dear. When you call me Mr. Lance, I feel so damned ancient, like some old geezer waiting to croak.” He chuckled at his own joke.
After he was resting comfortably, she sat down in the chair and studied him. His thinning gray hair and handsome face suggested the rather dashing young man he must once have been. A once-strong jaw line, now softened by age and illness, still held traces of stubbornness. But it was his eyes, bright and kind, that held her attention. They seemed sad. Tired and sad.
“Now, Rhianna, tell me a bit about yourself.”
“Well, I grew up in Bangor, Maine, and graduated―”
“Not the technical interview stuff, dear. I want to know about you. What are your goals, your dreams?”
Nobody had ever asked her about her dreams. For nearly two years, she had hidden herself in the nursing home in Portland, afraid to let anyone too close. Afraid to dream.
In that bedroom, sitting beside a dying man, she found more than an employer―she found a friend. Tentatively, she told him bits and pieces about her life. It started slowly, like a gurgle of water bubbling up from the center of the earth.
Within an hour, Rhianna had told him all about her childhood, about the terror she had endured, and the fear and abuse that had drained her soul of all self-worth.

A Bahamas holiday from dying billionaire JT Lance, a man with a dark secret, leads palliative nurse Rhianna McLeod to Jonathan, a man with his own troubled past, and Rhianna finds herself drawn to the handsome recluse, while unbeknownst to her, someone with a horrific plan is hunting her down.


Lancelot's Lady is available in ebook edition at KoboBooks, Amazon's Kindle Store, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. Help me celebrate by picking up a copy today and "Cherish the romance..."

You can learn more about Lancelot's Lady and Cherish D'Angelo (aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif) at and Follow Cherish from September 27 to October 10 on her Cherish the Romance Virtual Book Tour and win prizes.

What do you think about JT Lance? What do you learn about him in this scene? Do you like him?

Leave a comment here, with email address, to be entered into the prize draws. You're guaranteed to receive at least 1 free ebook just for doing so. Plus you'll be entered to win a Kobo ereader. Winners will be announced after October 10th.