Sunday, December 27, 2015

So, What's Next?

Before I start this week’s blog, I must tell you that Imajin Books is having a terrific sale until Jan. 4th. The madness of Christmas preparations and my new day job made me remiss in telling you earlier, but there’s still time to take advantage.

The paperback books are available at Imajin’s site.
Ebooks are available through Smashwords and Kindle. Enjoy!

As part of the sale, my novella, Dead Man Floating is only $.99!

Anyhow, it’s that time of year again, where I review the past twelve months to see if I came close to achieving my goals. The answer is yes, so I’m happy. But I also took on far more than I was comfortable with. To meet my goals for 2016, I’ll need to do things differently from activities in 2014 and 2015.

You see, I returned to salaried employment in late 2013 by choice. I worked full-time until my year-long assignment ended, and while I was grateful for the income, it took a huge toll on my writing output. I learned from it, so that in 2015, the next assignment was part-time. It was perfect, or so I thought. It allowed me to take on more writing-related events. I wound up conducting half a dozen workshops and speaking engagements, a couple of book signings, and nearly a dozen other bookselling events, not to mention the launch for my novella. By mid-summer, I realized that my writing was again suffering.

I’m pleased with the things I’ve done and from all that I’ve learned through these experiences, but I need to cut back. I have no workshops lined up for 2016, again by choice. I hope to launch two more novellas and finally get to work on the fantasy that’s been percolating in my brain for over three years. And I now have a permanent part-time position I enjoy, so there will now be no moving about and updating my resume and going on interviews.

Whether I’ll achieve my writing goals is the big question. I’ll still blog weekly and write book reviews, although probably not as many as the 54 reviews I wrote this year. I’ll promote, of course. This year, I also have personal challenges with a family member’s slowly deteriorating health, but all writers must learn to cope with personal challenges outside their writing lives.

I’ll tell you one thing, though. I’m excited about the coming year. Excited to be working, excited to be writing. May you all have a lovely 2016!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Never Again Yes Again

Every time I finish a book, I think, "I am never gonna write a book again!" It's so much fun to start them out, but then it gets hard. And then you finish and you have to go back and make it make sense. And then you have to make it better. And then you have to make it better.

And then you take it to your critique group and, if they're a good critique group, you have to fix all the goof-ups you didn't catch. And then you have to make it better. And again. And again.

Finally, you submit it for publication. Let's say it's accepted. Then the editor sends it back to you all marked up, and you have to fix it. Then the editor says, "That's the easy stuff, now let's get serious." So you have to make it better.

When the editor is satisfied, the book gets formatted for publication. Then it comes back to you and you have to read it again, to catch formatting errors, and also punctuation and spelling errors that got through all the previous screenings.

SoMuchFunThen it goes to electronic publication, and you have to read it again, to catch formatting errors, and also punctuation and spelling errors everybody still missed.

Then it goes to audio, and you have to read the damn thing again while listening to the recording, to catch any errors made by the reader. You'll also catch punctuation and spelling errors, but oops! too late for that. Then you send the reader your corrections, and the reader corrects the narration, and you have to read the damn thing again while listening to the recording, to make sure it's okay.

So by now, I'm really like, "I will never ever ever ever write another book -- EVARRR!"

But I will.

Because it's so much fun to start them out. So! Much! Fun!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gift-Buying Through Bestseller Lists?

I don’t know if you use Amazon’s bestselling books’ lists to decide your Christmas gift purchases, but’s press release recently announced their top 20 picks. Keep in mind that these are bestselling books, not necessarily best books, although I have read and enjoyed a number of authors on the list including Louise Penny, Lee Child, and David Baldacci. To be honest, I’m a little baffled why three adult coloring books were among the top twelve. Clearly, coloring is more popular than I thought.

The media release also provides a best books of the year list, based on amazon editors’ picks. I clicked on the complete list which provides snapshots of all of the book covers. What struck me was that none of the covers were interesting enough to make me want to take a second look at the book. Book covers still matter, don’t they?

Having said that, I do intend to read at least one of the bestselling books, which is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins because it was recommended to me by a writing friend whose opinion I trust. As for the others, well, I don’t make purchasing decisions based on amazon’s “best” lists. Truthfully, bestseller’s lists don’t mean that much to me.

This year, I read 54 books. Only three or four were based on recommendations from friends. Others were by authors I’d heard of but hadn’t gotten around to reading. Others were self-published fantasy and mystery authors, many of which I enjoyed.

I’m hoping to read another fifty books in the coming year, and especially look forward to discovering terrific authors, regardless of how their books were published.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Introducing Guest Author, Barbara E. Brink

I’m delighted to introduce mystery author Barbara Ellen Brink today. Although I’ve known Barbara for a few years, we’ve never met in person. Barbara is one of those extraordinary people I’ve encountered through social networking. I remember reading her first book, Entangled, shortly after its release.

Barbara has gone onto produce a number of books including the bestselling Fredrickson Winery Novels. Her young adult series, The Amish Bloodsuckers Trilogy, was mentioned in NewsWeek Magazine as "a welcome departure from the typical Amish fare," and is now optioned for a screenplay! Her speculative thriller, Split Sense, won the 2012 Grace Award, and the following year her young adult novel, Chosen, was a finalist in the Grace Awards.

Barbara loves riding motorcycles, hiking, and reading thrillers that keep her up at night. Faith, family and friends are what keep her going...along with a habitual shot of chocolate at least once a day.

Today’s Barbara’s discussing her latest book, Roadkill.

Tell us about your book.

I released ROADKILL this past spring. It is the first in a brand new series I’m working on called, Double Barrel mysteries. Set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula along Lake Superior, the tiny little town of Port Scuttlebutt, is the place for murder.

Blake and Shelby Gunner are my married sleuths. He is an ex-detective, who was once with the Minneapolis Police Department, and she is an actress of dinner theatre fame who, as her husband says, “speaks Shakespeare as a second language.”

After a shooting that resulted in a crippling injury and his need of a cane, they decide to move back to Blake’s home town where crime and shootings are pretty much nil and void. But not long after arriving in town, they are pulled into a hit-and-run cold case that puts them both in more danger than this little port has seen since the Civil War.

Did you incorporate any real life experiences or settings into the story?

My husband and I have visited the U.P. a number of times, both in the summer and the fall. It’s beautiful when the leaves are changing and the Great Lake is choppy and grey, and another kind of beautiful when the water is blue like a sheet of glass, reflecting sky and sun. The tiny little towns we stopped in were much like my imaginary Port Scuttlebutt. Café’s and antique shops, fishermen and miners. The last time we were there I told my husband I was going to write a series set along Lake Superior. It just seemed like the perfect place for murder mysteries. I took a lot of pictures so I could remember details and when I’m writing I take them out and look at them from time to time. They are great inspiration.

What are the pros and cons of writing a series?

Writing a series is like going home. I’ve already gotten to know these characters, and although they tend to grow and change with each story, they are still basically the same people. It’s familiar territory and I slip right back into their heads with ease. A series is also very popular with readers because they fall in love with certain characters and want to continue to visit their old friends.

The cons of this can be tricky. Sometimes writers get too familiar with their characters and/or lackadaisical with the writing, as though they no longer have to be fully engaged. Sometimes the stories start feeling like a rehashed episode of Murder She Wrote. Another con would be if I had someone like Kathy Bates in the movie Misery as my “biggest fan.” I could NEVER end that series safely, right?
What are you working on right now?

I am working on the second book in the Double Barrel Mysteries. (Still untitled at this time.) Blake and Shelby Gunner have officially become private eyes and opened Double Barrel Investigations. Their first case is to solve the murder of a local man’s ex-wife before he’s convicted of the dastardly deed. It could be tricky, since her body was found buried beneath his woodpile.

ROADKILL can be purchased at:

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Pondering the Whole Pen Name Thing

My writing friends know that, as a long-time mystery author, I’ve been thinking about stretching my wings to write an urban fantasy. In fact, I’ve been plotting and making notes for some time. I’ve also been contemplating whether to use a pen name. Pros and cons have been tossed around for a while now, but after reading a blog about pseudonyms by Roz Morris, I’m honing in on a final decision.

I understand why some authors prefer to use a pen name. As authors state in Morris’s blog, they work in professions where it might not be all that helpful to be identified as a fiction author. Also, authors who write erotica might not want coworkers, family or friends to know about it.

As Morris pointed out, a pen name doesn’t necessarily keep one’s identity a secret in this day and age. All it takes is a friend snapping a photo of you at your book signing, then posting it on Facebook. The next thing you know, someone’s sharing and outing you by your real name.

The whole social network thing also creates more work. Another author quoted in the blog understandably found it a hassle to keep two Twitter accounts under two different names. Can you imagine doing so for Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Amazon, and all the many other sites? Branding is important, and if you’re working hard at branding your name, then it would feel like starting over.

Here’s another thing I learned from the blog. Amazon’s KDP and CreateSpace allow authors to associate their real account with any pen name they want. Kobo is also pen-name friendly, but Smashwords only allows one account and one name.

So, what am I going to do? I’ve decided to stick with my own name. I’ve seen several successful authors brand themselves, despite writing in multiple genres. In this day and age, it makes sense unless, of course, erotica writing is in my future. After all, my kids can only handle so much embarrassment from their mom.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Twelve Reasons Why Authors' Incomes Are Dwindling

Last week, I received my annual check from Access Copyright. For those who don’t know, Access Copyright is a national, non-profit organization here in Canada that represents thousands of writers, visual artists and publishers.(There are similar organizations in other countries). Access Copyright licenses the copying of the creators’ works, collects the proceeds, then distributes it among the writers and visual artists. Once a year, all participants receive a base payment. Over the past two years, the payment has dropped from $146.18 in 2013, to $112.75 in 2014, and this year was $79.48. This is possibly due to licensing battles with some educational institutions. Not every post-secondary school wants to pay to copy an author’s work. (I’ll save that ethical discussion for another time).

I’ve also been read interesting blogs from mystery author Hope Clark. She’s been in the writing biz a long time and recently discussed the number of emails she’s received from disillusioned writers who aren’t selling nearly as many books as they’d hoped, and who want advice. In Nov. 20th issue of her newsletter, Hope makes some great points, all of which address why readers shouldn’t expect to make money.

Overall, writers’s income are dwindling for several reasons. Here’s my top 12:

1)      As Hope states, readers expect to pay less for books. There’s a glut of free books and $.99 books enabling anyone to fill up their Kindles by spending very little.

2)      As a mystery writer, most of my readers are women in their 40’s to 70’s, who are downsizing their homes and learning to live on fixed incomes. Print or full-priced books have become a luxury that an increasing number of readers can’t afford.

3)      Ebooks can be borrowed from the library, and one can now read award-winning fiction from established authors free of charge.

4)       The growing number of published books far exceeds the growing number of readers.

5)      As Hope has also indicated, authors are selling fewer books. Not so long ago, an author could reasonably expect 500 sales. Now, many writers are lucky if they sell a 100 copies.

6)      Some authors are falling into the quantity is better than quality trap. In the rush to increase the odds of making sales, they are writing at a frantic pace without stopping for proper editing. Ultimately, this will harm their reputation.

7)      Amazon’s ever changing and mysterious algorithms changes visibility for some authors.

8)      Authors whose books can be borrowed through Amazon’s subscription service are also  finding that the shared pot is shrinking.

9)      Authors under contract with larger publishers are receiving smaller advances than their counterparts from a few years ago.

10)  Self-publishing, done properly, can be expensive. A good jacket designer and an editor could cost hundreds of dollars.

11)  I can’t speak for other genres, but the number of established mystery reviewers who write for major publications has shrunk. Print space is becoming almost non-existent in Canada, and this has impacted sales.

12)  My final reason will be the least popular, but it’s true. I’ve talked to wannabe authors at workshops who have neither the time nor interest in marketing their work. That doesn’t make them bad people or lazy people, just people with other priorities, i.e. day jobs and family members to care for.

I’m sure there are more reasons than the ones I’ve covered and, of course, there are always exceptions. If you read Kindleboards, you’ll know that plenty of authors appear to be making more money than ever through self-publishing. My advice is to study what the successful ones are doing. Read their blogs and follow their strategy. It takes a great deal of time and energy, but with patience, tenacity, and adaptability, it can pay off.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Hard-Won Milestone

Today, while selling my six mystery titles at a Christmas craft fair, I hit a milestone. I sold my 1,200th print copy of my first self-published mystery, Taxed to Death. When most unknown authors barely sell 100 print copies of their novels these days, (or so I’m told—I don’t know the actual number) this may seem like quite a feat, and it is, but not for the reason you might think, i.e. making money. You see, this didn’t milestone didn’t occur easily or quickly, and that’s the point I want to stress.

I’ve talked with a lot of writers and crafters over the last five years who all want to sell their products and make money, understandably. But I’ve also come across too many people who expect quick success. My craft fair season, which is from early November to mid-December involves both small high school craft fairs plus large three-day events. Time after time, I listen to vendors complain at the six-hour high school fairs (table rentals are $35 to $40) about not having cleared a $600 profit. I average $150.00 profit at high school fairs, and I’m happy with that. Hey, I don’t have lofty expectations. Craft fairs and, dare I say all bookselling events, are unpredictable. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life is that tenacity pays off.

As I mentioned, selling Taxed to Death hasn’t been an easy ride. Would you be surprised if I told you that the book was published twenty years ago? I still sell it because I believe in my work and because the story’s centered around fraud, a more timely topic today than it was when I was first wrote about it.

Here’s the thing, though. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles to sell that book, and to be honest, there were years when I made little effort to sell Taxed to Death at all. I remember 1997, when we filled an order from the Chapters chain that necessitated a second print run (and this is before the POD days), only to receive over four hundred  returned copies months later and learn that our distributor, who owed us $1,000, had gone bankrupt. I had to make cold calls to independent bookstores along with personal visits, asking managers to consider carrying my book. Happily, over twenty stores did. All but two of them are gone now. I spent many hours doing a massive mail-out to nearly 1,000 libraries (which resulted in nearly 200 sales), and then I found Christmas craft fairs and summer farmers' markets. 1,200 copies later, I’m most proud of the fact that I made the effort and stuck with it, That, to me, is the big accomplishment.

Wise writers know that the writing biz is a long-haul journey. For the vast majority of us, there is no easy money or instant fame and fortune. But there is belief in your work and opportunity and tenacity. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sword and Sorceress 30

I just got my author's copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley's SWORD AND SORCERESS 30, with my story, "Temple of Chaos," in it!

Women of Enchantment and Valor... 

Adventure featuring strong female protagonists. Yes, the 30th in the series!

So rush on out and buy you a copy! Makes a great gift, too!

Liars' Tournament Pauline J. Alama
Temple of Chaos Marian Allen
The Sea Witches Robin Wayne Bailey
Grave Magic Steve Chapman
Diplomacy in the Dark Suzan Harden
Phoenix for the Amateur Chef G. Scott Huggins
The Piper's Wife Susan Murrie Macdonald
Admissions Michael H. Payne
Four Paws to Light My Way Deborah J. Ross
An Old Dragon's Treasure Robert Lowell Russell
A Fairy Tale of Milk and Coffee L.S. Patton
Death Among the Ruins Jonathan Shipley
Jewels on the Sand Catherine Soto
Dark Speech Michael Spence & Elisabeth Waters
Possibilities Julia H. West

Available at Amazon in print or for Kindle and at Barnes & Noble for Nook.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Introducing Guest Blogger: Kat Flannery

I’m very happy to introduce Kat Flannery, a dynamic, versatile author with plenty of wisdom to share. I’ve already learned a lot about hosting launch parties and the importance of blogging from her.

Kat’s bio states that her love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance.  A member of many writing groups, Kat enjoys promoting other authors on her blog. She’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career. Her debut novel CHASING CLOVERS has been an Amazon bestseller many times. LAKOTA HONOR and BLOOD CURSE (Branded Trilogy) are Kat’s two award-winning novels and HAZARDOUS UNIONS is Kat’s first novella. Kat is currently hard at work on her next book.

Today, Kat offers some great tips on writing novellas. Enjoy!

I love to write novellas. They give me a refreshing break from the heavy plotting I do for my full-length novels. However, just like anything we write there is an invisible guideline when it comes to hammering out a novella, and I’ve shared mine below.

Five Tips You Need to Know When Writing a Novella.

1.      Start your conflict in the first sentence. Unlike a novel where you build toward your main plot. Your goal is to bring the reader into the action from the first sentence and take it from there. This will set you up to keep the novel going at a fast pace, and keep your reader engaged.

2.      Fewer Characters. You do not have the word count to bring in a broad range of characters. Stick to the main ones with a few minor. This enables you to develop your characters providing your reader with three-dimensional personalities they will love.

3.      Your novella should not span more than a week; in fact I’d say five days max. This is a quick telling of a story and if you spread it out over weeks, like you could with a novel, you will lose your reader do to an unbelievable timeframe. Get in and get out is how I like to describe the novella writing process.

4.      Stick to one plot, and if you have to one subplot. I don’t advise more than that. You haven’t the time to flush out subplots when choosing to write a novella. Your plot is the driving force of the novella, trying to incorporate subplots could pull the reader from the story if not done right. A novella should be read in a day, thus a reminder of how fast the pacing needs to be for your story. Snap…snap…snap…keep the rhythm going. Do not put in filler. There is no room in a novella for useless wording.

5.      Word count. Novellas range from 15000 – 40000 words. This can be difficult for those writers who are used to pounding away at an 80,000-word novel. Writing something with fewer words will challenge your creativity and editing skills. Remember keep it crisp, quick and strong.

On SALE for $1.99

Twin sisters separated by war, bound by love…

After the death of their father, twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker are forced to take positions with officers’ families at a nearby fort. When the southern states secede, the twins are separated, and they find themselves on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest war.

In the south, Maggie travels with the Hamilton’s to Bellevue, a plantation in west Tennessee. When Major Hamilton is captured, it is up to Maggie to hold things together and deal with the Union cavalry troop that winters at Bellevue. Racism, politics and a matchmaking stepmother test Maggie’s resourcefulness as she fights for Bellevue, a wounded Confederate officer and the affections of the Union commander.

In the north, Matty discovers an incriminating letter in General Worthington’s office, and soon she is on the run. With no one to turn to for help, she drugs the wealthy Colonel Cole Black and marries him, in hopes of getting the letter to his father, the governor of Michigan. But Cole is not happy about being married, and Matty’s life becomes all about survival.

Two unforgettable stories of courage, strength and honor.

Can one woman heal the heart of a lawman?

A gardener who uses plants to heal, Fern Montgomery is an outcast who refuses to be pushed out of town. When her friend is murdered and all fingers point to Fern as the only suspect, she must find a way to prove her innocence while fighting off unwanted feelings for the sheriff.

Sheriff Gabe Bennett has his mind set on arresting Sarah Fuller’s killer. But his key suspect isn’t what he expected. He soon realizes there is more to the quiet gardener than he’d first anticipated. As passion blooms, Gabe is forced to face his feelings—and the woman who has stolen his heart.

Kat’s books are available at:

You can find Kat here:

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Bookstore Signings Still Work

I’ve taken part in my fair share of book signings over the years, and have to admit that I often found them a little disappointing. It wasn’t because the store didn’t promote or I wasn’t bringing a positive attitude, but because I was an inexperienced introvert. I’ve slowly learned over time to bring things like bookmarks to hand out, and to engage with people, although this is still a challenge. I’ve also learned to quickly assess which shoppers might be interested in mysteries or not. It’s a gamble, but I’ve found that the more people I talk to, the greater the chance of sales.

I had the good fortune to take part in joint signings these last two Saturdays with mystery authors Allan J. Emerson and Cathy Ace. Both are extremely personable and Cathy excels at drawing potential customers to our table. Because Allan’s book is called Death of a Bride and Groom, he also created a faux wedding cake. What a great idea! As you can see from the photo, yesterday’s event took place on Halloween, so they got into the spirit and dressed in costume. (I still can’t find my old box of costumes…).

As you can imagine, all types of people dropped by our table, and we sold books! Cathy is also Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada, so we handed out brochures that lists other Canadian crime writers whose work may interest readers.

A large part of any author’s success comes from collaborating with colleagues. It’s about working together and sharing expertise and experience. With book signings, it not only increases the chances of sales but can be a lot of fun. These last two signings have renewed my enthusiasm for bookstore events, and increases my belief that we’re all better off when we work together.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why Story Length Changed My Reading Preferences

When I was younger, I read lots of long novels that ranged from Crime and Punishment to The Raj Quartet. As I grew older, I began to prefer action-packed, shorter novels and found myself shying away from anything over 350 pages. Perhaps a hectic life contributed to my preference for shorter work, but there might have been something else at play.

As a writer, I’ve always found it appealing to write mysteries in the 70,000 to 75,000 word range, but even that takes me a long time to rewrite and edit. Those who follow my blogs know that I’ve been writing novellas in recent years. The first, Dead Man Floating, was released by Imajin Books in September. Aside from finding a wonderful way to stretch creativity with new characters and word length challenges, there may be another reason I’m gravitating toward writing and reading shorter books. In fact, a blog by Rebecca Rogers Maher on why she prefers to write shorter fiction really made me stop and think.

Maher writes and reads a lot of contemporary romances, but she’s often found herself skimming over sections because the emotional anguish and conflicts are mentioned seven or eight times. It disappoints her. She wants to be pulled into a story right away and absorb every word. In other words, every word needs to move the story forward, not to provide frequent reminders. This is why Maher believes that most 90,000 word contemporary romances don’t need to be that long. She may be right, and I have to say that the same is true for mainstream novels.

With the two mainstream novels I read recently, I found myself puzzling over a paragraph and thinking, but I already know this. It was mentioned three chapters ago. Is it possible that the publisher is driving the word length? Do they and the author think that readers have painfully short-term memories? Publishers' minimum and maximum word length requirements isn’t necessarily a good thing. Wouldn’t it be better to tell a story the best way possible and let the word length land where it does? Isn’t that doing yourself and your readers a favor?

I know many readers who love full-length fiction and that’s great. But how many of those full-length novels could have been pared down a little or a lot? Rebecca Maher is writing 50,000 contemporary romances these days instead of the publisher-preferred 90,000 words. She wants to write the type of story where readers aren’t skipping over the slow or repetitive bits. It sounds like a good plan to me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Creating Quirky Characters -- Guest Post by McGraw and McGraw

Creating Quirky Characters
by Robert and Darrin McGraw

Quirky characters add spice to a story and can also be used as a source of tension. In our science fiction novel, Animal Future, we began with the premise that in the near future, an unexplained phenomenon has caused some species to become intellectually elevated to the point that they are classified “provisional humans” and can hold down human jobs. Although our book is a humorous action-thriller, there is an important sub-text that asks: Suppose the “Elevation” actually occurred. How can two very different populations learn to get along with each other? In real life, this is a vitally serious question, and serious questions can often be asked most effectively when mixed with humor. That means our novel needs humorous characters.

We start with a chimpanzee character, but immediately we have a problem: chimpanzees wearing clothes are a cliché. We counter that by pushing it a step farther and making our chimp, Mr. Brian, even more “clothed” than a human would be. He’s a “bespoke” (custom) gentleman’s tailor with a deep knowledge of the fashion industry. Naturally, a high-end clothier like Brian wears high-quality suits, French cuff shirts , and silver cuff links. He speaks impeccable English and is unfailingly polite. We then put pressure on those traits when Brian and two humans, Autumn and Mack, go on the run from terrorists trying to kill them. Having to sleep in a zoo, go without showering, and sweat profusely while battling to stay alive will strain anybody’s fastidiousness and courtesy. This means conflict. Sometimes it’s Autumn and Brian in conflict with Mack; at other times it’s Brian and Mack in conflict with Autumn.

Brian also has to learn to appreciate the quirkiness of humans. Mack, a rough-edged but pragmatic spy with a wisecrack for every situation, thinks in divergent ways that don’t match Brian’s honest and conservative nature. This puts pressure on Brian to learn new ways to solve problems, which he does by learning to change his way of thinking.

Autumn, the Vietnamese-American policewoman who is fleeing with them, has her own quirks, among them an interest bordering on reverence for the cultural history of Vietnam (unlike the rest of her Westernized family, ironically). Brian, however, is an entrepreneur who looks very much to the future. As an “elevated” Provie, he has little sense of the history of his species, and therefore can’t understand or appreciate Autumn’s dedication to the past. We put pressure on this trait by having Brian switch identities with a chimp employee at the zoo. There Brian begins to see that it can be helpful to know how things worked in the past if you are trying to deal with the problems of the present.

As a chimpanzee, Brian has stupendous latent physical strength and aggression. Ironically, he has to be encouraged by the humans to get in touch with his ape side and be less cerebral and more physical. This leads him to take the actions that eventually make him a hero.

In short, in this example we build up the quirkiness of the character by
  • Making the character’s traits more extreme
  • Giving the character conflicting traits
  • Giving the character traits that go against the typical expectation
  • Placing the character in situations and with other characters who test or strain those traits
The next time you deal with a real life person whose quirkiness is irritating or downright maddening, just remind yourself, “Hey, I can use this in my next book!”
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Animal Future
(Book 1)

New Cover!
New Cover!
In this quirky, thoughtful, action-filled novel, a female cop, a well-dressed chimpanzee, and a spy are on the run from shadowy assassins armed with machine guns, drones, missiles, and two-inch fangs.
Since the mysterious Elevation of animal intelligence, San Diego has been flooded with immigrant animals and society has changed. Officer Autumn Winn wants to leave the Tactical Assault squad and become an expert on her Vietnamese heritage. But first she has to prove she’s not guilty of murdering her partner. To do that, she has to rescue the kidnapped wife of the chimpanzee tailor Mr. Brian.

In the process she is forced to cooperate with Mack Davis, a good-looking but smart-mouthed operative trying to stay alive long enough to retrieve his digital wristband with its vital data, and also discover the secret of a jade figurine he just transported from Singapore.

As they race to find Brian's wife, the trio must navigate a colorful landscape of characters including a comical pair of ferrets; a wealthy human socialite; a chimpanzee paramilitary commander; and Urizen, the deranged king of underground intelligence in Southern California.

(Watch for Animal Future - Book 2 to be published in November.) [MA: WHEEEEEEE!]
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Author BIOs: Robert McGraw and Darrin McGraw

Robert McGraw has had several professions, but his most difficult job is convincing his wife he's actually working even when he's just staring out the window. He is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles, as well as three books. Two of his television scripts won awards from the International Television Association.

A former professional symphony musician who spent several years playing for the Cape Town Symphony in South Africa, Robert has a Master's degree in Education and completed the work (all but dissertation) for a Ph.D. in music. He also studied art at The Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town and creates visual art in a variety of styles. His works are represented in the collection of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Darrin McGraw grew up more or less in a succession of libraries. He is pleased to note that the New York Public Library has a McGraw Rotunda, though he cannot actually take credit for this. He graduated from Stanford University and earned a Ph.D. in English from UCLA. After working in online software development he served for eight years as the writing director of the Culture, Art and Technology program at UC San Diego.

Besides writing and reading he has many other interests including early music, alternative architecture, and woodworking. When scientists have finished cloning the woolly mammoth he has a few other extinct species to suggest, including Cleopatra and Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Welcome Guest Blogger: Kristina Stanley

I’m delighted to have mystery author Kristina Stanley guesting again this week. Kristina’s doing something amazing by launching her second full-length mystery, BLAZE, just three months after DESCENT was released. She’ll also be hosting a Facebook launch book party (the link’s at the end  of her blog). Kristina’s written an excellent piece called “Launching a Novel”. Enjoy!

Somehow I thought once I had a novel published the stress would disappear. To use a cliché, the joke is on me.

BLAZE will be released one week from today, and I can tell you releasing a second novel is more nerve wracking than releasing the first one. For the first release, I wonder if people were nice to me because DESCENT was my debut novel. Now, am I expected to be good at book launching? This thought is what is stressing me out. So deal with it, right?  

My way reduce stress is to be organized, and since I’ve organized my thoughts, I’ll share and maybe I can help someone out there with their launch.

Here are the steps that led to launching DESCENT and BLAZE:

  1. Sign with Imajin Books ( )
  2. Submit full manuscript to editor (editor and I both did 3 passes at novel)
  3. Send ARC to authors for a blurb to go on inside and outside cover
  4. Cover designed and agreed to by all
  5. Early praise received on ARC added to cover
  6. Write dedication, acknowledgements and letter to reader for inclusion on inside of book.
  7. Imajin Books sends edited manuscript to proofreader
  8. Imajin Books publishes novel, and I sit back and relax (ha ha).
Basic Launch and Post – Launch Process:

  1. Find places to guest blog and write a unique post for each site.
  2. Create author page on Amazon (or update for second book).
  3. Create a Facebook Launch party. Find authors who are willing to donate books for giveaways, advertise the event, and host the event.
  4. Send copies of novel to reviewers. This needs to be done early.
  5. Blog on my site 5 times a week. I used to blog twice a week.
  6. Comment and follow other blogs about writing, reviewing, and publishing.
  7. Participate in other Facebook launch parties and donate my novel as a gift.
  8. Promote other authors’ books and book launches.
  9. Promote novel on blog, Pinterest, Google+, Goodreads, Facebook (both personal and author site), LinkedIn, Twitter, online magazines, AuthorsDen, and Tumbler.
  10. This may be obvious, but say thanks every time someone helps me in the smallest way.
  11. I don't have an email list, but I probably should. This will be what I add next to my process.
 The journey of publishing is one big learning curve. So here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s easier to sell books than to get reviews.
  • Other authors’ Facebook parties are a great way to increase visibility.
  • Not everyone will like your marketing methods and negative feedback is never fun.
  • I enjoy blogging and connecting with others online as much as I enjoy writing.
  • There are many generous people willing to help.
  • When Facebook friends shared they bought DESCENT others bought DESCENT too. This word of mouth concept really works.
  • Promoting others widened my network.
  • Marketing is hard work.
 In the spirit of launching books, my Facebook launch party for BLAZE ( is next Sunday, October 25th from 4 to 6 PM EST. I would love to see you there.

For added Facebook excitement, Debra will be giving away a copy of DEAD MAN FLOATING at the BLAZE Facebook launch party. If you’re not familiar with a launch party, drop on by and chat with authors, maybe win a book, and socialize online. I’ve met some fun online friends this way.

Kristina’s Bio:

Kristina Stanley is the author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Her books have garnered the attention of prestigious crime writing organizations in Canada and England. Crime Writers of Canada nominated DESCENT for the Unhanged Arthur award. The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE for the Debut Dagger. She is published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Before writing her series, Kristina was the director of security, human resources and guest services at a resort in the depths of the British Columbian mountains. The job and lifestyle captured her heart, and she decided to write mysteries about life in an isolated resort. While writing the first four novels, she spent five years living aboard a sailboat in the US and the Bahamas.


Instead of exchanging vows, Kalin Thompson spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

When the fire is declared as arson, finding the firebug responsible becomes Kalin’s personal mission. In the course of her investigation as Director of Security, she discovers that some people will go to extreme measures to keep her from exposing their secrets.


When Kalin Thompson is promoted to Director of Security at Stone Mountain Resort, she soon becomes entangled in the high-profile murder investigation of an up-and-coming Olympic-caliber skier. There are more suspects with motives than there are gates on the super-G course, and danger mounts with every turn.

Kalin’s boss orders her to investigate. Her boyfriend wants her to stay safe and let the cops do their job. Torn between loyalty to friends and professional duty, Kalin must look within her isolated community to unearth the killer’s identity.

I love to connect with people online. I can be found at: 

Follow me on twitter, let me know you read this blog and I’ll follow you back. @StanleyKMS

Or comment on my Facebook page:

If you're looking for something to read and you haven’t read DESCENT yet, now is your chance before BLAZE comes out. Find it at:

And if you have read DESCENT, I’d be very excited if you pre-ordered BLAZE

Thank you, Debra, for hosting me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Advice for Aspiring Writers

First, Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all of my Canadian friends and colleagues. I’m taking a break from hosting guest blogs this week to give pause and thanks for all the good things that have come my way.

As someone who constantly strives to improve my writing and promotion skills, I've read plenty of how-to books and articles over the past 35 years. I’ve also soaked up information at numerous conferences, workshops, seminars, and critique groups. I’m going to share some of the advice that resonates with me. Maybe they will for you too. 

First, stop competing with other writers. There will always be more talented or prolific, better connected, and luckier authors than you. Plenty of them will earn more money than you do, but none of this is important because their careers have nothing to do with yours. What really matters is your journey, that you make the most of your skills and opportunities.

Second, don't spend huge amounts of time worrying about failing. If you're inclined to fret, then worry about not trying hard enough or coming up with ways to work more efficiently and create publishable work. Rejection, lousy reviews, and poor sales months (even years) will happen. Most of those things are out of your control, so focus on what you can control.

There is no clear definition of what constitutes a successful author, so don’t let someone else do it for you. It’s a personal thing. A writer’s goals and ideas about success vary widely. It could be the number of books or short stories written, the number of contests won, number of books published, workshops given, great reviews, and income. Figure out your own definition.

Learn to work at a pace that suits your time, energy, and other responsibilities. Please don't fall into the "I must write multiple books a year to stay on top of Amazon's algorithm" trap. For the great majority of writers, it's unrealistic. If you're going to invest time to write a book, then invest more time to see that it’s edited properly. Great writing isn't a scribbling race, it’s a learning process.

I've heard more than one writer state that he/she is counting on writing income for their retirement. This is the world's worst retirement plan. Sure, we've all heard the stories about unknown writers rocketing to fame and fortune, but these incidents are still rare. You can hope for writing income to supplement your retirement plan, but to count on it is incredibly risky.  You've probably heard this many times before, but write because you love it, not for the money.

Lastly, publishing your novels can put you in the poor house. I’ve met many authors who've decided to go all out to promote their first book(s) by flying to conferences to take part in panel discussions, give workshops, and do book signings. Based on my experience and those of colleagues, it never pays for itself financially. In fact, you're lucky if your bar tab will be covered. You will enlarge your network and potentially gain more readers, but this will likely mean that you’re operating at a loss for at least several years, if not longer. Be prudent with your promotion spending and keep in mind that the big publishers aren’t likely to give you a promotion budget. In today’s world, there are plenty of free and low-cost marketing venues to promote yourself online.

Above all, follow your instincts. There will be conflicting advice from books, writing colleagues, agents, editors, critique groups, and well-meaning friends and family. At the end of the day, do what works for you and, above all, enjoy the journey. It’s your life, your words, and they should mean everything to you.