Sunday, April 28, 2013

When is a Book Not a Book?

Several months ago, a well-known writer (possibly Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith, I can’t remember which) wrote a how-to blog about breaking into self-publishing ebooks. One tip was to start small by publishing short fiction as a way of learning the business, including proper formatting and price points, etc. A number of folks have done exactly this in a variety of genres, however, Amazon recently announced that it’s pulling any ebook that is 2,500 words or less. The reason they give is that the book is proving to be an unsatisfying reading experience for consumers.

So, a couple of things here. If a writer has created a work of fiction that is 2,500 words or less, it is not a book, it is a short story, and should be marketed as such. However, since all electronically published works of fiction and nonfiction, regardless of length, are called e-books, this apparently has created dissatisfaction among consumers who feel cheated by the lack of pages. Hmm.

If the complaint truly is about the length of the work, why aren’t consumers paying more attention to the information about the ebook on its home page? All four of my books state the number of pages and make it clear that the pages are numbered.

So, is there more to Amazon’s decision to pull short fiction? As one writer pointed out on a Kindleboards forum, a sizable percentage of the short fiction in question happens to be erotica. Some writers are wondering if this is Amazon’s way of purging certain content from their inventory?

Amazon’s letter to one author appears in the GalleyCat blog, which you may find of interest at

Whatever Amazon’s reason for the change (Amazon likes to change things up a lot), it’s useful information for those of us who are thinking about publishing original short fiction in ebook formats. I can’t help wondering, though, if Amazon will change the rules to 5,000 words next month, or 10,000 the month after that?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Arthur Ellis Award Nominees Announced!

On Thursday night, several cities across the country hosted entertaining events to announce this year’s Arthur Ellis Award Nominees. For those who don’t know, these awards are sponsored by Crime Writers of Canada, and were created nearly thirty years ago to celebrate excellence in Canadian crime writing. This year we are fortunate, not to mention grateful, for the following media coverage: 

From the National Post:

From the CBC:

The Vancouver Sun also printed a piece, and there might well be others. The list of nominees is posted on the Crime Writers of Canada website at If you are a fan of mysteries, I would encourage you to visit the website to find out where your favorite authors will be appearing. Authors post their appearances regularly and there are plenty of events to choose from.

Because there are eight categories, I won’t list all of the nominees here, but I will say that all nominations are for books published in 2012, with the exception of the “Unhanged Author” category, which is for the best unpublished novel. Other categories include Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best French Crime Book, Best Short Story, Best Non-Fiction Book, Best Juvenile/YA Novel and the newly created (on a 3-year trial basis) Best Novella.

For those of you who write mysteries, please bookmark CWC’s website for contest guidelines and deadlines. The website is a wealth of information for fans and writers alike.

The winners will be announced on May 30th at a Gala in Toronto and I’m sure it will be an exciting night!

Preparing for @StoryADayMay

I've done it. I've signed up to write a story every one of the 31 days of May. Who waved this shiny temptation in front of me? Story A Day Extreme Writing Challenge, appropriately enough.

When I tell people I've done this, they ask me if I'm doing any preparatory work. I say, "Not really." Now I'm going to tell you what that means.

"Are you collecting ideas?" Dear hearts, I have a binder this thick of ideas I've scribbled down, false starts that didn't lead anywhere, characters/settings/situations/dialog I haven't used, and informational pamphlets on things not pertinent to my actual life. Some are even organized.

"Are you starting anything to be on the mark when it happens?" I've created a folder on my computer for the stories and saved 31 blank documents named 01.doc through 31.doc. Each day, I'll open a file, type in one of my bits from my bits binder or, if I start with something longish, an abstract of it, and I'll write. 

"They don't say how LONG it has to be, ha ha!" True. I like writing flash fiction, so I won't be surprised if I end up with some flash. Not micro-mini flash, like my Hot Flashes, because they take too long, but maybe 100-500 words. I also won't be surprised if I end up with stuff that leaves the reader hanging, or that read more like synopses. Those will just serve as structures for longer stories later. 

"They don't say it has to be GOOD, ha ha!" True. This is always a risk a writer runs in writing anything. The good part is, if a writer falls off the tightrope, somebody else gets a broken neck.

"What if you fail?" Same question I got asked when I did NaNoWriMo. Same answer: I can't fail. Even if I don't meet the challenge, I will have written more than if I hadn't tried. And just getting revved up for it is pumping up my writer's particular endorphins, and that's always a good thing. :)

So, long story short (I know: "Too late!"), I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

See you in May!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Has Self-Publishing Changed Things for the Better?

There’s no doubt that the self-publishing revolution has been a game-changer for nearly everyone in the publishing/bookselling biz. Hundreds of articles and blogs have been written on the topic. These days, it’s interesting to listen to colleagues discuss whether to self-publish or take the traditional route. Certainly, the question requires careful thought as the answer isn’t easy, especially when there’s still a fair bit of misinformation (or perhaps one-sided information) being circulated. Take, for instance, an article called “Ten Ways Self-Publishing Has Changed the Books World” (do you have a grammatical issue with that heading?) in The Guardian.

I’ve listed some of their points in italics, followed by my comments, because I don’t agree with all of it.

1.      The copy editor, traditionally a marginalised figure, is now in strong demand. This is only partly true. Colleagues have noticed increased business, yet there are still a huge number of self-published books that should have been edited. I personally know self-publishers who never hire an editor. Not a good idea.

2.      The re-emergence of the book as a precious object. This one had me laughing for a minute. If anything, low-priced, slapped together McBooks have devalued books in general, but I gather their point is that more people are self-publishing books that hold special memories for friends and family.

3.      The role of the author is changing. With the fragmentation of the media in recent years, publishers were already relying on authors to help with the marketing – and learning how to do so is empowering. Yeah, well maybe, if you like marketing, but a lot of authors don’t. For them, it's akin to having a root canal with strangers looking on. The few authors I know who embrace it and do a great job have advertising and marketing backgrounds. The rest of us are supposed to jump on board and get up to speed.

4.      It’s not all about making money. Huh? Maybe for a tiny percentage, but anyone who visits the kindleboard and amazon forums regularly will soon be set right on that score. It is about making money for many people, so much so that they’re counting on writing income as their retirement plan. Definitely not a good idea.

5.      An end to the vanity-publishing put down. Again, I suggest the journalist hang out at amazon forums for a while. Anyone who dares identify themselves as a self-published author on some forums will not only get an earful but be given a 1-star review and targeted from there on. There are groups of people who avoid anyone and any book that smacks of self-publishing.

There are more points in the article, and I do agree with some of them, but the thing is there are different ways to look at things. While I do think self-publishing has created terrific opportunities for writers, there’ve also been some definite drawbacks to the book world in general. Consider the sleazy ways some traditional and self-published authors resort to gain attention and sales, for example, through stacking bestseller lists, sock puppetry, and republishing books to gain a higher ranking on Amazon’s list.

In the book biz, it always comes down to a matter of expectation versus reality. I think this article is a little too unrealistic about what’s really going on out there, however, you can decide for yourself at

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Special Guest: Robin Leigh Morgan talks about "Changing Genres"

Today's special guest is debut novelist Robin Leigh Morgan, author of I Kissed a Ghost, a paranormal, time travel romance. Robin is sharing her writing experience and what she has learned along the way. Welcome, Robin!

Some of us who have chosen to write fiction come from a variety of places. And by “a variety of places,” I’m not referring to a physical location; I’m referring to our writing experiences.

There are some of us who have enjoyed writing since we were children, and each year, by writing something in school, it improved. For some of us, it continued until we graduated college and began working. Some of us entered the work force taking jobs, which required us to write, whether it was procedures, handbooks/manuals, or news stories. But all of these are non-fiction, and each one has a set of “rules” that need to be followed to write something well enough to be acceptable.

As for myself, while my regular job did not require me to write, for eleven years I wrote articles [commentaries/viewpoints] of what was happening in my community and my feelings about it. When I started to write these items, my writing skills were not honed. I didn’t have my ideas organized in a tight manner, although my writing had been informative. By the time I’d written my last item, I’d become quite adept at it.

When I started to write fiction, I somehow drifted to writing a contemporary romance story with a paranormal element running through the storyline, but after almost 9 years I still hadn’t completed it. That is, until someone suggested I should write for a much younger audience, which is what I did, cumulating in my first YA Paranormal/Time Travel/First Kiss romance novel entitled I Kissed a Ghost.

Anyway, making the transition from non-fiction to fiction, I’ve had to learn a new set of rules on how to write. Most of these involved dialogue, showing not telling, where before I just told. I now had to learn about the use of tags. I had to learn not to be overly descriptive of something, but allow my reader to create the image for themselves in their minds. In the beginning I found it hard to break my old writing habits. Now I’m finding myself with these habits essentially gone. The biggest issue I still have and am trying to get a good handle on, is POV [Point of View]. Regardless of what’s happening or being said it has to be in one character’s perspective, and you can’t flip-flop between two characters within a scene. There needs to be a transition from one character to another.

All these things have helped me mold myself into the author I’m today. I’ve also learned there are additional rules within a genre, depending on the sub-genre you’ve decided to write in. These rules apply to the dialogue spoken, which needs to be true to the time period you’re writing in, as well as how your characters are dressed, and their titles, if any, as is the case with the regencies sub-genre of romance novels.

So as you can see, writing is not merely a string of words you put together. There are rules that need to be followed if you’re to be well received by your readers.  

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m a retired NYC civil servant who has been married for 19 years with no children. We have two cats, a senior Maine Coon with diabetes, and a 10 year old calico. For my second romance novel I’ve returned to writing the Contemporary romance I wrote about in my post.

I Kissed a Ghost is available on Amazon at:
The Kindle version should become available around April 24, 2013.

If anyone would like to read several UNEDITED SNIPPETS from the book you can find under the category of “GHOSTLY WHISPERS” on any my blog sites:   

You can also find me on:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — The Story Begins!

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. The very first chapter of the very first book (Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story) was posted on October 24, 2010, and we are still going strong! In fact, we are getting better and better. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, which is shaping up to be a psychological thriller.

The body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of a blow-up figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, the first collaboration in the series, and further developed in Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, Rubicon Ranch: Secrets is a stand-alone novel, so don’t worry if you are new to Rubicon Ranch. A new chapter will be posted every Monday on the Rubicon Ranch blog. I’m posting the first chapter here, but if you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

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!

(If the Christmas theme seems unseasonal, well . . . considering how long it takes to write a book at the rate of a chapter a week, in a few months, the season will catch up to us!)


Chapter 1: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 22; 7:05pm

Melanie Gray typed THE END, then sat back and studied the words on the computer screen. She’d found no satisfaction in telling the story of famed horror writer Morris Sinclair’s macabre life and death, and she felt no elation now that she’d finished the task. The evil man should have been buried in unhallowed ground and left to rot rather than be immortalized in a book, but she’d needed the money her publisher had offered. With the generous advance, she would be able to devote herself to finding out who killed her husband five months previously and, more importantly, why the murderer wanted Alexander dead. Morris had wooed death his whole life, so it was no surprise that death had come for him, but Alexander’s murder could not be so easily dismissed.

Tears stung Melanie’s eyes. She scrubbed the tears away, furious at herself for still grieving. She’d always considered herself a strong woman, up to any task, and yet she couldn’t write “the end” to her grief.

Damn you, Alexander! How could you do this to me?

She rose stiffly, stretched to get the worst of the kinks from her body, and tottered to the front closet for her coat. Except for a few hours of fitful sleep each night during the past nine weeks, she’d spent all her time at the computer, and she was sick of it. Sick of Morris Sinclair. Sick of death. Sick of Rubicon Ranch.

She opened the front door and blinked at the shadowy figures gliding through the darkness. Morris’s fans had descended on the neighborhood when news of his demise had hit the airwaves, and they had stayed when they learned that not all of Morris’s body pieces had been recovered. Dressed as vampires and zombies and ghouls of every imaginable—and unimaginable—ilk, they roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert looking for necropieces in some sort of grisly treasure hunt.

Melanie hesitated, wondering at the wisdom of going out so late in the evening, but the twinkle of Christmas lights adorning a nearby desert willow made her set aside her caution.

Alexander had always loved Christmas, and no matter where in the world they happened to be living, he always managed to find a tree and decorate it. If Alexander still lived in her memory, he’d want her to wander through the neighborhood so he could see the lights.

Smiling at the whimsical thought, she locked the door behind her and strolled down the driveway to Delano Road. Even with half the houses lit up with holiday decorations, the neighborhood seemed dark. Too many people had left the area, temporarily abandoning their homes, though the flickering of candlelight through closed curtains hinted that squatters had taken up residence in some of the empty houses.

Melanie stood at the curb, trying to decide whether to go right or left. “It’s your fault, Alexander,” she murmured. “Until you died, I never had a problem making decisions.” But now, it didn’t make any difference whether she went north or south, whether she left Rubicon Ranch or stayed. Without Alexander, everything seemed uniformly bleak.

A house across the street all at once came ablaze with thousands of small white lights. Melanie cut across the road and headed for the brightness, wishing Alexander could see the decorations for real. Lights outlined the driveway, every bush, every rock, and dripped from the eaves like dazzling falls of lace.

She walked leisurely, savoring the radiant display on Alexander’s behalf, then hurried past the next dwelling, which was dark, and slowed again at the following house to look at the whimsical blow-up figure of Santa on a motorcycle.

After the brilliance of the lights at the first domicile, she had to wait a moment to let her eyes adjust to the relative dimness of this scene. And then she wished she hadn’t hung around to get a better look. Santa, with a wide grin and an upraised hand, seemed to be gleefully running over the prone body of a woman. A mannequin, it looked like.

Melanie drew in a sharp breath. Who would create such a morbid tableau for Christmas? But then, seeing a vampire with glowing teeth run past her, she sighed. Anyone in this insane neighborhood could have done it. After Morris Sinclair’s demise, Rubicon Ranch had become a bacchanalia of death, a celebration of the worst in humanity.

A car moved along the street behind her. The headlights illuminated the scene as clearly as if it were day, and suddenly something seemed wrong. So very wrong.

The woman being run over by the cheery Santa looked stiff in the way of death, not stiff like a mannequin.

Melanie told herself to continue on, to forget the gruesome sight and enjoy the rest of the decorations, but her leaden feet refused to do her bidding. Finally, wishing she were anywhere but here, she crept closer to the scene.

She caught a faint whiff of death—like meat just beginning to go bad—and her heart beat faster.

No. No. She’d had enough of death. Alexander. Poor kidnapped little Riley Peterson. Morris Sinclair. How could so much death be associated with a community as small as Rubicon Ranch?

Melanie bent over the body and touched a finger to the side of the woman’s neck to check for a pulse, though she already knew the truth.

She fumbled in her coat pocket for her cell phone and wondered if the sheriff would continue to believe in her innocence. Hell, she didn’t believe it herself. Maybe she was some sort of Typhoid Mary when it came to death. She’d been the one who found Riley Peterson’s body out in the desert, stuffed in a television console. She’d been the one to lead the sheriff to the desert where they’d found the body of Riley’s birth father. She’d been the first one to come across a necropiece—a dismembered foot—after Morris was killed. And now once again she had found death.

She punched in 999, but when the call didn’t connect, she realized she’d used the emergency number for Britain. She cleared the number, then punched 119. Crap. Wrong again. That was the emergency number for Mozambique. Where was she? She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Rubicon Ranch. Rojo Duro County. Mojave Desert. California. USA. Ah, yes. 911.

Melanie made the call, gave the information to the dispatcher, then pulled her coat more firmly around her to protect her from the chill of the high desert winter night.

She’d expected to wait a half an hour or more until the sheriff or his deputies could make the thirty-mile trip from Rojo Duro, but only ten minutes had gone by when a dark SUV pulled up to the curb, and Deputy Kelvin Midget slid out from behind the wheel more nimbly than seemed possible for such a massive man.

The SUV didn’t have official county plates, so Melanie supposed the vehicle was the deputy’s private ride. She felt a spasm of guilt at cutting into the man’s personal time, but then she remembered what Deputy Midget had once told her—that he’d lost his wife to pancreatic cancer about three year and a half years ago, and had come out west to start over so he could heal. Maybe, like Melanie, he had no real life but was just going through the motions of living.

“What seems to be the trouble, Ms. Gray?”

Shivering, Melanie pointed to the body.

Midget picked his way through the xeriscaping, got down on his haunches to check the woman’s neck as Melanie had, then rose to his feet without using his hands to shove himself upright.

“Did you see what happened?”

“No. Just found her lying here is all. Checked her pulse. Called it in.”

Midget walked around to the other side of the body, scanning the ground, his dark brow furrowed. “Did you find her purse?”

“No, but I didn’t look for it.” Melanie wondered about the deputy’s concern for the woman. It seemed more than simply a law enforcement officer’s professional interest in a crime scene. “Did you know her?” she asked.

“Didn’t you?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t know many people in the neighborhood.”

“Seth—Sheriff Bryan—thinks you notice everything.”

“Well, the sheriff thinks a lot of things that aren’t true.”

Midget made a small sound that might have been a chuckle. “Hit a nerve, did I?”

More to get away from the uncomfortable topic of the Sheriff than because she wanted to identify the woman, Melanie circled the body so she could get a better look. The woman did appear familiar at that. Aquiline nose, close set eyes, coiffed hair, manicured fingernails with a shimmering design painted atop the polish, high heels, tailored business suit.

Melanie backed away from the body. “I think she might be a real estate agent. I’ve seen her around the neighborhood.”

“Nancy Garcetti,” Deputy Midget said. “She sold me my house. Poor woman. She was such a terrible judge of character. Looked at the superficial and assumed she knew what the person was about. Kept notes of everything. You sure you didn’t find her purse?”

“Maybe the person who murdered her took it.”

“What makes you think she was murdered?”

“What else could it be? Nancy got tired, so she decided to take a nap by the wheels of Santa’s motorcycle and froze to death?” Regretting her caustic tone, Melanie huddled deeper into her coat. Had she become so used to murder that all death seemed so unnatural? But death was unnatural. A deletion of life. A void.

“People die from many causes,” Deputy Midget said. “It’s possible she had a heart attack. A stroke. Some sort of accident. A mugging gone wrong. Could be anything. We won’t know until the ME gets here.”

A tan Navigator parked behind Midget’s SUV, and Lieutenant Rosaria Frio stepped out of the vehicle.

The lieutenant looked even more like an Hispanic Barbie doll than when Melanie first met her. No emotion showed on the law enforcement officer’s beautiful face, and the dim light made her skin look plastically perfect. Only the glitter of the lieutenant’s dark eyes and her easy stride confirmed her humanity.

She greeted Deputy Midget with a nod. “You got here fast.”

“I just bought a house here in Rubicon Ranch over on Adobe Pobre Court. I told you about it. Got an awesome deal from a couple who could hardly wait to get away from the area. They said there was too much crime.”

“Imagine that.” Lieutenant Frio turned to stare at Melanie. “And here is our one-woman crime spree herself. Or maybe cadaver dog would be a better description.”

Melanie returned the Lieutenant’s gaze, but refrained from answering in kind. Lieutenant Frio seemed to have taken her in dislike when they met after Riley’s murder and her manner had only grown colder with the passage of the months. Melanie didn’t entirely blame her. If their places were reversed, she’d probably be just as skeptical as the lieutenant about her penchant for finding corpses.

Lieutenant Frio walked to body and stood over it for a moment, then slanted a glance toward Melanie. “Sheriff Bryan will be here shortly. He and his wife were dining out, and he needs to take her home first.”

Melanie remained impassive. She already knew the sheriff and his wife were back together. Melanie had talked to him a couple of times to get details for her book, and he had told her his wife had decided the celebrity-ridden area might not be such a backwater after all. He’d sounded apologetic, but other than behavior that bordered on unprofessionalism, he had nothing to apologize for. They hadn’t had an affair, not even a fling. Just a little bit of flirtation and a lot of anger.

“Can I go?” she asked.

“I’ve questioned Ms. Gray,” Deputy Midget said. “If we need her again, we know where to find her.”

Lieutenant Frio turned her implacable gaze toward Melanie. “Don’t leave the county.”

If anyone else had deadpanned such a remark, Melanie would have assumed it was either a friendly suggestion or possibly a joke, but coming from the lieutenant, the command sounded like a jail cell slamming shut.

Melanie wanted to run back to her place, but she forced herself to walk since she was sure the lieutenant would see haste as a sign of guilt. She tried not to look at the houses she passed. The joyful decorations suddenly seemed obscene.

She didn’t believe Deputy Midget’s suggestion that Nancy had died of natural causes. The missing purse hinted that something grimmer was going on. What secrets Nancy had kept in her purse? Everyone in Rubicon Ranch seemed to have something to hide. And someone—perhaps someone in one of these very houses—might have a secret they would kill to protect.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

Sunday, April 07, 2013

What I'm Up to This Spring

I’ve been writing so much about hot topics in the writing and publishing world that I’ve almost forgotten that every once in a while, I should focus on promoting myself and upcoming local writing events.

Next week, I and fellow mystery writers Cathy Ace and David Russell will be appearing at the Maple Ridge Library for One Mysterious Afternoon on Saturday, April 13th from 2 to 4 p.m. We’ll be discussing mysteries, reading from our work, and answering questions. Coffee, tea and treats will be served. The address is Maple Ridge Library, 130-22470 Dewdney Trunk Road, Maple Ridge, BC.

Secondly, Crime Writers of Canada’s annual Arthur Ellis Shortlist Night will be held at the Vancouver Public Library’s Main Branch on Thursday, April 18th from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Peter Kaye room (lower level). I’ve arranged a great list of panelists that include Chris Bullock, Kay Stewart, Miriam Clavir, Brock Clayards, and Cathy Ace. Moderator Robin Spano will make this an especially fun evening. After the panel discussion, we’ll be announcing the list of nominees shortlisted for this year’s awards and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a long list of BC nominees!

On May 9th, Cathy and I will be joining short fiction mystery writer Elizabeth Elwood for another mystery evening discussion at the Burnaby Public Library, McGill Branch, on Thursday, May 9th from 7 to 8:30

Later that month, I’ll be in Victoria for a mini conference in honour of National Crime Writing Month. Our conference is called Making Crime Pay and will feature three panels from 9:45 to noon. In the afternoon we’ll be doing Mystery Mini Chats in a fast-paced event that works something like speed dating, but we’ll be talking up our books instead. Refreshments will be provided by TouchWood Editions. All of this takes place on Saturday, May 25th at the Victoria Public Library Central Branch.

We’ll also be arranging a dinner on Arthur Ellis Awards night on May 30th, location to be announced.

If you can come to any of these events, we’d love to see you!