Sunday, April 30, 2017

Embracing Failure

I love collecting quotes, and one of my favorites comes from an excerpt in a Writers’ Digest Magazine article years ago. I’ve kept the quote pinned to my bulletin board for so long that the paper’s yellowed. Here’s what it says:

Rejection is a writer’s best friend. “If you are not failing regularly,” Gregg Levoy observes in ‘This Business of Writing’,” you are living so far below your potential that you’re failing anyway”.

This statement still hits me in the gut.

Over the years, I’ve tried to analyze and define what success and failure means to me in terms of my writing life. I’m still working on it. So far, my only definition of failure is to quit before my most important goals are achieved. Believe me, there are days when I’ve been tempted.

Last week, I read an interesting blog called “The 7 Differences Between Pros and Amateurs”. The one that jumped out at me is point #5, "Amateurs Fear Failure. Pros Crave It." The piece goes on to say that failure can teach you more than success ever will. When it comes to writing, publishing, and promoting, this is completely true.

I learned a long time ago that rejection or lousy reviews or poor sales is a part of many writers’ lives. But embracing those disappointments and learning from them is crucial. So this year, I’m planning to take more risks by asking for more reviews and guest blogging opportunities. I’m going to take more chances on new marketing and selling opportunities. Because if I don’t try, I’m failing anyway, and that’s not going to happen.

Here are more great quotes about failure:

“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have. – Dale Carnegie.

“Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% that is called failure.” – Soichiro Honda

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Nominees

Crime Writers of Canada announced this year’s slate of nominees for the Arthur Ellis Awards at events across the country. Established in 1984, the awards are named after the nom de travail of Canada’s official hangman. (Yes, our country once had one). The Arthur Ellis awards celebrate excellence in crime writing. Eligible books were published in 2016, with the exception of the Unhanged Author, which awards a prize to the year’s best unpublished novel. Good luck to all of the nominees:
Best Novel
Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press
Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Short Story
Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Book in French
Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions
Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire
Best Juvenile/YA Book
Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Norah McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books
Best Nonfiction Book
Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane
Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon
The winners will be announced at a Gala Awards Dinner in Toronto on May 25, 2017. For more information, check out Crime Writers of Canada’s website at

Friday, April 21, 2017

Who's Telling This Story, Anyway?

The other day, I was talking story with a writer friend, and we got onto subject of point of view.
Now, there are two kinds of point-of-view decisions. One is, do you tell the story from first person (I knocked down the door and strode through, a revolver blazing in each hand) or third person (HE knocked down the door). Occasionally, someone writes a book in second person (YOU knock down the door) -- second person is usually, though not always, written in the present tense.

The other kind -- and the kind we were talking about -- is narrative point-of-view, as in who tells the story, no matter what grammatical person you use.

I've had books I just couldn't get going. Pushing that pencil or those keys was like trying to push a chain uphill. Couldn't do it. When that happens to me, I know the story is trying to tell me something. Sometimes what it's trying to tell me is that I'm trying to tell the story from the wrong narrative point of view.

The foremost example is probably the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes is the main character, and has all the action and most of the best lines. Yet the stories are better, told from the point-of-view of his sidekick. We wouldn't be astonished at Holmes' brilliance, if we were inside his head and knew what he knows and followed his inferences and deductions all along.

If you have a book or a story you can't get moving, try writing a scene from the point of view of a different character. Maybe a character you thought was just a bit character needs to be more important. Maybe the whole book is actually about what you thought was a minor sub-plot.

Alice Friman, one of my favorite poets, said that everything you create is a thread that's attached to something in your subconscious. Sometimes what that thread attaches to isn't what you think it attaches to. Sometimes switching out plot lines and narrative characters can sort out what you really want to say, as opposed to what you thought you wanted to say.

It's worth a try!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Lazy Way to Publication

Over the years, I’ve been approached by a number of people who want me to write their story for them…and find a publisher, oh, and maybe an agent. The conversation always comes down to “You do it and we’ll split the royalties.” Honestly, I’m not sure I can hide the chagrin on my face anymore.

These people might have taken the occasional writing course or joined a critique group just long enough to sense how daunting writing a book can be, never mind selling and promoting it. Sometimes, the wannabe author is someone I’ve met socially, or while selling my books, or through a friend.

I call this the lazy way to getting published. Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing against someone wanting to hire a ghostwriter, and I often recommend reputable publishing services to others, but I would never take on the project myself. In fact, I’m highly suspicious of people who want to get from point A to Z without doing a shred of the leg work required, or who refuse to spend a single penny on a good editor, or writer, for that matter.

I’ve given workshops that outline the importance of having a social media presence, and offer simple how-to tips, only to have the occasional attendee say at the end, “I don’t really have to do all that, do I?” Of course not, provided they don’t want to sell any copies. My answer is a bit more diplomatic than that in person, but it amounts to the same thing. If you don’t invest in your idea without doing your homework and spending some dollars, then you won’t get far.

There’s a lot of nice people out there with great stories to tell, but it’s a slippery road to hell to commit your time and skill to someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to write, publish, and promote a book.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

One of the Worst Writing Tips I've Heard

One of the more common writing tips I’ve heard throughout the years is to make sure the protagonist in my books is likable. This is particularly applicable to female protagonists. The consensus was that if readers don’t like her, they’re going to put the book down. So, I’ve worked hard to create at least somewhat likable characters over the years, albeit still flawed.

I’ve come to realize, though, that likability is a matter of reader taste, and to some degree, genre. I write mysteries, which offers a diverse spectrum from light cozies to noir thrillers. Generally, (and of course there are exceptions) cozy readers prefer a likable protagonist who isn’t an alcoholic or drug user. Thriller fans prefer a protagonist who doesn’t spend her afternoons drinking tea with a cat on her lap.

I write amateur sleuth mysteries, which incorporates dark and light worlds, so it can be a bit of a risk, as I might not please either group. Still, I feel compelled to write books and create character that are meaningful to me. All readers bring their experiences, biases, and preferences to the table when it comes to books, and that’s fine. The truth is that no writer will please everyone.

As a writer and a reader, a likeable character isn’t as important to me as a compelling and complex character with a an obstacle to climb or a mission to accomplish. It can be small or global, but it has to matter to the protagonist.

I came across an interesting a piece in Bookriot a few days ago, called ‘100 Must-Read Books With Unlikable Women’. The author argues that female characters are given short shrift by being labeled annoying, among other things. They aren’t allowed the same leeway that male protagonists are, and receive more complaints from readers for their un-likability. Hmm. She might have something there.

I browsed the list to see if there were any mysteries and sure enough, I found Gone Girl and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. There were also quite a number of mainstream novels. I have to admit, I didn’t browse through the entire list, so I’m not sure if there are any fantasy or romance titles there.

But the author makes a good point: there are plenty of great novels featuring unlikable characters in terrific novels. Really, did you find Scarlett O’Hara likable? I sure didn’t, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. In fact, Scarlett’s unlikability was crucial to the story’s success. So go ahead, write unlikable female characters, despite what some of those writing instructors tell you. Just ensure that you’ve got a memorable, compelling story to tell.