Sunday, November 27, 2011

Notable Lists to Ponder

Based on The New York Times most notable books of 2011, I’m not a very well read person. As I scanned down the list of the 44 fiction titles, I didn’t recognize any of them, but then I don’t read The New York Times book reviews either. Heck, I can barely keep up with my local newspapers. Happily, I did recognize the names of several authors, so I suppose that’s something.

The list also includes 56 nonfiction titles which were also unfamiliar, although many of them do sound interesting. Several are biographies that include Malcolm X, Kurt Vonnegut, Catherine the Great, John and George Keats, and of all things, Rin Tin Tin. Needless to say, there’s quite an assortment of topics to choose from if you’re looking for Christmas gifts. The list is far too long to print here, so here’s the link

Speaking of lists, I came across a list called 11 Famous Writers Who Were Rejected Before Making it Big. What the list really shows is how important tenacity is for writers to succeed. For instance, C.S. Lewis was rejected over 800 times before he sold a single piece of writing! I know people who’d give up after eight. Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers before it found a home. Bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s work was rejected 40 times. Louis L’Amour faced over 200 rejections before any of his work sold. See what I mean about tenacity? To read the complete list, which will probably have you shaking your head, go to

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Have You Tried Writing For Charity?

Debra Purdy Kong wrote a great post yesterday about using writing contests to build your confidence, reputation and body of work.

I've also enjoyed writing for charity anthologies. In the past, I've had stories in two anthologies published by Wolfmont Press to benefit the Marines' Toys for Tots, DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND and THE GIFT OF MURDER.  I didn't make it into the latest, MURDER TO MIL-SPEC, which benefited Homes For Our Troops, but you can bet I bought a copy!

I do have two charity stories coming out this Christmas season: one in SPEC THE HALLS, speculative fiction set in the winter holidays, to benefit Heifer International; one in Black Car Publishing's DARK THINGS II: CAT CRIMES (no link yet), benefiting animal shelters.

Being accepted in charity anthologies means you donate your story and make no money (unless you buy copies at the author's price and sell them at the cover price). I've usually re-sold them at the price I paid OR, better yet, donated the difference between what I paid and the cover price to a local charity.

In addition to the benefits Debra listed for entering contests, donating stories to charity can extend your reach beyond the people who would ordinarily find you in their book browsing and give you new sales venues. The SPEC THE HALLS book will appeal to supporters of Heifer International, no matter what kind of fiction they usually read. The CAT CRIMES book will appeal to cat fanciers in addition to mystery readers. And that's icing on top of the cake of knowing you did A Good Thing.

I still have a few days to submit to Ethics Trading's anthology to benefit Doctors Without Borders. If I don't make it into that one, I can try for their next one.

Keep an eye out for charity anthologies. Do search for "charity anthology" or "stories for charity" or put the word out on your writer's grapevine that you're looking for those publications.

Oh, one more thing: If you're shy about plugging your own work, being part of a charity anthology is a great way to break that ice. I can push an anthology I'm not making a nickle from like crazy (see above).

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have You Tried Writing Contests?

In a world filled with instant publishing opportunities, plenty of writers have opted out of the lengthy process of submitting to traditional publishers. Given the increasing number of authors who are choosing to self-publish short fiction as well, I’ve been wondering if authors are also giving up on submitting to short fiction contests.

Although novel writing has kept me from working on much short fiction these days, I still love short stories. One of the best things about short fiction are the many opportunities to submit to contests. Writing competitions, regardless of the length of your work, have many benefits that include:

. Finishing a piece. Many new writers have trouble finishing and polishing a work to the point where it’s publishable. Contest deadlines are great motivators.

. Stretching yourself creatively. If you like to read other genres besides the one you write in, what about writing in another genre?

. Gaining valuable feedback. Some contests provide feedback, which can be really helpful. Most of the stories I’ve had published were first rejected by an editor who offered helpful comments and asked to see the piece again.

.Winning cash, or even placing, shows that you’re on the right track, and who couldn’t use some extra money?

. Gaining publishing credits for your CV. Editors and agents do take these into consideration when you’re submitting work.

. Selling the piece elsewhere. Some of my favorite contests are those that will offer a cash prize, but not publish the work. If you win a cash prize, great! But it’s even better if you are free to submit your piece to other paying markets.

. Building a collection of short fiction. Over time, you might want to consider publishing a collection of your work, particularly if you’re building a readership.

. Working with editors who might accept your work in future. Creating a professional relationship with an editor is a good business move. Even if your piece doesn’t win, or place, helpful comments and a possible invitation to submit other work is a foot in the door.

There’s always been debates about whether to submit to contests that charge fees or not, and I’ve done both, depending on the contest. As a general rule, I submit to contests if the fee is reasonable for my budget, and if the prize money is substantially more than the fee. In other words. A $10 fee might not be worthwhile for me if the prize money is $100 for the winner but nothing for second or third place finishers.

If the magazine sponsoring the contest is new or unknown, do your research to see if there are past winners, or if there are red flags. Some contests (and poetry has been notorious for them in the past) are nothing more than scams. Be sure to study the contest deadlines. Many are understandably strict about word length, whether the work is previously published (and that definition can be different among contests), and submission date. If you’re submitting to a number of contests, keep detailed records, as it’s often up to you to know when the results come out. For many contests, if the results announcement date has past and you haven’t heard anything, you didn’t win. Some will email you a list of winners, but not all of the contest coordinators do. Contests should be specific about when results will be announced. If they aren’t find out. If they won’t tell you, think twice about entering.

Be professional. Don’t argue with the judges's decisions, or complain about it on social networking sites. Contests are subjective, with perhaps one to three people judging. You can write a great story, follow the guidelines, and still not even place. But so what? You’ve still gained more than you lost. You have a polished piece of work you can either submit elsewhere, or build into something you never dreamed of before the contest began.

There are too many contests to list here, but if you Google contest guidelines for your genre, you’ll find a good start. Many writers’ organizations have websites with links to contests as well. They’re not hard to find with a bit of research, so go for it, and good luck!

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Q&A With Beth Groundwater, Author of "A Real Basket Case"

Welcome, Beth! It's good to talk to you today. What is your book about?

A Real Basket Case is the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. Originally released in hardcover and large-print in 2007 and a finalist for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, it is being re-released by Midnight Ink in trade paperback and ebook this month, complete with a jazzy new cover.

In the book, feeling neglected by her workaholic husband, forty-something Claire joins an aerobics class. In a moment of weakness, she agrees to let charming aerobics instructor Enrique come to her house to give her a massage. She realizes she has made a deadly mistake when Enrique is shot and killed in her bedroom and her husband Roger is arrested for the murder. Determined to clear Roger's name and save her marriage, Claire sets out to find the real killer, encountering drug dealers, jealous ex-girlfriends, and angry cops along the way.

Tell us a little about your main character.

Claire and her husband are empty nesters whose two children are grown, one working and one in college. They live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In her late forties, Claire suffers hot flashes from periomenopause and has blond-dyed graying hair and blue eyes. She is somewhat overweight and out-of-shape, and thinks she's dumpy-looking, which is why she joins an aerobics class. An art major in college, she runs a part-time gift basket business out of a basement workshop in her home. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends, which often gets her into hot water, and her stubbornness can help power her through her fears.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I start plotting my mystery novels with an idea about the victim and some interesting or unique way in which s/he was killed. For A Real Basket Case, I had a "What If?" inspiration: What if a man is killed in a married woman's bedroom and her husband is found holding the gun that shot him, BUT he didn't do it and the woman wasn't having an affair with the victim? When I have the intriguing set-up--the "What-If" that gives me a puzzle to solve, a protagonist who I've gotten to know well enough that s/he starts talking to me in my dreams, and a whiz-bang black moment and climax, when those essential pieces fall in place, I know I've got a story worth telling and I start plotting.

How long did it take you to write your book?

It took me about a year to write A Real Basket Case, and that's about how long most of my books have taken. Now, however, with two mystery series going, I'm having to scrunch that schedule down to about nine months per book.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

Since I live in Colorado Springs, I didn't need to research the setting. To learn more about creating gift baskets, which is a hobby for me, I read how-to books and trade magazines for gift basket business owners. Also, I interviewed two women who owned a gift basket business and toured their warehouse/work area, so I could become more familiar with the “behind the scenes” aspects of the business. To learn about police procedure, I attended the 6-month El Paso County Sheriff's Citizen's Academy, and supplemented that with reading and Internet research. To learn about guns, I took a full-day class that included a half day on the firing range.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

If you've heard of the distinction between "plotters" and "pantsers" (those who write by the seat of their pants), as a former software engineer, I'm squarely on the plotting side. I profile my characters and prepare a detailed scene outline before I start writing. For each scene, along with describing what the characters in the scene do, I describe what's happening “off-camera” to other important characters (particularly the killer) not in the scene. I also list the date, day of the week, and time of day of each scene. As I write the book, I add the scene's page numbers to the outline to help me find scenes later.

Each book has a directory of its own on my computer with files for the scene outline, character profiles, interviews with experts, research notes, the current manuscript, discarded bits that I don’t want to throw away yet, backups of older versions, the acknowledgements page, change requests from the editor, etc., etc. Then there’s the cardboard magazine file holder stuffed full of paper research materials.

What was the first story you remember writing?

The first stories I remember writing were those I wrote in fifth and sixth grade about a boy named Freddie who had wild adventures such as visiting an underground mole city after burrowing down in a giant screw-mobile. Freddie was a boy, because back in the sixties, I thought girls weren't supposed to have adventures. I know better now! My two series protagonists, gift basket designer Claire Hanover and whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner, have all sorts of adventures.

What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?

The amount of non-writing work involved! There's the contracting process, research, promotion, networking and all of the other ancillary activities that are part of having a writing career, but that take precious time away from the writing itself.

What do you like to read?

I'm a very eclectic reader--all types of genres, except that I don't like to be frightened to death or grossed out, so I stay away from horror and thrillers. I'm in a book club that meets monthly to discuss literary, mainstream, and women's fiction and the occasional biography or memoir. I also read romance and science fiction occasionally. I read many mysteries, of course. Some of my favorite mystery authors are western and/or outdoor-oriented writers who I've gotten to know at conferences. Examples include William Kent Krueger, Kathy Brandt, C.J Box, Christine Goff, and Margaret Coel. I also enjoy light-hearted series such as those by Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Andrews, and Tim Cockey.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

1) Join a critique group and listen very closely to what other writers are telling you about your work. If you need to go back and study some aspect of the craft, do it. I spent a year focusing on my weak spot, character development, and now readers tell me that’s what they like best about my writing. 2) Set measurable goals, make out a weekly plan for how to meet those goals and report to someone weekly on your progress. 3) Remember that your words are not golden and that your critique partners and editors have the same goal you do—to improve your writing until it’s publishable. Be willing to change anything to make a story work. 4) Network, network, network! I met my first editor and both my first and second literary agents through networking with other writers. I continue to make contacts with librarians, booksellers, media personnel and others the same way.

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

I promote both in-person and on-line. I have a website, blog, and email newsletter and participate in about three dozen email loops. For social networks, I'm very active on Facebook and Goodreads and mildly active on a few others, though so far I've resisted joining Twitter. I usually conduct a book blog tour for each new release. Also, for each new release, I arrange quite a few signings and appearances, mostly in Colorado or as part of trips to mystery fan conventions or vacations. I try to attend two fan conventions a year, usually Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, and/or Bouchercon.

What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

I'm currently writing the rough draft of the third book in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. It will take place on the Colorado River in Utah and be titled Cataract Canyon. After I finish that, hopefully, in January, I need to review and correct the galley proof for book two, Wicked Eddies, which will be released in May, 2012. Then I need to edit Cataract Canyon and turn it in in the spring. Then I change gears and edit my existing first draft of the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, Basketful of Troubles, which is due in August, 2012. By the end of 2013, there will be three published books in each series.

Promotion is something that is ongoing, and which ramps up around the time of each release (every spring and fall for the next two years, at least). I try to focus on the writing and editing I need to get done each week first, then work on promotion later in the day or later in the week after I've finished the writing I need to do to meet my deadlines. I have to be very organized and give myself weekly goals to stay on track.

Where can people learn more about your books?

My website is:
My blog is:
My Facebook page is:
My Goodreads page is:
(Please feel free to befriend me at either Goodreads or Facebook!)

My books are available in bookstores, libraries, and on-line retailer sites, so your blog readers should be able to find them wherever they are used to finding books to read. Thanks for having me on your blog, Pat!

Thank you, Beth! Best of luck with your books.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down: Latest From the Writing World

Congratulations to Victoria, British Columbia author Esi Edugyan for winning the $50,000 Giller prize for her novel Half-Blood Blues. I was listening to a piece on CBC Radio this week, and heard Edugyan referring to 2011 as a year of miracles, as she also gave birth to a daughter two months earlier. Don’t we all dream of miracle years! Her novel has also been nominated for several other major prizes, so this could just be the beginning of things for her.

And speaking of miracles of a different kind, self-published author (until she signed with a big-six publisher) Amanda Hocking has now joined an elite group of authors who have sold one million copies of their ebooks. Authors John Locke, David Baldacci, and Stephenie Meyer also belong to this club. Latest stats show that twelve Kindle Direct Publishing authors have sold 200,000 copies or more, and thirty have sold over 100,000. This is still a tiny fraction of the authors who have ebooks out there, but it’s good to know that lots of people are buying books.

Now for the thumbs down news. Publisher, Little Brown has pulled the debut spy novel of Q.R. Markham from their shelves over plagiarism issues. An article in Associated Press states that the author took passages from other contemporary and classic spy novels. When this was discovered (and it’s not clear who, exactly, discovered the blunder) Markham’s contract for a second book was cancelled. What’s strange about this story is that the editors didn’t recognize any of the familiar passages until after publication. Clearly, the publishing staff weren’t sufficiently well versed in the genre to figure this out after reading the manuscript in the first place. You can read more at

There’s been growing debate, and even animosity, over self-published versus traditionally published authors. A flame war erupted when author Michael A. Stackpole recently referred to traditionally published authors as “house slaves”, among other things. A number of authors—most notably J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Rusch have been touting the benefits of leaving traditional publishing behind and taking control of one’s publishing career. However, traditionally published authors are beginning to take offense and fight back with their own rather colourful words, which I won’t repeat here. I’m not taking sides on the issue, as I’m still learning publishing pros and cons from both sides. If you’d like to read more on the debate, however, go to

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Benefit of Selling at Craft Fairs

As we all know, brick-and-mortar stores are only one option for selling books. Certainly, they’re necessary and obvious choices, but have you also considered selling at Christmas craft fairs? Pretty much every community has one, whether through recreational centers, churches, or other organizations. Did you know that high schools in your area are probably also hosting craft fairs? There are at least four in my community alone. While they might not attract huge numbers of customers, they can be quite lucrative, and at the very least a terrific marketing tool.

The two most attractive aspects of selling through high schools are the low fee: $30. on average, which is far less expensive than the fees charged by community centers. The other benefit is that the fee is used for worthwhile fundraising events, which can include after grad parties. If you have teenagers, you’ll know the cost involved in your child’s graduation year. This is a great way to help the schools and kids in your community.

The other great thing about craft fairs is that customers come with cash in their pockets, intending to start their Christmas shopping. Experienced customers (and many of them are) now that Visa or debit cards aren’t an option, so as long as you bring a decent float with lots of coin and small bills, you’re good to go.

I participated in my first craft fair of the season yesterday, and it was well worth it. Not only did I meet a lot of people who were interested in my books, but I received tips from other crafters about other fairs to try. Preparation for attending a craft fair is similar to many writing events. You need business cards, an info sheet about your books, bookmarks or postcards to hand out (two customers asked if my books were available on Kindle, so I gave them bookmarks or postcards). If you have more than one book in a series, it’s a good idea to gift wrap a signed set of two. Half of my customers were buying for someone else and appreciated not having to bother with wrapping.

Now, before you rush out and apply, keep in mind that not all fairs are run the same. The more established fairs have a jury to decide which crafts to admit or not. Not every fair accepts books and, even if they do, some will only consider self-published books. If your book is traditionally published and available in stores, it might not be suitable for all fairs. If you want to be welcomed back, abide by the rules! Also, apply early. These events are run by parent volunteers who start in February or March for the following school year. Happily, you do not have to have a child attending that school in order to participate, and many do ask for a donation of your product for their raffle.

Yesterday’s event at Terry Fox Secondary was terrific. Not only was it well organized, but there were plenty of wonderful student volunteers to watch tables if we needed a quick break, help cart supplies in from vehicles, or to answer questions. We were even given a complimentary lunch and applications for next year. 50/50 draws were also available, and I have to say that it was a good time. I have three more fairs to go. By the end, a lot more people will know about this local author than they would if I had simply stood in a book store to greet people.

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Writers: Enter the Scribes Digest 'Best Pitch Contest' this November

If you're a writer, here's a great way to pitch one of your finished works...

Hello writers of all genres! The November Scribes Digest contest is FREE to enter and will give you a chance to publish your entry in our December issued EZINE!
In order to enter, you must have a completed work in any of these genres: feature film, short film, short story or novel.
We are looking for the TOP 3 best elevator pitches! An elevator pitch (or elevator speech or statement) is a short summary used to quickly and simply define your script, short story or novel. It should take no more than 5 lines to give your pitch and the writers with the best 3 pitches will have excerpts from their completed script, story or novel published in our December EZINE.
Our team of editors will be joined by two fantastic industry judges to choose the winners: Michael Baker, Producer and Founder of Bunk 11 Pictures Inc. and Cheryl Tardif, Publisher & Acquisitions Editor of Imajin Books.
Read more.

Kindle Sale! Get Any of My Books for Only $1.99!!

Have you been wanting to get one of my books? Well, now is the perfect time! The Kindle edition is only $1.99 on Amazon from now until November 8, 2011. Happy reading!

ASHFIn 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. This is a story of survival in the face of brutality, government cover-up, and public hysteria. It is also a story of love: lost, found and fulfilled.

Click here to read the first chapter of: A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

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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.

Click here to read the first chapter of: More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram

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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.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Daughter Am I by Pat Bertram

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Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Click here to read the first chapter of: Light Bringer by Pat Bertram

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