Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Finding an Agent or Publisher -- reblogged

#4 Daughter, the amazing Sara Marian, and I have been asked how to find an agent or publisher. Sara had some excellent questions to ask in return and I, as an editor for small press Per Bastet Publications, have some insight into that, as well.

I'll link to some resources, because there is no quick and easy way to find the right agent/publisher for you and your project, but this is where you should begin:

What have you written? Non-fiction or fiction? Mainstream, literary, genre, cross-over? Kinda-sorta like these other books that have been published, or totally other?

You may feel -- and you may feel correctly -- that what you've written is art or at least high craft, but you're now stepping from the realm of creation into the world of business. You've passed from making into selling, and you need to do all you can to sell that book.

The first step is to analyze where it would fit in a bookstore. Where would it be shelved? How big is the market liable to be, assuming the publisher does nothing to promote it, which may very well happen. Sometimes publishers just throw a book at the wall and see if it sticks. It may be up to you to identify your market and get the word out about your book.

Do you want to approach an agent or a publisher? Do you want a small press or a major publisher?

Major publishers used to have slush piles: stacks of unsolicited submissions that were farmed out to by-the-piece readers or given to junior associates for an initial glance, to see if a book was worth bothering with. Thanks to cuts in staffing and expenditures, major publishers often rely on agents to be their first readers, and don't accept unsolicited submissions. (See the next point.)

Small presses sometimes take unsolicited submissions, but small presses are usually small, meaning they don't have a large editorial staff (Per Bastet has only me, God help us), so they may also discourage unsolicited submissions. They may accept submissions by invitation only or by pitch sessions at conventions. This isn't out of snobbishness, but because they have to limit the number of titles they publish each year and don't want to be overwhelmed. Small presses are also usually run by writers, who know how it feels to be put on hold for months and don't want to subject other writers to that limbo. (See the next point.)

Some agents take clients who don't already have a track record, some don't. Some take unsolicited submissions, some only take submissions from people recommended by current clients, publishers, or other professionals. Conventions/workshops sometimes hold pitch sessions for agents as well as for publishers. (See the next point.)

Now comes the next point:


When you decide where you want to submit, look them up online (most, if not all, agents/publishers have an online presence these days). Compare what you may have found in print to what you find online. Folks switch places of business, people get promoted, and what was up-to-date in Writer's Market 2016, printed in 2015, might or might not be the case in January 2017.

Whether the guidelines say so explicitly or not -- and they shouldn't have to say so -- do not send a rough draft. Do not send a first or second draft. Send a finished, polished, spell-checked, grammar-checked, read and reread work that you would be delighted to pay cash money for.

BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that the place you're sending your work represents or publishes that sort of work. Format your query, proposal, sample chapters, or manuscript the way the place you're submitting wants it submitted. If you don't follow those first guidelines to present your work the way they want it presented, they won't trust you to take critiques and suggestions for rewrites well.

Expect critiques and suggestions for rewrites

This isn't about finding an agent or publisher, but bear it in mind. Your agent/editor will have opinions or house guidelines they'll want your book to conform to. Your first reaction will probably be, "Oh, HELL, no! This is my book! This is my book! This is my book! This is my book!" After you do that, consider the suggested changes.

If you absolutely cannot make a particular one (or ones), ask if you may make a case for letting it stand. If the agent/editor says, "My way or the highway," you may need to cut bait and take your work elsewhere. You have to balance artistic integrity against getting a reputation for being difficult to work with.
That's plenty to digest for right now. Here are some resources:

How to Publish a Book is a WikiHow article (wif pitchurs), that leads you, step-by-step, through the processes from manuscript to marketing.

Finding a Publisher vs Finding an Agent is a good article on Novel Writing Help, a website with a world of information and helpful instructions.

Although SFWA stands for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, good advice is good advice, and their How To Find a (Real) Literary Agent is only one of many pieces comprising their Writer Beware series.

Over and over, you'll see writing advice sites recommending QueryTracker. There's a reason for that: They have good stuff there. Finding a Reputable Agent or Publisher is well worth your time.

Last, I recommend your reading Lois Winston's post on Marilyn Meridith's blog on her happy journey from a "real" publishing house to self-publishing.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Final Event of the Season Coming Up!

It’s been a whirlwind of activity these past seven weeks. I always step up my bookselling efforts at Christmas craft fairs, and this has been a great season, although tiring. I don’t recommend holding down a day job, then spending your weekends selling books unless you have a lot of determination and stamina and help!

My last event of the year will be a really fun event at Maple Ridge, as the Golden Ears Writers will be hosting an evening of holiday reading by local writers, and I’ll be one of the participants.

The event will take place at the ACT Arts Centre, 11944 Haney Place, Maple Ridge BC from 7 – 9 p.m. More details are at

It will be good to connect with writing colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. In fact, it’s the perfect way for me to wind up a year filled with events…18 of them, in fact!

Since this time next week will be Christmas, this is probably my last blog until after that time, so wishing all those who celebrate a very Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Once again, Imajin Books has launched its pre-Christmas sale! My first Evan Dunstan mystery, DEAD MAN FLOATING is on sale for $.99 until Dec. 7th! If you’re looking for a quick, fun amateur sleuth story with an edge and a bit of humor, then meet campus security guard Evan Dunstan.

Here’s the blurb:

One wrong decision…

Security guard Evan Dunstan didn’t expect to find a body floating in a campus stream. An empty vodka bottle nearby suggests that the highly despised George Krenn, head of the plumbing department, had drunkenly fallen in. Refusing to let the death of a vile man ruin his romantic plans, Evan decides to leave the body for the next shift to find.

One friend in trouble…

When it’s discovered that Krenn was murdered, Evan has a lot of explaining to do. So does his friend Sully, Krenn’s least favourite student. Evan uses his hacking skills and campus knowledge to keep them both out of jail, but the investigation forces him to question Sully’s innocence.

One mystery to solve…

Uncovering the truth proves to be more than challenging. It may cost Evan his job, his friendship, and his woman. Will Evan find the killer, or will the killer find him first?


Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bittersweet Irony in Valuing a Book

Since 2003, I’ve been receiving, along with many other Canadian authors, an annual payment from Access Copyright Canada. This organization is a nonprofit, national organization who licenses the copying of the work of Canadian creators (including visual artists, publishers, and others) to educational institutions, businesses, governments and so forth. They then pass the monies collected onto the copyright holders. (You can read more about this on their website). 
My highest income came in 2012 (over $870, however, after that time, the Supreme Court of Canada added a “fair-dealing” provision to the copyright law and, let’s just say, it’s been a game changer.

Over recent years, educational institutions and others have since challenged how much they should pay to share, remix, or copy someone’s work. Access Copyright has since been forced to significantly reduce payments to copyright holders.

Despite adding a new book to the roster nearly every year, the cheque I received this year was just over $200.00. A recent article in Quill and Quire reports that the organization might have to reduce payments by as much as 55% in 2017. You can read the reasons HERE.

In a world where writers earn well below the poverty line as it is, and people (I’ve seen them) think it’s quite okay to photocopy an entire book, it’s just another unneeded obstacle in the quest to be paid for our hard work.

Ironically, I’ve been selling my mystery novels at Christmas craft fairs this month, and have found that customers are happy to pay full value for books primarily because they love mysteries and believe in supporting local authors. These people aren’t loaded with money. But they are loaded with goodwill, a love of reading, and respect for artists.

You could well argue that this is an apple and oranges issue; that buying an author’s book at a fair is hardly the same as paying a pittance, if anything, to photocopy copyrighted work for teaching and research purposes. But for me, it all boils down to the same issue: what value do people place on a book? Does it have any value at all? Or only as long as it doesn’t interfere with their own agendas and priorities? Maybe everyone, including, businesses, governments, educational organizations, and even the Supreme Court of Canada, should be giving this further serious thought.

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Fantasy Anthology -- Sword & Sorceress 31

I'm very pleased and proud to announce that I have a short story in this year's annual Marion Zimmer Bradley Sword & Sorceress anthology, this one being 31.


Unicorn Heart Pauline J. Alama
Simplicity Marian Allen
Black Dust Robin Wayne Bailey
After The Swan Song Lorie Calkins
Lord Ruthven’s Masque Steve Chapman
Reading the Future Laura Davy
Pig-Headed Suzan Harden
Shiny in the Shallows Rose Hill
In Her Shoes Melissa Mead
Earth's Daughter Catherine Mintz
Beasts and Monsters Michael H. Payne
Sage Mountain Deborah J. Ross
Hot Milk Before Bed L.S. Patton
Tears of a Dead God Jonathan Shipley
The Sassy and the Naegg Dave Smeds
Tale-maker; Tale-spinner Pam Wallace
The Fountains of Karona Julia H. West 

Sword & Sorceress 31, edited by Elisabeth Waters, was published November 2, 2016 and is entirely suitable as as gift for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Twelfth Night, Winter Solstice, Yule, etc.

It is available in trade paperback, Kindle, Kobo, and Nook formats.

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fear of Failure, Fear of Success

Ever tried to get over your fears? It’s pretty daunting, isn’t it? For writers, I think there’s plenty of things to worry about, and possibly fear, but I sometimes wonder if we project too much fear into our careers. Although we do invest a lot of time, money, and hopes into becoming published and/or making a bestsellers list, the fact is we’re not surgeons or cops or firefighters dealing with life or death situations. Sure, penning ideas to paper can have high stakes, but not on a daily basis.

Yet, many of us so passionately care about writing, being read, and earning money from our words, that the deep caring can be crippling. For me, I experience both fear of failure and fear of success to varying degrees. Most of the time, they’re well under control, but occasionally the feeling threatens to send me running. I start thinking about packing it in. But I then I remember why I’m really doing this—the love of writing—and then the boiling point relaxes to a simmer.

Doing a little bit of editing and/or writing each day works for me. Stamina and discipline are two things I have going for me. But a blog from John Athanasiou (HarperCollins UK), in which he lists the things that everyone in publishing needs to succeed, gave me pause to think. Although the article might be directed at employees of the publishing biz, I think a great deal of it applies to indie writers.

Some of the things on his list I’m already doing, such as creative problem-solving. Another great tip is called learning with agility. What he means by this is to not be afraid to fail frequently and fast, provided that you learn from your mistakes and move on.

Moving on quickly has been problematic for me. I stuck with the wrong agents for far too long, sought the wrong types of publishers, and attended the wrong types of conferences. I’m still learning to figure out how much time and energy to spend on social media, and to drop strategies that don’t work for me.

In case you were wondering the other three tips Athanasiou offers are:

. Power Communication and High Emotional Intelligence
. Openess, Integrity, and Honesty (openness is sometimes difficult for me)
. Results-Driven Work

He offers clear, concise explanations of each, so I strongly encourage you to visit his blog HERE. Meanwhile, time to get back to the results-driven work J

Sunday, October 30, 2016

FEEDBACK: A Great New App for Writers Coming Soon!

With three successfully published novels to her credit, mystery author, Kristina Stanley and her team have developed Feedback, an app to help writers navigate their way through the rewriting process. It’s a privilege to be able to introduce her new project on this blog! So, here’s Kristina, who asks,

Do You Need Help Rewriting Your First Draft?

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, you’ve completed a first draft. Congratulations! Now what?
If you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself:
  • Where do I start my manuscript rewrite?
  • How do I keep track of all the writing tips I’ve read and apply them to my story?
  • What should I change to make my story better?
  • Am I ready to share my manuscript with others?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would help you through the rewriting process?

But First: What is Rewriting?

A comprehensive rewrite is the first step in the self-editing process. I’m not talking about copyediting or proofreading. You can do that after you’ve completed your rewrite.

Rewriting your first draft means analyzing your story from a high-level perspective and fixing any weak areas. You want to make sure that the story structure makes sense, the scenes are tense, there are no plot holes, and you haven’t left any subplots unfinished.

During the rewrite, you also take a hard look at your characters. How often do they appear? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their goals?  Characters will drive the tension in your story, and tension is what keeps a reader reading.

Finally, the rewrite should examine your settings. Do you make the most of your settings? How often do you use the same setting, and is it too often? Do your settings help with the tone of your scenes? Settings are key to keeping your reader engaged, so don't ignore them.

How can we help you?

We’re building Feedback, an app for writers that provides a guided approach to tackling comprehensive rewrites.

With Feedback, you can focus on plot, character, and setting. You can evaluate on a scene-by-scene basis or on overall novel structure. Feedback will show you the most important structural elements to work on first.

Feedback will guide you through the rewriting process by asking you questions specific to your manuscript, enabling you to evaluate your own story.

Once you import your manuscript, Feedback automatically captures information such as word count, number of scenes per chapter, character names, and chapter and scene breaks, using this information to create the first set of reports. Any updates to your manuscript will still need to be completed in the writing app you used to create your first draft.

Feedback helps you visualize your manuscript. Forget about yellow stickies or white boards. Feedback will draw character arcs, provide reports on scene evaluation, and show your rewriting progress.

Feedback is a learning tool. If you’re having trouble with a certain element of fiction, just click on the rewrite tip associated with that element and find out how to improve your writing. There’s no need to search through dozens of writing books to find the piece of advice you need.

On the technical side, Feedback will be a secure, web-based app. This means you will be able to access Feedback from any device you use.

Find out more:

Our goal is to launch Feedback in the spring of 2017. In order to create an app that is truly useful to writers, we'd like your input on building Feedback. By signing up to our newsletter, we’ll send you updates on the development progress and ask you the occasional question to help define the product. As a bonus, we'll send you rewriting tips available only to our subscribers.

Are you as excited about Feedback as we are? Show your support by helping us spread the word and share this post.

You can find us at

Your support means a lot to us, so thank you!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Deadly Accusations, Second Edition Ebook is Here!

Last month, I mentioned that I’m reissuing the first four books in my Casey Holland mystery series, so I’m very happy to announce that the second ebook edition of Deadly Accusations is now up and running.

For me, the process is far more than copying the manuscript into a new document. It’s about going over every word and line, catching the occasional typo, ensuring that formatting is consistent, and rewriting the blurb until I’m satisfied.

Converting the book into different platforms means that occasional technical glitches need to be fixed. For instance, I have no idea why a small section of text will decide to double-space itself in the converted ebook when the formatting looks identical in my Word doc., but at least it’s fixable.

I’ve been preparing Deadly Accusations nearly every day for five weeks, which isn’t a long time, but the hours certainly add up. Since I’ve always liked the covers, I acquired the rights to use them as well, so the ebook versions will match the print copies.

Here’s the blurb:

Transit security cop Casey Holland is back investigating acts of violence on MPT buses. Someone is constantly smashing bus windows, while racial hatred between pre-teens are erupt into all-out war on another route. But the murder of Casey’s colleague turns her world upside down.

Coworkers and friends come under suspicion. Threats directed at Casey’s young ward, Summer, and the children of a coworker, prompt Casey to take a closer look at friends she’s worked with for years. The killer’s always one step ahead, though, and the police want her to back off. What price must Casey pay to keep loved ones safe before the killer strikes again?

“The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.” - Quill & Quire

And the links:

Stay tuned for book #3, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, next month, I hope!

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Publication and Award

The Southern Indiana Writers Group has just published our twentieth anthology. There should be excerpts from all the stories at the SIW website, but our lazy rotten webmaster (me) hasn't put them up yet.

The theme was XX; that could be interpreted as twenty, kisses, double-cross, platinum, cross-purposes, crossed arms, poison.... We're envelope pushers, in SIW.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from my story in the anthology, "Still Life With Peanut Butter."

Oh, the anthology is XX: SIW GOES PLATINUM.

Mamie is catering her own wedding reception, and is shopping for locally sourced ham.

Mamie is Intrigued

excerpt from "Still Life With Peanut Butter"
by Marian Allen

Mamie parked between the farmhouse and the locker plant just as Jackson Avery putt-putted up on a tractor. He was a big man, built like a Budweiser horse in overalls and a ratty straw hat, face creased with age and sun, fingers gnarled by work.

"Hi, there! You must be the bride." He stuck a hand out to Florence, then grinned at Mamie and said,

"And you must be the proud mamma."

Both women laughed. Mamie took his hand and said, in a tone meant to convey her gracious forgiveness for his blunder, "Everybody makes that mistake. I'm the bride. Florence is my baby sister-in-law-to-be."

"Oh! Oh, sorry," Avery said. "Ripe peaches are the best, am I right?"

They all laughed again.

Avery kept up a line of cheerful patter as he showed them around the farm. He deferred to Mamie, which would have been flattering if she hadn't felt patronized, as well. Florence was being patronized but not deferred to, but that was because Florence was young, which made the respect he showed Mamie due to Mamie's being . . . not young.
"So that's the operation," Avery said. "Let's go back to the office and talk some turkey. I mean ham."

Florence and Mamie giggled as if they didn't realize he said the same thing every time he negotiated price with a customer.

They followed him along the dirt path to the barn-shaped building that held the smokehouse, industrial freezer, Country Store and office. As she followed Florence inside, Mamie caught a glimpse of a green car pulling up and a flash of blue and red hopping out. She paused, inspecting and smelling the white clematis climbing the lattice by the office door, and watched the red and blue figure.

It was the man they'd seen at Jumbo the night before‑‑Pete, the night watchman.

What's he doing here? Moonlighting? Or is it sunlighting, if you take a second job besides night work?

He glanced her way, then closed his car door soundlessly and glided through an entrance farther along the building. If she remembered correctly from Avery's tour, it was the holding room for the deliveries from Jumbo.

Hmmmm. Sneakiness is always intriguing.


XX: SIW Goes Platinum is the latest from Per Bastet Publications, of which I'm a third of the partnership. Per Bastet just won the Sizemore Award for small press excellence and promotion of local authors. We are, naturally, exceedingly chuffed.

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

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I’m not writing to promote anything today, or upcoming events, or goals for the rest of this year. Today, I just have an overwhelming sense of thanks and gratitude for all the good things in my life. Ups and downs are inevitable, but Thanksgiving means stopping to take stock and focus on all the positives.

I live in an enviable part Canada where hurricanes are as unique as paralyzing snow storms, where ethnic diversity is welcome, where people can live the lives they choose. Of course, it’s not perfect. Conflict and disagreeing values are inevitable, but basically most of us get along just fine.

Today is our family Thanksgiving dinner, although it won’t be the traditional turkey I’m used to cooking. Given that we’ve torn apart our living room and dining room for renovations, dinner will be ham and side dishes and gathering into the kitchen and family room.

I’m thankful for my family and for a healthy life. I’m thankful for my passion for writing, and for the best part-time day job I’ve ever had. And I’m thankful for all of the people I’ve met this year. I’m very thankful to be able to donate to charities like the Union Gospel Mission. I was once one of those children who wasn’t sure when or what the next meal might be. I’m now grateful for those tough years. It’s made me a better person.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Defeating Monster Fears and Relentless Self-Criticism

Let’s face it, negative self-talk can be a crippling experience for writers. I suspect that it’s an inevitable part of being human. I also suspect that the problem’s compounded when writers face internal or external pressure to write well and quickly in order to earn a living from their words. It’s a wonderful goal, but it’s often sabotaged by all kinds of thing, including ourselves.

Fear and self-criticism have been on my mind lately, as I grapple with my first foray into fantasy writing, a genre I love and read widely. I’ve outlined only up to a point and I’m now winging it, which is both exhilarating and scary.

While I work on the book every day, it’s only perhaps for forty minutes before heading out to the day job. I’m also trying to finish up other writing projects. The deeper I go with the fantasy, though, the more uncertainty I’m feeling. I’m nearly 200 pages into the story, and I’m beginning to forget what I wrote in the first 100 pages which is worrisome.

I find myself thinking that completing this novel to be publication-ready will difficult and take much longer than I thought. This isn’t helpful self-talk, but I’m working on more of a can-do, it will get done approach. The thing is, it all boils down to a fear of failure, right?

You’ll understand why I’ve been drawn to two blogs from writers who have thoughts about fear and self-criticism. The first is a short piece by ToddBrison who found freedom from fear through six words, nobody cares what you are doing. For him, this was a freeing experience that allowed him to get back to writing.

The second blog is by Maria Popova and is more of a dense essay, but an interesting one that discusses the important difference between critical thinking and critical complaint, which she also refers to merciless self-criticism. There’s plenty of food for thought in this piece.

I expect that writers will never banish self-criticism, and perhaps we shouldn’t, but the danger is in taking things to an irrational realm that destroys potential. I have no intention of letting that happen. I’d rather try and make mistakes—even big ones—then be too paralyzed by fear to try at all. As mentioned, though, paralysis lurks in my conscience these days. I can feel it waiting to strike, and that’s the monster I plan to defeat.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why yWriter?

I'm working on the last story for SHIFTY, the short story collection set in the world of SAGE, my fantasy trilogy. I revised the story before this using Scrivener, so I decided I would revise this one using yWriter5, a free (yes, I said FREE) program from Spacejock.

I like yWriter5 better. How to write and what tools to use will always be idiosyncratic. I know many people who love Scrivener, and others who can't wrap their heads around it.

After having used both programs on real-time projects, I find yWriter5 both simpler and more flexible. yWriter5 lets you list important items and locations as well as characters, sort them. It lets you chart viewpoints for each chapter and scene, date (down to the hour and minute) when each scene happens, and I don't know what all!

You can view a timeline of when each chapter happens with the chapters appearing on each character's timeline.

In each scene, you can note characters, items, locations, scene title (brief description), and a longer description. You can note whether the scene is action or reaction, and other details that it's fashionable these days to call "granular." When you're all granulated up, you can generate an outline using the brief descriptions, the long ones, or both. Instant synopsis!

Hey! Call a theme or a motif or a red herring or a clue an Item or a Location and keep track of it at a glance.

You can export a list of characters and their descriptions. Export locations. Export the whole damn project to a Word doc, rtf, html, or an eBook.

There's even a Linux version and a version for Windows 8 and up. Alas, none for Mac. Sorry Macsters. :(

AA-aa-and, there's a Wiki with all kindsa helpfulness.

yWriter5. I think I'll keep it.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Opposite of Dark, Second Edition Ebook is Here!

Late this spring, I reached an amicable agreement to obtain all of my rights back to my first four Casey Holland mysteries. While TouchWood Editions was a great publisher to work with, it was time to move on.

I’m delighted to relaunch a second edition, ebook version of first installment, The Opposite of Dark. I’m hoping to release all four books before the year’s over, but I’m working on several new writing projects, and real life commitments swallow up many hours per week, so who knows?

The plan is to release the fifth installment, Knock Knock, in both print and ebook versions next year, which is exciting! More on that over the coming months!

After a lot of pondering and reading all sorts of advice on the subject, I’ve decided to price The Opposite of Dark at $3.99 US, which feels right, but time will tell. Meanwhile, the book’s available at:

And the blurb:

When the police tell transit security cop Casey Holland that her father was murdered the previous night, Casey doesn’t believe them. Why would she, given that she buried her dad three years earlier? Desperate to understand what’s going on and if the man she buried really was Marcus Holland, Casey attempts to unravel the truth about her past.

Filled with twists and turns and the unwelcome help of a persistent stranger, Casey’s quest takes her to Europe where startling revelations place her in danger. An associate of her father believes that Marcus stole three million dollars from him and he wants it back. Convinced that Casey can find the money, the man won’t stop until he either has the cash or she and those she loves die.


“This is truly a fast-moving, action-packed thriller with many twists and turns, many suspects, and many secrets and lies. I would have read this book at one sitting were I able to, I was so involved in the story.” Nightreader

“This is one fast-paced novel filled with characters that will definitely keep the reader wondering just who can Casey trust. This is a definite must read.” Fran Lewis

“This book is a page-turner. Purdy Kong creates rounded, believable characters and the story is complex enough to satisfy but not defeat you. I was never quite sure “who dun it”. Just what I love in a good mystery novel.” – Julie H. Ferguson, Author of Book Magic

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Get Ready for This Year's Word Reading and Writing Festival

Autumn has nearly arrived and with it comes the 22nd annual Word Reading and Writing Festival. I’ve participated at the Vancouver event nearly every year since it began and I can tell you that it’s a terrific experience.

Word has expanded over the years and now runs for five days in Vancouver. This year, events will start on Wed., Sept. 21st and end in the main event on Sunday, Sept. 25th, at Library Square, (at the main library on Georgia Street). You can find a schedule of events and the different venues through the week HERE.

This is a free festival with music, author readings, panel discussions, workshops, and activities for the kids. For those of you who don’t live in Vancouver, Word (also known as Word on the Street) will be held in Halifax (Sept. 17), Saskatoon (Sept. 18), Lethbridge (Sept. 24), and Toronto (Sept. 24). You can find further information about those events HERE.

I’ll be helping out at the Crime Writers of Canada table with other writing colleagues from 1 to 3 pm, but please drop by to visit our table whenever your schedule permits. Fellow crime writers will be there from 11 to 5:00 pm, and they’ll have lots of good information to share about local writers and Crime Writers of Canada.

I’m not sure of the exact location of our table yet, but volunteers give out free programs that allows you to find everyone who’s representing their organization, magazine, publishing house, indie books, and so forth. It really is a paradise for book lovers, so I hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Featuring Guest Blogger, Judy Penz Sheluk

It’s a pleasure to welcome back mystery author, Judy Penz Sheluk. Judy has just released her second mystery, Skeletons in the Attic, which is the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series. Her debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews other authors and blogs about her writing journey.

Judy’s blog topic is “Don’t Wait for the Muse”

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie.

I spent the better part of my teen years and early twenties reading Agatha Christie; in fact, I’ve read every one of her books, and credit Christie for my desire to write mysteries. But like Christie, for many years I was an amateur. Actually, amateur is overstating it. I was more of a “want-to be” writer. You know the type: the person who says they’re going to write a book “one day.”

For me, “one day” took about three decades from the time I put down Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s final mystery. In between, I worked as a Credit & Collections Manager, a Sales and Marketing Coordinator, and over the past thirteen years, a freelance writer and editor. It wasn’t my fault, you see. I was waiting for the muse to show up. I knew once the muse made an appearance I’d be ready to write that book.

Except the muse never came. I decided to take a creative writing class from Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian author and poet. It was Barry who told me, “The muse will never come unless you let her know you’re going to be there. Make time to write every day, even if it’s only for thirty minutes, even if all you’re doing is sitting there, staring at a blank page. One day, the words will come.”

They did. Faced with ten days off of all my freelance gigs, I started writing my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, on Christmas Eve 2011. I wrote every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. By the end of that ten-day period, I had a few chapters written. It never got easy…but it did get easier, and by February 2013, I’d finished writing and revising the book. Then I tried to find an agent, and when that didn’t work out, I went to work looking for a publisher.

I knew how elusive that muse could be, and I knew I should start another book, but I couldn’t bear to write the sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. I started Skeletons in the Attic, determined to make it as different from Noose as I could: Noose is written in third person, with multiple (primarily two) POVs. Skeletons, on the other hand, is written in first person, and entirely from the POV of the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. But this time, the Christie quote actually applied to me. Somewhere along the line, I’d stopped waiting for the muse to show up and graduated from want-to be writer to amateur writer to professional. Professional writer. Now that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Here’s a brief synopsis of Skeletons in the Attic:

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Find Judy’s books on Amazon HERE:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Have Your Book Buying Or Reading Habits Changed?

I’ve been selling my print mystery novels at farmers markets and craft fairs this summer. It’s one of my favorite things to do as I inevitably have interesting conversations with people who stop to chat about books.

I started selling books through different types of craft fairs six years ago, and I’ve noticed an interesting change in book buying and reading habits. Three and four years ago, a small percentage of customers were asking if my books were available as ebooks, which they were at that time. (Not all of them are at the moment, but that’s another story). Happily, I handed out a bookmark or business card with my website or my publishers’ website with ordering information. I don’t know how many sales this generated, but I imagine there were a few.

Since last Christmas, (always a big sales time for me) I’ve noticed a distinct drop in the number of people asking about ebooks. My print sales are as strong as ever, and I’ve also had people ask if my books were available in audio format (not at this time, no.)

A number of folks have told me that they used to read ebooks, but now prefer print again. There’s something about the smell of a new book, the act of turning a page, and of course there’s been lots of media coverage about lousy sleeps if you read a backlit screen before bed.

Ebooks have not only changed book buying habits and the way we read but, in some ways, I think they’ve also had an impact on our commitment to reading. One thing I’ve also noticed in myself, friends, and colleagues, not to mention numerous blogs on the topic, is that the books we download aren’t necessarily read.

One reason might be the sheer volume of inexpensive books we’re downloading. The other reason is that the vast majority of books I download, for example, are by unknown authors. If I don’t like the opening chapter, I’m far less likely to continue reading with a free or inexpensive book than I would have if I’d invested ten bucks or more on a print book.

A recent blog in Digital Book World discusses eight reasons why people by books. And while it doesn’t compare buying habits from earlier years, it does offer several insights. One of these is that there are books that sell well but are not read. Sometimes, the buyer feels social pressure to read, other times they simply want the book around to show that they are well-read people.

These days, I prefer a mix of print and ebooks. I love reading print books before bed, but as someone who also reads a lot away from home, an ebook is simply easier to carry around in my purse. I read many more unknown authors than I used to, thanks to my ebooks, but I also spend less money buying books.

A sign of the times, perhaps? Or just practicality as I approach retirement age and realize that I’ll be downsizing my home sooner rather than later. Habits change. Preferences change. Technology changes, and one’s own needs change. Book buying and reading habits certainly reflect this.

The Trouble With Scrivener

I got stuck on a story I'm working on in Scrivener. Over the years, I've learned that, if I'm stuck, then I'm doing something wrong. That being the case, I let myself stay stuck while I worried the problem like a dog with a bone. And I figured it out.

By breaking the story into scenes, I want to open every scene and make it a little story, but that isn't what I need to be doing. I need to be selecting detail to be important later, expanding meaningful parts and telescoping other things that need to happen but don't need emphasis.

When I write all in a piece, I do that more-or-less automatically, but concentrating scene by scene breaks that flow.

The correct title for this post: The Trouble With ME!  I need to learn how to break my story into scenes and then analyze them, choosing what to put where. Actually, I need to try yWriter5, putting motifs and behaviors and parallels in the Items database. That way, I can more easily track where I place my mirrorings and resonances and echoes.

Now, I need to roll up my sleeves and make some choices and decisions.

Anybody recognize this reference?
"You know what my grandfather says?"
"Get back to work!"
That's what I'm saying to myself. So here I go!
Step 1: Write the climactic scene first. I have the outline, so I know which one.
Step 2: Write the mid-point scene.
Step 3: Write the final falling action / wrap-up scene.
Step 4: Make a note of all the bits I want to salt into the story earlier.
Step 5: Salt 'em in.
Step 6: Trim off the excess.

Yeah, that oughtta do 'er!

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Are You Confused About Amazon's Review Guidelines?

A Facebook post from a writing colleague this week suggested that Amazon has again changed its review guidelines, and not necessarily for the better, depending on your viewpoint.

Back in 2015, reviewers (many of them authors) started noticing that their reviews were disappearing from Amazon’s pages. There were different reasons for this. One is that Amazon was trying to clamp down on phony reviews. Two of their strategies were to no longer allow paid reviews or for authors to exchange reviews. It wasn’t a bad idea, but with other Amazon attempts to fix things, this one went awry. Legitimate reviews were being taken down in droves. In fact, I know a few people who simply reposted them and there they stayed, to my knowledge.

I understand why Amazon’s never liked reviews written by the author’s close friends and family members. Based on this week’s comments, however, it’s become clear that Amazon started taking things a step further some time ago.

According to a blog by Michael Kozlowski, dating back to Nov. 2015, Amazon’s new review policies became even more restrictive. In fact, apparently, you can be removed simply by having an online connection with the author you’ve reviewed.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense to me. I have about 4,000 Twitter followers, most of whom are authors. I have another 800 or 900 on Goodreads. Again, 90% of them are people I don’t know and have never interacted with, but since we all love books, I thought why not friend them? It now seems that I could be penalized for this by having some of my 350+ reviews of books that belong to those “friends” deleted. As of today, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Amazon’s bots glom onto my Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads accounts.

What’s really confusing to me is that I pulled a copy of Amazon’s review guidelines and—call me blind—but I don’t see any reference to contacts through an online presence being a factor. So, are the opinions of other bloggers correct or not?

Perhaps at the end of the day, it won’t matter. I have no idea if my reviews are read as I don’t receive feedback. Given that I’ve kept electronic and print copies of every review, I can always post them on my website. So, if Amazon starts deleting my reviews, I may simply exit and rise again, unfettered. Come to think of it, I kind of like that idea.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why This Writer is Watching the Olympics

I’ve never been an athletic person. It’s something I made peace with a long time ago, but I do admire any athlete who excels at their sport, whether they win a medal or not. It’s always inspiring to see jaw-dropping performances and the athletes’ elation as they achieve what they’ve spent most of their lives (and probably a great dealing of money) training for.

As a writer, the drama, tension, and anticipation of unfolding events reminds me of a great action novel, where I keep turning the page to see what happens next. These days, I’m switching the TV on day and night for the same reason. Can anything be more suspenseful than watching the best in the world prepare for the 100 meter race?

Can there be anything more devastating than to watch unexpected crashes and injuries during events? I’ve been watching the Olympics for over forty years and I still hold my breath every time I see a gymnast start their balance beam routine.

The Olympics is filled with compelling stories that intersect with one another throughout the games. It’s emotional, political, sociological, and in this Olympics, very much environmental.

Am I going to give up some writing time to watch? You bet. It’s the best reality TV out there, and I never could resist a good story.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Purpose Vs. Point in Fiction

I used to be a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. I was totally enthralled with the first year, but not so much after the second, and even less so after the third. This had nothing to do with the gore and horror; after all, this is a zombie-focused survival story, so it comes with the territory. I also liked the characters and their backstories.

By the fourth season, I found the show increasing difficult to watch as more key characters were being picked off by zombies and others. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the change in the main characters as they learned to live with fear and loss, and sharpen their survival skills.

Clearly, the characters’ purpose was to stay alive, and there were plenty of internal and external conflicts providing huge obstacles to do so. So, why did I lose interest? Because I started to wonder what was the point of all this constant fighting and running away, only to settle somewhere else and have hopes dashed again?

Periodically, the series provided a glimmer of hope that there were safe places to go to, that someone competent and sane would be in charge and offer a safe haven, but efforts to find it inevitably failed, at least during the seasons I watched.

All of this got me to thinking about other stories, where the stakes are high, the conflict and tension immense, and the characters intriguing. Why did those stories work for me while this one didn’t? The answer is that there was always an end-game, a final success that would end the misery, leaving the hero triumphant, albeit physically and/or emotionally damaged.

Sure, some will argue that each storyline in The Walking Dead ends in triumph as Rick and company live to fight another day. But, I still say, why bother? During the years I watched, there wasn’t a cure on the horizon and adequate help was nonexistent.

I realize that everyone has their own definition of what a story’s point is. Why is something being written? What is the reader, or viewer, getting out of it? Is the satisfaction strong enough to keep watching?

My favorite genre is mysteries and they have been since I was a girl. I love that the bad guys get caught and that justice is served. For me this is emotionally satisfying. The story has a point as the protagonist struggles to find the killer and winds up triumphant.

Regardless of whether you’re writing scripts, novels, or nonfiction, make sure your stories have a point, or readers might not stick with you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Where the Real Magic Happens

Back in April, I wrote a blog called The Joy and Purpose of Solitude, for which I received some positive comments by readers who related to my preference for solitude, especially when it comes to the need to create. An article in Quartz, which I mentioned in that blog, focused on how creative people understand the importance of being alone.

Recently, a second article in Brain Pickings, emphasized how important solitude is to the creative process. To paraphrase a quote by Adam Phillips in the piece, if we don’t unburden ourselves of daily noise and social strain, we can’t fully inhabit our interior life, which is the source of all art.

But I’ve discovered something since I wrote that blog. While I’ve managed to carve out more solitude for myself, it’s been a much bigger struggle to free my mind to tap into the creative part of me.

Just because I’m sitting alone in my quiet basement office, hands on the keyboard, doesn’t mean that thoughts are completely on the work at hand. There’s a lot going on in my life, as there is in almost everyone’s life, and sometimes I find it to struggle to put some of those things aside. It can be done, but I have to work at it.

There are tricks, though, many of which I’ve been using for years. For example, if I need to free my mind to focus on a particular scene I’ve been struggling to write, I’ll go for a walk, preferably near water.

Mundane household chores also help. Doing dishes, weeding the garden, folding laundry, sweeping, and vacuuming all allow me to relax my brain. It’s the main reason I’ve never hired a housekeeper. Sure, thoughts can easily stray to family and work issues, but if I start a mundane task right after I’ve been writing, the ideas and connections keep on coming for many minutes after I’ve walked away from the keyboard.

The important thing is to give yourself sufficient time to be alone. In other words, step away from social networking, put the smartphone down, and go try some non-writing activity…sports, knitting, gardening, music; housework, anything that will allow your mind to relax sufficiently to tap into the creative part of your brain. For many writers, that’s where the real magic happens.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Some Writing Resources

Instead of just giving my own opinion today, to share some other bloggers' posts of the writing process and the writing life. Then I'll give my own opinion.

Damyanti Biswas hosts an intriguing post on the science of story structure. Takeaway: Structuring your book can help you not make a mess, but feel free to play around with it.

I'm learning to use the structuring features of Scrivener and yWriter5, in place of big sheets of paper with grids drawn on them. Although the grid worked peachy, I suspect a program will prove more useful.

Megan Morgan lays down the basics on point-of-view, for those who don't know what "first person" and "second person" mean. Hey, everybody learns about everything for the first time sometime, amIright?

I like writing first person, because then I can crawl into somebody's head and inhabit it. On the other hand, I also like third person, because then I don't have to crawl into one person's head and inhabit it. Second person? You don't really want to write in second person, do you?

The fabulous Katina French reminded me of some thoughts she posted about writing metaphor/theme/allegory into your fiction.

I don't entirely agree that subtext works better if it grows rather than if it's intentional, any more than a dress is better if you make it by cutting material and sewing it together and then discovering that the stripes go the same way on both sides of the garment. Not that I sew. The last time I sewed anything was.... Well, it wasn't pretty.

ANYWAY, I think you can weave meaning into your story and layer resonance with your deliberate detail and word choice.

I do, however, absolutely agree that, "They work better as questions you raise in the reader’s mind than they do as answers you try to force-feed them." Trying to force-feed your reader is just Bad Writing.

Good Writing is like this:
Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fatal Encryption Back in Ebook Format!

Last month I reissued one of my favourite mysteries, Fatal Encryption, as an ebook, using Draft 2 Digital (which was quite user friendly). The book was published in 2008 and I still sell print copies locally. I’d thought about letting this one go out of print, but as it turns out the topic of computer hacking is more timely than ever. I knew hacking incidents would increase over the years, but I had no idea by how much!

Of my seven published novels, this is the one that incorporates scenes of Port Moody, where I’ve lived for nearly thirty years. With the extension of the SkyTrain (our above rail transit system), now just a five minute walk from my house and the enormous number of construction that’s happening in this city, I’m really glad to have captured certain sites back then. The Port Moody I’d be writing about today is quite different.

After much debating with myself and consulting with colleagues about price point, I’ve decided to set the book at $1.99 US. Time will tell if this was a good idea or not.

If you like whodunits with a bit of romance and humor than try FATAL ENCRYPTION at any of the links listed below, and thank you!

Blurb Promo:

Dressed as Kermit the Frog on Halloween, unemployed Alex Bellamy wonders where his life went wrong. It could be worse. A few miles away, Zachary Ternoway is stabbed to death at his front door. In need of cash, Alex agrees to help catch a computer hacker at McKinleys’ Department Store. But things turn serious when the hacker threatens to permanently encrypt the store’s data and torch the building unless ten million dollars is handed over fast. Alex knows there’s a connection between the murder and the extortionist, yet time’s running out. People are questioning his competency, and a killer’s threatening his life.