Monday, August 27, 2012

Taking a Break, Sort of

Experienced authors often advise writers to put aside a finished draft of their novel, short story, or article for at least a week, or longer. It’s good advice. There’s nothing better than tackling rewrites and edits with a fresh pair of eyes. The pros suggest working on new manuscripts during this time to thwart the temptation to make changes before we should. Also good advice. The authors write less, however, about the importance of taking a break, or at least cutting down, from writing altogether for a period of time. This week, I did exactly that when I left town on vacation, refusing to take any of the Casey Holland mysteries I’ve been working on every day for ages. It was one of the best things I did for myself this year.

When our kids were young and I was working day jobs, vacations were much-needed writing times. Like the kids, I couldn’t wait to reach our destination. While they played, I sat nearby and pulled out my notebook. It was sweet productive bliss, if only for an hour or two each day.

Now that our children are grown up, taking their own vacations, and writing has become my day job, holidays are different. I realized that I needed a break from my three-to-four hour daily writing schedule (and two hours of promotion) to unwind and not think about the Casey series. My mind relaxed, ideas for something new sprang up, and then more ideas came. But I spent no more than an hour each day developing plots and characters. It was so much fun it felt like play rather than work.

Here at home again, I’m refreshed, rejuvenated, and eager to return to Casey and finish a difficult draft of the fifth novel. I gained a lot of inspiration from the 3,000 Iron Man competitors we recently saw in Penticton, BC. These people somehow incorporate grueling training regimes in the water, on bicycles, and completing marathon runs with their families and working lives. Through commitment, dedication, and passion, participants accomplished their mission. I’m sure many of them are now enjoying a well-deserved break from what they love to do. We all need it now and then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How To Scrape Poop Off Your Shoes

I'm from Louisville, Kentucky. So, when my friend Leslea Tash interviewed Louisville writer Sue Grafton for, I read it. Like just about every other indie author who read or heard about the interview, I was hurt and angry over Grafton's attitude. You can read the original interview here:

BUT -- and this separates the professionals from the merely successful, the classy from the merely stuck-up -- when Grafton felt the backlash she didn't get defensive, entrenched, or sarcastic. She didn't backpedal or try to pretend she hadn't said what she said.

She realized and admitted that she (as all of us tend to do) had spoken from outdated knowledge. She corresponded with some of her detractors, not to get into a flame war, but to learn.

Grafton is a busy woman, and she would continue to sell massive amounts of books, even if every indie author in the world boycotted her. Still, she took the time to educate herself and to send Leslea Tash a follow-up to her original interview.

It isn't very long, and it's worth reading as an example of how to comport oneself when one discovers a thick, rich coating of manure on your boots:

The best bit is the last:

I will take responsibility for my gaffe and I hope you will understand the spirit in which it was meant.  I have always championed both aspiring writers and working professionals.  I have been insulated, I grant you, but I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face.  I am still learning and I hope to keep on learning for as long as I write.      

I'm not madly keen about Grafton's books; after about E or so, I lost interest. But I just may go back and read them all. I think I could learn a lot from spending time with this lady.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Stepping in a Big Pile of Poop

I’ve written before about the divisiveness between some traditionally published and self-published authors. It’s resulted in verbal wars, negative 1-star reviews, and even threats. For various reasons, the approach to publishing is highly personal and emotionally charged for some. So, when a well-known author comes along and tells people not to self-publish because “that’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work” you can imagine the backlash.

This is exactly what happened to Sue Grafton, whose highly praised, alphabet mysteries have earned her millions of fans over the last twenty years. A recent interview in, however, clearly showed that she’s not been keeping up with the self-publishing and ebook revolution, which was disappointing. In essence she said that self-publishing was a shortcut and she doesn’t believe in taking shortcuts when it comes to art.

But here’s the thing. In my opinion, not everything Grafton said was wrong. She was quite right when she said that only a few succeed (if  making enough money to live on is your definition of success). In an earlier blog I wrote, one survey showed that most authors sell less than 500 ebooks. Grafton also said that she’s read a number of self-published ebooks and found them amateurish. So have I.

But I’ve also found some beautifully written books, and this is where Grafton went off track. She painted self-publishers with the same brush when in truth they run the whole gamut, from amateurs who bash out a couple of drafts with little editing to those who’ve spent years writing and rewriting and going through professional editing. She doesn’t seem to understand that more successful traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish because contracts are stingier than ever.

Discussions about her interview have sprung up on a couple of forums I belong to, and probably many more, and not much appears to favor Grafton, although I'm sure there are some. Once the backlash got rolling, she has apparently apologized on Facebook (I haven’t looked for it), indicating she didn’t have a clear picture of what self-publishing is today, and thought it was more of the vanity press days when a so-called publisher charged authors big bucks to see their work in print. If you want to read a little more of the interview, you can go to

A blog by Hugh Howey offers an interesting example of the type of response to Grafton’s remarks. I've read similar comments on other forums. You can find it at

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Acrimony in Ebook World

In earlier blogs, I’ve mentioned the growing nastiness between some traditionally published and self-published authors. The topic has created so much bad blood between the two groups that a number of the closely moderated forums forbid the topic. Mind you, only a small minority of authors involve themselves in these spats, although they create a big fuss. Plenty of authors see the value in both.

This week, I stumbled across another topic that has raised the ire of readers and writers. As you know, ebooks can be borrowed, not only through one of Amazon’s programs, but in libraries as well. It’s more common all the time, and this is a good thing. But this week, a number of authors were up in arms over what they believed was a book piracy site. The site, Lendlink, which has a page on Facebook, is actually a legitimate book lending site, according to a piece I read in Lendlink allows Kindle and Nook owners to exchange books, however, a group of uninformed authors decided to attack the site via Twitter, among other things, and demand the site be taken down, which it was. When the Techdirt.piece was posted on August 8th, the site had not been restored as of Friday, the 3rd.

Here’s the bizarre thing. Below the article are comments from authors, some of whom believed Lendlink was a piracy site. Those authors have now received threats. If you click on the link, you’ll see a caveat about this, warning others not to threaten anybody.

Oh my gosh. What can I say about the importance of restraining emotion and presumption when making a public statement on the Net? I don’t know if Lendlink it back up and, truthfully, I’d never heard of the site until a newsletter I subscribe to raised the topic. You can find the post at

P.S. today is a free Kindle day for my first Alex Bellamy mystery, Taxed to Death. If you like whodunnits with a little humor and romance, then meet Alex, the auditor who doesn’t have a clue, when it comes to murder. If you miss it, free days are also scheduled for Sept. 2nd and 3rd at

Monday, August 06, 2012

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces -- The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda.

Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 9: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Melanie locked the front door of the house and turned around to face the day. It was clear and warm with a platinum sun shining in an azure sky. She felt her spirits rise. With such lovely weather, things couldn’t be as bad as they seemed. She marched down the driveway, and her spirits plummeted as fast as they had risen. The sheriff’s tan Navigator, like a brooding predator, loomed in the driveway of the Sinclair house next door.

Melanie had tried to forget Sheriff Seth Bryan and the conflicted feelings he had aroused in her, but apparently she hadn’t succeeded. She could feel the emotions rushing back to fill the emptiness inside her. She still couldn’t tell if she’d felt more drawn to him or more repelled by him. With any luck, she’d never have to explore those feelings. As soon as he finished his business and left the area, she could forget him again.

She heard the sound of his voice, though not his words, and for a moment she considered dashing back into the house to avoid any encounter with him, but then she realized the truth. The sheriff had no interest in her. It had been almost three months since she’d last seen him, and in all that time, he had made no effort to contact her.

She lifted her chin. She didn’t need him or any man. They were all worthless creatures who had no regard for anyone but themselves.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to see what he was up to.

She took a few steps forward so she could see the front door of the Sinclair house. The sheriff looked the same as he always had. Jeans and a white shirt with a badge on the shoulder clothed his lean, flat-bellied body, and a navy blue ball cap with a yellow “Sheriff” embroidered on it covered most of his dark brown hair. And he still wore those ridiculous mirrored sunglasses.

The sheriff and Moody seemed to be standing closer together than politeness dictated. Could something be going on between the two of them? Movement in the passenger seat of the Navigator caught her attention. Deputy Midget. If the sheriff intended anything shady, surely he wouldn’t bring a deputy along to witness his behavior? Then this must be an official visit.

Moody looked okay — happy, even. It had been very quiet the last week or so without “The Sounds of Silence” blaring at all hours, and she’d probably been enjoying herself in Morris’s absence.
The sheriff starting walking toward his vehicle. Melanie squatted to retie a shoelace, hoping he wouldn’t catch sight of her. She might have the courage not to seek refuge in the house, but she had nothing to say to him.

When she heard the sheriff’s Navigator slowly moving down the street, she squelched a pang of disappointment. As annoying as his attentions were, at least they had reminded her she was alive.
She’d been living with the dead — or rather memories of the dead—for way too long.

She arose with only the slight aid of one hand to push her erect, and angled her steps to the right of her driveway, intending to head up Delano Road to the desert. She paused, took two steps to the left.

The Daily Indecision is how she’d come to think of this inability to act. “Sounds like a newspaper,” she said aloud. “They’d print both sides of every story since the editor would be unable to decide which view to stand behind. Or maybe the paper would be blank because they’d never be able to decide which stories were newsworthy. And since when do you talk to yourself?”

Since Alexander died. She often wandered in the desert, trying to understand her husband’s death and her grief, and she’d gotten in the habit of talking aloud to him, hoping he could help make sense of her chaotic thoughts. He never responded. But then, he’d seldom replied even before he died.

When had their relationship become all about him? And why hadn’t she noticed the change? She sighed. Probably because she’d spent so much time online doing research for the coffee table books she and Alexander wrote. Well, she wrote. He took the photos. After his death, she discovered he’d somehow squandered the advance for the book about the Mojave Desert they’d contracted for, so now she needed to take the photographs in addition to writing the text. She thought she’d become good at shooting photos, but just this morning she’d received an email from her publisher:
“Some of your photos are usable, but most are uninspired. You take photographs, but the great photographers, like Alexander, make photographs. And when they make photographs, they make love. We feel the empathy between the external and internal events.”

Whatever that meant.

“What it means,” she said aloud, “is that you have work to do.” She took five resolute steps up Delano Road, then stopped. She could see Eloy Franklin hunched on his porch like a land-locked amphibian, watching everything that went on in his vicinity.

After all the turmoil the neighborhood had gone through recently, after all the deaths, she thought that things would have changed, but there Eloy sat, as unapproachable and forbidding as always. She’d smiled at him a couple of times when she passed in front of his house, but he’d never acknowledged her efforts at friendliness by so much as a nod.

Unable to stand the thought of Eloy’s scrutiny, she turned left. The sheriff’s navigator hadn’t gotten far, only a few houses away. The vehicle still moved slowly, as if the sheriff were looking for something. Trying to see the neighborhood through his eyes, Melanie peered down Delano Road. A petit woman held a camera to her face, either taking photographs or hiding behind it. Did Sheriff Bryan think the woman was Melanie? Melanie smiled to herself. Whatever faults the man might have, mistaking one woman for another was not one of them. Melanie had seen the woman several times before; she was shorter, prettier, and younger than Melanie, and had the clear luminous complexion of someone with a mixed race heritage.

Beyond the woman, a skinny man lurched along the side of the road. Melanie had also seen him several times before, and he worried her. Anger seemed to crackle around him, like lightning right before it strikes.

The Navigator’s siren blared, and the vehicle shot down the street and tore around the corner onto Tehachapi Road, heading east.

A dark cloud seemed to lift from the neighborhood, and Melanie’s indecision disappeared. She turned right, past Moody’s house, past the strange no-man’s land that separated the Sinclair land from the Franklin land, past Eloy’s house.

The wilderness beckoned.
* * *

Melanie stood at the crest of knoll and surveyed the expanse of desert. Somewhere out there, midst the creosote bushes and cacti, a photograph she could make waited for her — an image so compelling, viewers would immediately sense her empathy with the subject.

But how did one get emotionally connected to something as vast and as alien as the Mojave Desert? Then she remembered Alexander saying he looked for a significant detail. By focusing on a single feature, by making it the heart of the photo, the rest of the scene came into focus.

Crap. I’ll never get the hang of photography. Damn you, Alexander, for putting me through this.
She heard a sound closing in on her from behind, a leisurely whup . . . whup . . . whup. She turned and froze, transfixed by the raven gliding by. It flew so close she could see the brown pupil of its bright black eye and the purple and blue sheen of its feathers. She’d never seen such a huge bird—the body looked bigger than a cat, and its wings spanned at least three feet, maybe four. For a moment, it seemed to hang motionless, then a graceful wing beat stirred the air and propelled it forward.

Melanie fumbled with her camera, almost in tears. She’d had a perfect opportunity to make a photograph, but she’d become so lost in the moment, she’d forgotten all about taking a picture. Alexander wouldn’t have forgotten. His camera had been an extension of his hands, his eyes. He never let anything get between him and an image he wanted to capture. Not even Melanie. Especially not Melanie.

Then she heard it behind her again, the whup . . . whup of wing beats. And this time she held her camera ready. As the second raven passed her, she caught the image. Joy burst inside her.

I did it!

Only then did it strike her as odd that the two ravens had been so focused on their goal that they hadn’t seemed to notice how close they’d been to her.

The first raven had already disappeared, but she watched the second one descend behind a rocky outcrop thirty feet away.

She followed a barely perceptible track through the scrub to where six or seven ravens pecked at what looked to be the carcass of a small animal. A rabbit, maybe. Thinking how wonderfully the image of this raw savagery would contrast with the majesty of the flying raven photo, she crept closer. And gagged.

The ravens weren’t feeding on a rabbit, but something oddly familiar and totally out of place.
* * *

Melanie waited for Sheriff Bryan and Deputy Midget to pick their way up the rock-strewn path to the top of the hill. The sun glinted off the sheriff’s mirrored sunglasses, making him appear soulless.

When he drew near, Sheriff Bryan grunted. “I wish you’d stop finding bodies in such out of the way locations.”

“I didn’t find a body. I found . . .” She swept out a hand, showing the track and which direction he should travel.

The sheriff furrowed his brow at her, then followed the track. Deputy Midget trailed after him. Melanie brought up the rear.

Sheriff Bryan stopped by the outcropping. “A boot? You called me here to see crows playing with an old bloody boot? You must really be desperate to talk to me.”

“Desperate?” Melanie stared at him, the heat of anger flushing through her body. “Are you really so self-absorbed that you think I called you here on a pretext? I didn’t call you. I called dispatch and told them exactly what I found. It’s not a pretext, and they’re not crows. They are ravens.”

The sheriff and his deputy exchanged shrugs, then proceeded forward. The ravens squawked, rose as one, and circled above them, as if protecting their treasure.

Sheriff Bryan squatted, then whipped his head around, lips drawn back in a rictus, and faced Melanie. “A foot? That’s what you found, a foot?”

Midget took a step back. “It looks like something out of Morris Sinclair’s books.”

“Necropieces,” Bryan said, turning back to the foot.

“So where’s the body?” Midget asked.

“Maybe there isn’t one. Someone could have been illegally dumping medical waste.” Bryan rose and loomed over Melanie. “What do you know about this?”

She studied him for a moment, wondering what was going on behind those sunglasses. “Are you accusing me of something?”

The sheriff cocked his head like a raven getting ready to peck at its prey. “The person who calls in a report is always suspect.”

Sunday, August 05, 2012

I Dare You to Read These Books

Did anyone read the recent Publisher’s Weekly article about the ten most difficult books ever written? Those who follow my blog know that I love lists almost as much as I love stat, so I couldn’t resist this one. I’ve read only one on the list and am certainly not inspired to read more of them unless I’m feeling particularly masochistic. According to two curators, Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg, here are the titles. By the way, the titles of some would keep me from picking up the book in the first place!

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (whom I’ve never heard of). Dylan Thomas said that in order to read this book you must first master its “tortuous gothic prose style”.

A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift. This book apparently has multiple problems, among them “superabundant references to obsolete cultural squabbles”. Oh, dear. There’s also a 100 footnotes for those who are particularly self-punishing.

The Phenomenology of the Spirit by G.F. Hegel. Apparently, Hegel’s refute of the “history of consciousness and the quintessential explanation of the process of dialectic” goes through you like lentils, according to one Stanford professor.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – I read this one and don’t remember a thing about it probably because it’s not only “hard to tell who’s who or who’s saying or thinking what, it is also disconcerting....”

Clarissa, Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson. Given that this was written by a man, you’d think it would be a relatively short book, but think again. It’s 1,500 pages. I guess Clarissa had a long history. And here’s the kicker, the novel apparently lacks a plot!

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – Many of you won’t be surprised to see this one on this list. Happily, I’ve never even attempted to crack open the cover. According to the article, Joyce purposely set “traps” for the reader out of hostility born by years of frustration. Maybe he should have gone into the trades.

To keep this blog from becoming too long, I won’t go into detail over the last four, as the article does this beautifully anyway. Let me just say that these titles in particular make the content suspect for me.

Being & Time by Martin Heidegger

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer. The spelling puts me off right there.

The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein.

Women & Men by James McElroy

I encourage you to read the PW article, and if you’ve read any of these books let me know. If you have more to add to the list, I’d love to hear them as well!