Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Up and Down of It All

This week, I came across a thought-provoking blog by Laura Resnick, who has interesting things to say about writing and the writing life. Her latest piece is a poignant, funny, and head-shaking account of the ups and downs she’s had over the years as a writer. Since the link’s mentioned below, there’s no point in repeating it, but her post made me reflect on my own ups and downs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy where I am, as my fifth mystery (3rd in the Casey Holland series) will be released this fall by a traditional publisher, and for this I’m very grateful. But there were times before I found TouchWood Editions that I really wondered if I’d propped my ladder against the wrong tree.

I’ve said it before and it still holds true: I’m not a prolific writer.  My first two books took over ten years (overlapping) and twelve drafts each to polish enough to submit, and even then editors found necessary changes to make. Since I’ve had the opportunity to write full time over the past three years, I’ve learned to cut the number of drafts in half.

With the very first book, Taxed to Death, I acquired a Canadian agent and, being a loyal person by nature, stayed with her five years before I realized she wasn’t going to sell the book. She did, however, give me valuable editing tips and advised me to read lots of mysteries, which I still do.

I continued submitting the book and eventually found a publisher who liked it, however, he wanted to try a new “publishing model” where the authors kicks in a couple thousand bucks to help with production costs. This was before the days of AuthorHouse and iUniverse, but I guess you could say he was one of the pioneers. I went on to self-publish the book, which was a great, albeit expensive, learning experience.

Later, I acquired a second agent, this one American, who also happened to be a writer, for another mystery, which later transformed into The Opposite of Dark. She was a nice person, who actually submitted the book to big publishers. I have a copy of their cordial rejection letters. After two years, we parted company, again amicably. I don’t think either woman is in the agenting biz anymore.

Shortly afterward, I found a new, small American press who offered me a three-book deal, but closed shop before we even went into production. Still, I kept trying, and finally found TouchWood. My experiences are short and amicable compared to what Laura, and I expect many others, have endured.

A writer will always have ups and downs, but after 30+ years, I’m still here, still enjoying the process of putting ideas on paper. I’ve learned how to write and complete novels, how to publish books, and how this somewhat dysfunctional business works. I’m still trying to figure out how to make money at it, but if I hang around long enough, I’ll get there. And that’s the point of this and Laura’s blog: writers who hang in there are survivors. Although there are no guarantees of fame and fortune, there is work, and hope, and luck, and probably some level of talent. You keep mixing and experimenting, and maybe one day you’ll get to where you want to be. Staying power and the pursuit of a dream are probably key to any successful career. I wish you luck with yours.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with Marian Allen, Author of the Sage Books

sageCWhat is your book about?

The SAGE trilogy is about a land thrown out of balance by the selfishness of its ruler. When the most selfish of the Four Divine Animals (Tortoise) decides to stir things up and use a few chosen people to make even more of a mess, events take unexpected turns.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

The most unusual character in SAGE has to be Tortoise. Sometimes he appears as a tortoise, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a cat, and sometimes as The Black Warrior, a terrifying sight on the battlefield. He can probably appear as a woman, too, but I haven’t written that story yet. As his author, I like him very much, because he was so much fun to write, but I can’t say he’s a likeable character. ~grin~

How long did it take you to write your book?

SAGE took me close to 20 years, from first glimmer to print/eBook. I kept getting agents who loved the book but wanted changes, then didn’t like their own changes or didn’t want to wait for my rewrite. I rewrote the book, start to finish, three or four times, by which time I had gutted it of most of its strangeness. My youngest daughter, who had grown up listening to the rewrites, told me to stop listening to what other people thought and trust myself. I did one more rewrite, making it exactly what I wanted it to be, and that’s the one I sold to Hydra Publications.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

Often it’s just a glimmer. Maybe a setting, a character, a situation, or a line of dialog. I start writing – I call it writing my way into a story – and stop to do some plotting and planning before I go on. Very rarely do I have the whole thing in mind before I start that initial writing.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

I did a lot of research for SAGE. I read books on unicorns, on animal symbology and mythology, on English Anglo-Saxon life, and on the history of castles. Oh, and historical food and clothing. And silversmithing. One thing that really gets my goat is people who say, “It must be nice to write fantasy. You don’t have to do any research!” ~laughing~

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There isn’t any swashbuckling or great feats of sorcery in SAGE, although swords are wielded and magic is present. One character says having magic is like being aware of another reality that’s as real as the one everybody else is aware of as well as being aware of everybody’s reality at the same time. I think readers will be intrigued by this feeling of the ordinary/extraordinary duality.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

I ask my characters questions. After the rough draft, I fill out character sheets on them, including asking them 10 random questions and letting them answer in their own voices. I find their voices become much more individual and strong as the questions proceed. Then I can do the rewrite with those voices in my head and those answers in the background.

Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

I have a spiral notebook with pocket dividers filled with “bits”. For the first time this year, I did the Story A Day in May challenge, and mined that binder for all it was worth! I still have masses of material in there, though. It’s very reassuring.

What writer influenced you the most?

On the grounds that I should go back as far as possible, I have to say that Walter R. Brooks, creator of the FREDDY THE PIG detective books for kids, influenced me most. Brooks’ characters were individuals with unique points of view and different voices and strong motivations. He knew when to show and when to tell, when to telescope and when to detail, and his bit characters were as unique and memorable as the main ones, and sometimes turned up in later books. Plus, he was funny!

Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?

The late mystery writer Dick Stodghill said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously – but DO take your work seriously. Insist that everyone around you take your work seriously. It isn’t some little thing you do, it isn’t a joke, it’s your work.”

Have you written any other books?
Oh, dear me, yes, thank you for asking. FORCE OF HABIT is a cop/sf/farce set on the planet Llannonn, where courtesy is mandated by law and loud-mouthed aliens from outer space – from the planet Earth, to be specific – are sure to find themselves in trouble. SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING is another science fiction novel, this one set on the planet Marner, where slavery is legal, and a tourist from Earth reluctantly puts more than her career on the line for someone she doesn’t even like. I’ve collected some of my short stories and self-published them for Kindle and at Smashwords.

Where can people learn more about your books?

The best place to go is my website: I have excerpts of all the novels and all the short stories there, as well as a page of links to stories that are free at my site or at other sites on the web.

The SAGE books are available:
The Fall of Onagros
Bargain With Fate
Silver and Iron

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

My advice to aspiring authors varies depending on how cynical I am about the book business on a given day.

When I’m philosophical, I tell aspiring writers:
A book begins with a single word. Many novice writers get intimidated by the thought of writing an entire book, but all you ever need to write is one word. I know that’s not much of a goal, but in the end, it is the only goal. That’s how every book all through the ages got written — one word at a time. By stringing single words together, you get sentences, then paragraphs, pages, chapters, an entire book.

When I want to be encouraging, I tell aspiring writers:
Write your book. Rewrite it. Edit it Re edit it. Study the publishing business. Learn everything you can about good prose, story elements, promotion. With so many millions of people out there who have written a book or who want to write a book, the competition is fierce. A writer does not attain maturity as a writer until he or she has written 1,000,000 words. (I’m only halfway there.) So write. Your next book might be the one that captures people’s imaginations and catapults you into fame and fortune. Not writing another book guarantees you will never will reach that goal. It also keeps you from doing what you were meant to do.

When I’m cynical, I tell aspiring writers:
If you aspire to be a writer, write. That’s all it takes.
If you aspire to be a good writer, write — and read. Read how-to books about writing and read good books to absorb good writing.
If you aspire to be a bestselling writer, write, read — and gather luck. Less than 1% of 1% of writers ever attain that status.

Here are some responses from other authors about advice they give to aspiring writers. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Polly Iyer, Author of “Hooked”:
You’ve heard it before. Keep at it. Period.

From an interview with Sandy Nathan, Author of Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could
You’ll make more money as a brain surgeon.

From an interview with S. M. Senden, author of “Clara’s Wish”
Write from a place of knowing. Bring your experiences to what you write; be willing to invest a piece of yourself in your writing so it will be real to the reader.

From an interview with Tom Rizzo, Author of “Last Stand At Bitter Creek”
Read—not only for enjoyment. Treat your reading as a study lab, taking note of how the writer lures you into the story, how characters are introduced, and what makes you like or despise them. Reading soaks the brain with ideas and possibilities. And write, of course. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write.

What about you? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire and follow the instruction.)

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's a Matter of Trust

I’m sure that most of you have heard the recent headlines about the revelation that Robert Galbraith, author of a mystery called The Cuckoo’s Calling, is actually J.K. Rowling. Reports say that the book sold about 1,500 print copies and another 800 ebooks) however, now that the truth is out, sales have skyrocketed and the publisher, Little Brown, is doing a 300,000 copy print run.

There was widespread speculation that the unspectacular sales prompted either Rowling and/or her publisher to reveal the truth, but according to an article in The Huffington Post, this is not the case. It seems that one of the partners in the law firm representing Rowling told his wife’s best friend. The best friend then apparently posted the news on Twitter, and thus the trouble began.

I use the word trouble because the issues this situation raises are indeed troubling. First, when a client pays a lawyer big bucks to keep things private, they should bloody well be kept private. Second, why did people assume that a very rich author would feel compelled to boost sales in the first place? Where was the trust that maybe Rowling took the high road, and was outed by others?

Although I haven’t read reviews of the book, reports indicate that they were favorable. Yet, if Robert Galbraith was a real person, he wouldn’t be earning enough royalties to live on, and this is also troubling. Rowling’s fame has catapulted sales, but what does it say about the plight of unknown authors, despite great reviews in respected publications? (See my earlier blog on the dismal sales of Pulitzer prize winners). Have readers lost so much trust in unknown authors that the majority will be doomed to the remainder bin before they’re recognized?

But there’s another trust issue at play, addressed in an insightful blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Rusch has a lot to say about the Rowling incident, but she’s particularly struck by the way traditional publishers are blaming Rowling for the novel’s slow sales. They said this would have been an instant success if she’d used her real name, if she’d written a “bigger” book, ie. an action-packed thriller instead of the “quiet” mystery she wrote. In other words, it was Rowling’s own fault for not writing a blockbuster because, as Rusch points out, that’s all most of the big publishers are interested in these days.

And here’s where the trust issue comes up again. Rusch states that traditional publishing has become a blame-the-writer game. If sales are poor, it’s the writer’s fault, if the author asks for a full accounting of royalties, the writer shouldn’t have asked, and heaven forbid if they’re fighting for a better contract.

To read her blog, go to

Is Google+ A Good Place For Writers?

My answer is a resounding "yes". I joined Google+ before it opened to the public, thanks to a friend who sent me an invitation. I liked it from the start, and I like it even more, now.

The thing I like best, and have found most useful (since this is a post about utility, not just enjoyability) are Communities.

If you aren't on G+ yet, or if you've just registered, you may not know what Communities are. They're like Groups on Facebook or like clubs in real life. Someone sets up a Community based on, say, Schnauzers or Crafts for Kids. They can invite people to join the Community. People who join can invite other people to join. People can search within G+ for Schnauzers or Crafts or Kids and find the Community that way.

There are too many Communities for Writers to join them all! My two favorites are Readers Meet Authors and Bloggers, and Literary Agents Hate Kittens. I've met some wonderful authors, bloggers, and just folks in both of those Communities. I've made promotional connections, made connections through those connections, drawn readers to my blog and my books and picked up valuable information through those two Communities alone. This, in addition to the personal satisfaction of "meeting" a lot of people I like and enjoy "hanging around" with.

Interaction is encouraged. Hopping in to drop a link and never doing anything else is frowned upon. That means getting the most out of Google+ may be a little more time-consuming than Twitter, but it's time well spent, professionally and personally. When I publicized a KDP free offering of The Fall of Onagros, Book 1 of my SAGE fantasy, people I didn't even know grabbed it because they saw it in their G+ timestream, and they took the time to comment on the offering: "Thanks!" "Looks intriguing." "Sweet!"

I like that. Maybe you will, too. If you add me to your circles, let me know you followed me over from this post so I'll know to add you back. See you on Google+!

Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, July 14, 2013

When Six Become Five

I’m sure that many of you have heard by now that two of the largest publishing houses have officially merged to become Penguin Random House, according to several sources and a particularly interesting opinion piece in The New York Times. The Times article also suggested that HarperCollins has been “flirting” over a possible merger with Simon & Schuster, which would give authors and their agents only four big publishers (the other two are Hachette and Macmillan) to send manuscripts to. Did you know that these five companies publish about two-thirds of the books in the U.S.?

Among the several opinion pieces I’ve read this week, the general consensus is that the merger is in response to the Goliath that is Amazon, who happened to come out on the winning side of a huge ebook price fixing lawsuit in the States recently. Let’s face it, Amazon rules the ebook world, Amazon offers great prices, and has a close (and sometimes tumultuous) relationship with consumers. But at least they’re finding ways to stay in touch with folks and respond to opinion, although not necessarily for the better.

The ramifications for authors seeking traditional publishing with big companies offering real advances is huge. Already, some of these larger houses restrict their constituent imprints (publishing houses that have since been bought up and reduced to the cheap seats) from bidding against one another on a manuscript. Fewer options for authors means it will be harder to attract a big publisher's attention and advances will be lower. Face it, with fewer publishers in the game, they won’t have to compete as hard and they certainly know that many authors will be willing to accept less just to land that all-important contract. You can find the article at

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of scathing comments in blogs and articles about this merger. In fact, I haven’t come across any article that applauds it, although there must be at least one out there somewhere. What I have seen are responses such as the one in Teleread by a writer who’s listed the big six publishers’ “perfect storm” of mistakes over recent years. It’s a long piece and you might not agree with everything, but I think you’ll find it insightful.

As you know, in the publishing biz, the only constant is change, and I have a feeling there will be much more to come. Exciting stuff, isn’t it?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Win a Copy of Beneath the Bleak New Moon!

I’m delighted to announce that my third Casey Holland mystery, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, will be released on September 17th. My publisher, TouchWood Editions is offering ten advanced review copies on Goodreads until August 20, which you can enter to win at

Here’s the blurb:

While transit security officer, Casey Holland, is dealing with an unruly pair of teenage twin girls on the M7 bus, the unthinkable happens. Street racers hit a jogger crossing an intersection on Granville Street, a major Vancouver thoroughfare. Casey tries to save the jogger’s life, but fails. Days later, a second hit-and-run on the same street outrages her, especially when witnesses insist the victims were deliberately run down.

Young journalist, Danielle Carpenter, is determined to find the person who’s killing people for sport and asks for Casey’s help. Casey’s reluctant, until the twins reveal more about street racers then they should know. Helping Danielle isn’t easy. She’s not only reckless but on a vendetta. When Danielle goes missing and a racer is murdered, Casey’s compelled to step up the search for answers while trying to balance a demanding professional and personal life.

The third installment in Debra Purdy Kong’s transit security mysteries takes readers on a wild ride that will leave them breathless and wanting more.

And on a personal note:

Street racing has been a problematic issue for Vancouverites for quite some time. My interest in this topic began with a news story a number of years ago about a woman who was struck and killed by street racers while she was going for a walk. It took a long time for two street racers to be brought to trial and sentenced. During those years, more people were killed or injured through street racing.

As I began research for this book, I soon discovered that the problem occurs in nearly every city in North America and is still happening as I write this. I’m very fortunate that none of my friends or family have been hit by street racers. I wish the same for you.