Friday, September 04, 2015

Buy My Book. Please!

Gentle Reader is going to read only one of your books. I’m convinced of that. Then GR is either going to love your work or give you a pass. One book. That’s it. I don’t care how good you are or how much money you make or if the whole known universe thinks you are the best writer ever.

If Gentle Reader loves you he or she will buy everything you’ve ever written. If the dear soul doesn’t.


I’ve seen writers agonize over sales, quality of their books, marketing, social media, etc. But basically it comes down to a tricky match between the reader and the writer. Books are too expensive to buy those of writers we really don’t like all that much. For that matter, reading books we aren’t enthusiastic about are like being on a forced march. We don’t have to if we don’t want to. It’s one of the bonuses of being an adult instead of an English student.

I read books that I don’t care for. Quite a few, in fact. I read them out of curiosity, or because a friend has asked to “blurb” a book, or because I thought they were going to be worth reading. But I often feel cheated and resent wasting my time. I read a number of books to study technique, or because they are a classic that everyone else has read. I’m a sucker for good reviews. I read books that win awards. I’m going to read everything that’s on the Edgars list. And all the Pulitzer finalists. Ditto National Book Awards.

My oldest daughter, Cheryl was over the other night carrying books I had given her for Christmas. On top was Lila by Marilynne Robinson. The first words out of her mouth were, “Whatever you are reading, put it down. Right now. Start reading this instead.” Now that’s the way to sell a book.

My daughter, Michele, tried to stop me from taking The Secret Place by Tana French. Because her husband hadn’t read it yet. Isn’t that silly? I pulled the seniority card.

Our whole family reads everything Tana French writes and also Craig Johnson who writes western mysteries. Audrey likes David Mitchell, but I don’t. How could she not have liked Gone Girl—but she didn’t.

My husband loved military history. Especially books about World War II. I gave Mary Beth one of Mo Hayden’s books and she was an instant dedicated fan. She bought everything Mo had ever written.

What we are looking for is a real live fan. The kind that adores our books and will tell all their friends. But to reach this person we have to do a lot of work. We can’t make someone like our books. But we can do everything possible to make sure a likely person knows about a book we’ve written and if possible, persuade them to read the first few pages.

That’s where the rub comes in. What is the best way to get our books in the hands of a reader?
At the beginning of this year, I decided to do more with social media and go to fewer conferences. I went to fewer conferences, but fell down in my determination to conquer social media.

There are three basic ways to get find that elusive dedicated fan:
  1. give talks and presentations at bookstores, libraries, or groups
  2. Become a social media whiz
  3. Go to conferences and befriend a fan
The trick to find our own "best way."

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Getting the itch again

It's been a month. Almost to the day.

In early July, I finalized and delivered my spring 2016 novel, Destiny's Pawns. Then I wrote a 63-page screenplay, a pilot for a would-be TV series featuring my heroine Peyton Cote. My agent is doing her thing with that now.

It's autumn. School has begun, and I run a dorm at a boarding school. That means I'm up late lots of nights. Recently, on those nights when my family has gone to sleep and the house is dark that little voice has been whispering in my ear again.

It's been one month since I've written, and there are stories to be told.

My three-book contract with Midnight Ink is up. Now we wait to see what they want to do and what I want to do. Do they want more Peyton Cote novels? Do I want to write them? I have more of them in me; I know that. And a single mother who's also a US Border Patrol agent in a region as interesting as northern Maine and who has a loony mother is just plain fun to write. So we'll see how it all shakes out. If Peyton doesn't come back I have another character who's been whispering opening lines as well.

As an aside, one thing I love about Midnight Ink is they let me do what I want: I've written three books in this series, and each is very different from the others – stylistically, structurally, as well as the pace in which the novel unfolds. In a day when branding seems to mean so much, it's great to have artistic freedom to stretch yourself.

We'll see what the future holds for Peyton Cote. But I know it's time to start writing something.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Batteries Recharged

As my computer informed you a couple weeks ago, I was on vacation—a driving tour of parts of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and a teeny bit of Wyoming (Yellowstone.) Three national parks and 2700+ miles later I’m back with my batteries recharged.

Unlike the Donald*, I’m a firm believer in taking breaks from work. No matter how much you enjoy what you do, I think most people benefit from a change of scenery and not thinking about their job. You come back with a new perspective and new ideas.

I didn’t actively think about my WIP on the trip, but my mind must have been working away because I came up with some new ideas that will make the story much stronger. I jotted them down in the handy-dandy notepad I carry in my purse because otherwise I’d forget them. Since I returned, I’ve begun incorporating the ideas into the book.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from my trip.

Here I am at the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, ID. By the way, Idaho has the nicest rest areas of any state in the west. Okay, Oregon has good ones, too. Hey, these things are important on driving trips.

Yep, that’s a real bison wandering around a parking lot in Yellowstone.

Here’s a photo of Glacier National Park in Northwestern Montana. Even with three fires burning in the park, the air was remarkably clear and the scenery beautiful when we were there.

Here are a couple pics of Arches National Park. Much hotter here in eastern Utah and not as clear. The 16 or so fires burning in Washington state were causing bad air in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Utah. (Montana and Idaho seems to have taken the brunt of it.)

*In his book, Think Like a Billionaire, Trump gives ten ways to think like a billionaire. The first one is “Don’t take vacations.” He believes there’s no point to them. “If you’re not enjoying your work, you’re in the wrong job.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Autumn arrives!

When I was younger, autumn was my favourite season (even though it meant that school was starting up again). Eventually, when I began my career as a school band teacher, autumn began losing some of its lustre as my favourite (because it meant that school was starting up again).

Now my favourite season is summer. Though I no longer teach — except on special occasions — I still love summer more. I think it boils down to the length of the days. Those long summer evenings are absolutely golden, as are early summer mornings when the wind is still but the air is cool. What a wonderful time to sit and watch the world go by.

Still, autumn retains some of its charms for me. For one thing, I feel much more energized, and no, it has nothing to do with cooler weather. (I actually like hot weather.) For whatever reason, autumn’s arrival actually helps me focus better and get more done.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that autumn has arrived — at least as far as I’m concerned. Huh? It’s still summer Blechta! The calendar says so.

I disagree. Calendars are very arbitrary human inventions and mean absolutely nothing to the physical world. The earth thumbs its nose at our stupid expectations, courtesy of J. Caesar, Esq. I know with certainty that autumn arrived here in Ontario last week—if you were paying attention.

When our family was younger, the highlight of our summers was to camp in late August on Flowerpot Island off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. What made it so cool for all of us was that it was pretty rough, just a platform near the water (to protect the fragile ground) on six campsites and very seldom were all of those occupied. A few times, we were the only ones camping. Tour boats came to the dock all day long disgorging daytime visitors, but around 5:00, they stopped running and you were alone out there until the next morning around 9:30. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so if something bad happened, you were stuck. But the solitude was also magnificent.

Experiencing the natural world like this brought you closer to it. You noticed more things: changes in the wind, changes in the temperature, and the state of the waves on Georgian Bay gave us a hint of something going on.

One day, we were walking to our favourite spot for swimming. Then something odd happened. You couldn’t see it or smell it, but you could certainly feel it. We walked through what felt like an invisible curtain. In one or two steps, we went from warm to chilly. It was probably a matter of a couple degrees, but it was certainly noticeable.

We stopped. What had happened? As it turned out, it was a weather front, a passage from a low-pressure southern system to a higher pressure northern system. We found out later while talking to one of the tour boat pilots that we’d actually walked through a change of seasons.

“The lake will turn over today. You can bet on it.”


“The lake will turn over. That’s what happens at the beginning of autumn. The cold water from the bottom will flow to the top and everything will change. Happens every year.”

Sure enough, he was right. A wind came up with the high pressure system and over the course of the day, the water began to get cooler. Swimming out over the big underwater cliff that dropped straight down a few hundred feet, I could feel the rush of the colder water rising up and flipping the sun-warmed “summer water” down to the bottom. It was probably happening all along the Niagara Escarpment that runs down the eastern spine of the Bruce Peninsula.

Next morning it was noticeably cooler and feeling, well, autumn-ish. Yes, we had some more warm weather that year (as we are experiencing in Ontario currently), but it was clear that another summer had passed into memory.

We weren’t in the north last week, but knowing the signs, we could definitely feel the shift in seasons. My wife has noticed it in her gardens, too. The plants certainly know that it’s autumn. I haven’t seen or heard goldfinches in a couple of days. They’re always one of the first birds to leave.

I also know it happened, because I suddenly feel a shift in my energy levels. Time to begin getting more work done! This probably harkens back to the struggle to amass enough food to last through a long, cold winter, but I’ll use it. I’m waking up this week, ready to get to work.

Today I wrote 2000 words before even making coffee. If you knew me well, you’d know that’s pretty strange on its own.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Rapid Reads

By Vicki Delany

As most of you know, as well as writing novels Rick, Barbara and I write Rapid Reads novellas for the Canadian publisher Orca Books. 

The Rapid Reads books have a dual purpose. First they’re short, fast, but interesting and exciting crime stories for the reading public with perhaps not a lot of time to get into a longer book.  Secondly, the books are aimed at a low literacy or ESL (English as a second language) audience.  

Adult books, with adult themes and adult language plainly written, without a great deal of complexity.

My third book with Rapid Reads will be released on August 25th. It’s titled Haitian Graves.  

The first book I wrote for them was A Winter Kill, about Nicole Patterson, a young police woman with the OPP in Price Edward County, Ontario, where I live. Before I continued with another Nicole Patterson book, I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan , and there I met some RCMP officers who were working with the UN, helping that country set up a modern, efficient, police force. (Aside: I blogged extensively about my visits to South Sudan over at One Woman Crime Wave, my private blog.  Here a link to a sample, for those interested in reading further:

And so I created Sgt. Ray Robertson and Juba Good.  But by the time the nice people at Orca asked me for another Ray Robertson book, the situation in South Sudan had deteriorated so much that I felt I couldn’t write another book set there.  

As it happened, I was heading off to Haiti to visit a friend there. And, as it also happens, the RCMP is active in that country, also working with the UN.

I asked my friend to introduce me to some Canadian police officers and then I took Ray to Haiti in Haitian Graves.

I love writing the Rapid Reads books.  To me, it’s an exercise in stripping a crime novel down to its most basic elements. No flashbacks, no subplots, only one POV, a linear time frame, little introspection. Just a fast moving plot, clearly defined characters, and a great setting. Word for word, these novellas take far longer to write that any of my other books do. 


Why not check out Haitian Graves or one of Rick or Barbara’s books. We promise you a great read!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Self-Discipline and Writing

I'm frequently told that I accomplish a great deal -- criminal justice professor and mystery writer -- non-fiction and crime fiction. Right now, I'm in the midst of writing a nonfiction book about dress, appearance, and criminal justice and a historical thriller. Meanwhile, I'm working out the plot details of another mystery. But the truth is, I am easily distracted.

As Donis told us in her post yesterday, sometimes there are ants in the kitchen -- or some other distraction from sitting down at the keyboard and writing. I think at some point, all of the Type M-ers have recounted a major or minor distraction from writing. So I know I am not alone in having to cope with the ups and downs of the real world. In fact, these legitimate reasons for not writing on a given day are of less concern to me than the thought that I waste time. I admit I have a limited supply of self-discipline.

Over the years, I have tried to develop strategies to compensate for my lack of discipline. I have read numerous books and articles and blog posts from other writers about how to be more productive. I have tried to apply some of that advice. For example, the advice to "be consistent" and "develop writing habits". I have tried getting up at the same time every day and going to my computer. That would work if only I could persuade myself that I should go to bed at the same time every night, or set my alarm to go off at the same time every morning no matter what time I finally fall between the sheets. I am a night person. I like being up and reading or doing research at night. When I have a deadline, I write at night. After all these years, my bed time remains erratic, and so does my rising. Actually, in summer I am much more likely to wake early because of the light pouring in. But if I am tired, getting to the keyboard consistently is still a problem. Hence, my feeling all summer that I was wasting my precious mornings with tasks around the house and to-do lists.

I am on sabbatical from teaching this fall because I need to finish my book on dress, appearance, and crime. I did a proposal, so two chapters and the introduction are already done. The other chapters are outlined. My research is done and I am ready to write. I have a deadline -- the beginning of January when I need to start preparing for spring semester. I know I will get the first draft done because I must. But it is still annoying that I could not develop and follow a writing schedule this summer. Yes, it was true I had another lingering writing commitment that I needed to finish up, and I served on a committee, and I cleaned out my office and my house. And my spaces are now much more tidy. But I might have finished those tasks more quickly if I hadn't been distracted by ideas that occurred to me and sent me off to the computer to spend whole afternoons looking for articles and then reading the articles or requesting the ones I couldn't access from the library. During the summer, I created new piles of articles and books to read. Some of them may be useful in the end, but looking for them was a distraction because much of what I was looking for could have been found later when I got to that point in my writing.

Right now, I am fascinated by Eleanor Roosevelt. I am reading her "My Day" newspaper columns (collected in book form). I needed to only read the columns from 1939 for my thriller. But the columns cover the period 1936-1945, and I sure that I will not be able to stop reading when I finally get to 1939. Eleanor and I will go right through World War II together. And then I will have to restrain myself from reaching for Goodwin's No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a hefty volume about the home front during World War II. But my book is set in 1939. I need to exercise some discipline and focus only on what people living in the years leading up to 1939 would have known. And as intriguing as she is, I will stop reading about Eleanor. I will get back to what I am supposed to be doing.

But you can now see the problems created by my lack of discipline. In spite of the good advice that would undoubtedly make my writing life easier, I am not consistent. I don't have a fixed time to write. I don't have a  word count/quota that I am trying to reach. I don't have -- and this is one of my greatest distraction even though I tell myself that it isn't -- but I don't have one place that I write each day. I move back and forth between my office at home and my office at school. I fear I am wasting a significant amount of writing time in transit. But even this fall when I will be on sabbatical, much of my collected research for the nonfiction book will be stacked up in boxes and file cabinets at the office. And I will still focus best on my fiction when I work at home.

I am thinking of designating days of the week for working at school or at home. On those days, I will get up and move briskly to reach my desk -- a few feet into my office or get dressed and out the door and drive into school. I will sit down, I will focus, I will not be distracted by ideas that pop into my head that seem urgent but can be thought about later. I will write those ideas down on a pad and come back to them later. I will have a designated day of the week when I will do all my chores such as grocery shopping and taking clothes to the cleaners and filling the car with gas.

I will not be distracted. I will be consistent. . . well, I will at least do a calendar and write down proposed word counts and try to follow it. I must because if I don't, January will come and I will not have finished what I must get done.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Bad Writing Day and a Good Review

I had a good writing day yesterday. Today, not so much. To begin with, I awoke to an infestation of ants in my kitchen. There are very few things more disgusting that finding ants all over everything in your sparkling clean kitchen. It’s a little bit cooler today*, and overcast, so I’m thinking the ants are taking advantage of the fact that they can emerge from their den in the daytime and not be instantly crisp fried.

So I spent half an hour or so moving all my utensils and spraying the little buggers with fruit wash, which is lemony and kills them dead while making my kitchen smell lovely and not poisoning me at the same time. Then I have fifteen minutes of cleaning up the carnage with disinfecting wipes, after which the toaster oven, can opener, and their friends go back into their places. The fruit wash is used up, so I’m off to the store to buy more, and for good measure, some ant traps for the window sill.

I have two blog entries due over the next two days, so after fixing a bit of lunch for my better half and myself, I spent an hour on the computer writing up one post, followed by finally checking my email and social media and responding to everyone who needs a response. By this time I have become stiff and sore from standing in one place (not to be left off the latest health fad bandwagon, I’ve been writing standing up). I took some time to pay bills, and noticed that one long-standing bill has gone up for some reason not explained. Like an idiot, I called the billing department to find out why.

Forty-five minutes later, I am informed that this is an across-the-board rate hike for everyone in Arizona, and she’s so sorry that I didn’t receive a notification.

It is now 4:30 p.m. I still have to finish this entry before Don gets home and supper needs to be made. I’m almost done! I may have an hour to get some work done on the WIP!

So, to end on a high note, I’m appending an excerpt of the first review of my November release, All Men Fear Me, from the August edition of Kirkus Reviews. It was a very good review, much to my pleasure and satisfaction. I hope this is a harbinger of things to come.

“When the U.S. enters World War I, hate and suspicion triumph over rational thought…Naturally, Alafair is worried about her sons being drafted, but she never suspects that a visit from her brother, Rob Gunn, will cause problems with people she’s known for years. Rob is a union organizer who’s lying low after his release from an internment camp for his involvement in an Arizona miners’ strike. While everyone waits to hear whose number has come up in the draft, strife breaks out between the pro-war patriots, who think anyone with a foreign-sounding name is a spy, and the anti-war socialists, some of whom want to march on Washington and take over the government… Casey’s skill at making you care about the injustices of a time and place not often covered in history books is second to none. The admirable mystery is the cherry on top.” Kirkus Reviews, August 17, 2015

*“Cooler” is 102ยบ. I live in Arizona.