Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest author Angie Fox: Interview & Giveaway

 Novel Spaces welcomes New York Times bestselling author Angie Fox. She has a new series coming out about a group of paranormal MASH surgeons. She’s stopped by today to give away a signed copy of Immortally Yours and to talk with us about the new book.

To start, how did you come up with the plot for Immortally Yours?

I wanted to do something different. Plus, I love writing books that are not only about the hero and heroine, but also about the community where they live. A quirky, paranormal M*A*S*H unit sounded like a blast to write. Plus, I love books about special ops soldiers. So I made my hero a tough-as-nails wounded warrior and my heroine is the doctor who saves him (in more ways than one).

Immortally Yours definitely has your trademark humor. It’s ironic – and amusing. How natural is it for you to write “funny”? Is it ever a challenge to rein it in for the more serious parts?

One of the challenges – and the great joys – of writing Immortally Yours was balancing the humor with the drama of war.

Petra and her colleagues at the MASH 3063rd have been drafted until the end of the conflict, which is bad for Petra but even worse for people like her vampire roommate, Marius. They’re living in this quirky, ad-hock camp, trying to make the best of it while they work long hours in the OR, putting soldiers back together – knowing that they’re probably going to see these injured heroes again and again – if they’re lucky.

The underlying tragedy brings the oddball personalities in the camp together. They develop ways to keep their sanity and to create the kind of relationships that offer a port in the storm.

What can you tell us about Petra’s otherworldly sidekicks? (Are you an animal lover in general? They always seem to make a lot of appearances in your books.)

I am an animal lover. While there are no actual pets in Immortally Yours, we do have some creatures. I couldn’t resist. And really, it’s not Petra’s fault. Her roommate Rodger just happens to be keeping a few small swamp monsters. And when those babies shock him by having more babies, he has no choice but to adopt them out all over camp. Then we do have some supporting characters who happen to be creatures, like Jeffe the guard sphinx. On a side note, Jeffe is one of my favorite characters to write because he’s so infuriatingly logical, and it comes off in some unexpected ways.

Is there a set number of books for this series? 

It’s a trilogy. At the same time, each book will read as a stand-alone and each book has its own happy ending, because, let’s face it: we need happy endings these days.

Tell us about the creative marketing strategies for your books.

I’m all about creative marketing. It’s fun and my brain just thinks that way. Like for the Accidental Demon Slayer series, I developed the What’s Your Biker Witch Name quiz? It went viral, which has been a blast. You haven’t lived until you get emails from physicists in China telling you that their biker witch names are things like Wino Wally No Brakes and Two Date Tessa Hard Rider. And now for a shameless plug: you can get your biker witch name at:

For Immortally Yours, I’m doing a quirky little viral program that is cracking me up right now because it is getting slightly out of control (which, in my world, means things are going well). I’m offering readers an interactive experience that centers around the news network that is covering the war.

In this new series, PNN is the paranormal version of CNN. So I’m basically setting up the “official” PNN website to be like The Onion, only paranormal. It allows me to have a blast, while giving readers a taste of the series and immersing them in the world of PNN.

The Giveaway
In fact, I’m centering my giveaway today around PNN. Just post your favorite headline from in the comments section below and you’re entered to win a signed copy of Immortally Yours!


Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of several books about vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night. She is best known for her Accidental Demon Slayer urban fantasy series. She is also writing a series about a group of paranormal M*A*S*H surgeons. The first book in the Monster MASH trilogy, Immortally Yours, is out now. The second book, Immortally Embraced, will be released in February 2013.

Angie's website
Twitter: @AngieFoxauthor

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back in the USA

"You have to crawl before you can walk!"

That was the sage advice (at least I thought so) that I offered my son this afternoon as he worked on doing an 'ollie' (a jump) with his new skateboard although he can barely ride it for more than a few meters without having to jump off. He looked at me with that withering look that pre-teens reserve for their mothers when we try to impart out-dated wisdom.

"Nah," he responded, "I can walk first," then proceeded to execute a small jump on the board.

I left the US for just five years, but I feel like a time warp has occurred. So much of what was status quo has changed and I definitely have no time to spend crawling if I am going to catch up. Despite my IT background, I stuck my head in the sand before I left, refusing to acknowledge some developments - Blackberry (why did I need to have my email accessible 24-7?), rewinding live TV (how is that even possible?!) and self-check out (I still refuse to use this unless my groceries will cost less) are a few examples. Now I have kids coming to the house and expecting to find all the gadgets to which they are accustomed. They touch screens and wonder why there is no response and marvel at the fact that there is no Wii, PSP or other similar gadgets in my house (my poor, deprived children, I know.)

Now I have to catch up, I can't give my children definitive proof that they are smarter than I am! I have figured out why there is no one in the stores (except Target and Walmart). It's not the economy. Everyone is shopping online. You can browse, enlarge, order samples, check out competitors prices, read reviews and 'talk to an expert online'. Why leave home? I am sure that someone will soon create a way to send sensations so that will simmulate the item's smell and touch through your computer screen ... oops, did I just give away the idea behind my sci-fi novel?

All that being said, it is good to be back in the USofA and although the settling process has been a long one, I look forward to feeling like one of the natives very soon ... and getting back to a space where I can write.

ttyl :-).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bye Bye Summer (a poem about the end of summer)

By far the most intimidating literary form, poetry has always been something I feared.  Writing a novel is one thing; page after page can be deftly spent exploring character and nuance.  Even short stories allow some wiggle room, but poetry suffers no literary fools.  Every word must evoke.  Every rhyme must chime.  And every stanza must foretell a bonanza.

But a writer must countenance no fear, so I put my quill to ink, and penned a peerless paean to the premature passing of summer.

Bye Bye, Summer

Bye bye, summer, you’re gone so fast,
But while you lasted, we had a blast.

No more time to sit on ass,
Time’s run out to siphon gas.

Bye bye, scuba
Bye bye, tuba

Empty the pool, it’s gross and murky,
And there’s nothing left we haven’t dried to make jerky.

Hoist the surfboard up onto its rack,
And bring the racehorse back to the track.

Bye bye, coyote
Bye bye, peyote

Stow the sleeping bags, we no longer need them,
Set loose the fighting dogs, we can’t afford to feed them.

Bid farewell to circus kin,
And drain the bathtub of homemade gin.

Bye bye, kippers
Bye bye, strippers

Bye bye, summer,
Bye bye.

For more exciting poems about the end of summer, or to learn more about cannibalistic sixteenth-century conquistador mummies, visit

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Perceptions of Beauty

As a romance writer, I have to write about beauty; in particular, the perception of beauty.  I have to transform my characters into people readers can fantasize about, and at the same time, make them human enough that readers can identify with.  In the past I succeeded in getting my readers to perceive a two hundred pound short woman as beautiful enough to deserve a HEA with a Nubian god… no easy task.  Though I am listed on this site as writing contemporary romance, most of my novels are multicultural in nature.  As a multicultural romance writer (and a person transplanted from one culture to another) one thing is obvious to me:  different cultures have different perceptions of beauty.

Let me give you two examples.  I am from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts where a woman with a large derrière is considered sexy irrespective of height. Here in America, being tall and slim is a trademark of beauty especially among some of the more dominant cultures, and a large backside is just "a fat a$$".  My family has a trademark large backside that they proudly tout and a tendency to gain weight on that area.  

Two years ago, after the weight gain of child birth I decided I was a little too plump. Through diet and exercise, I lost a significant amount of weight.  My family was shocked.  They described me as being “dried up” and bemoaned the fact that I lost the family trademark “assets”.  On the flip side, my American co-workers repeatedly complimented me on how wonderful I looked without the excess weight.  Some even were inspired to enter weight loss programs.  Two different reactions, two different cultures, two different perceptions of beauty. 

Another perception of beauty that is quite different is the existence of a gap in the front teeth.  I have a large gap between my front teeth.  In St. Kitts, and several other Caribbean Islands it is considered sexy.   But in the US, it is just ugly teeth.  No dentist that I had been to in St. Kitts ever offered to fix my gap.  Since coming to the US, every dentist has suggested that I get retainers to close my gap. I’ve responded to each in the same way, “In my culture, it’s a sign of beauty.”  An associate of mine, a migrant from the Caribbean with a pronounced gap between her front teeth recently succumbed to the pressure of her dentists.  She got retainers and after a year her gap was successfully closed.  I spoke about it with her and she had mixed feelings.  Her Caribbean friends were not as excited to see her gap removed as were her American friends.  Two different reactions, two different cultures, two different perceptions of beauty.

As a writer of multicultural romance, I have to ensure that I capture beauty in relation to the cultures that I am writing about, and the individuals I am writing about.  While a six foot tall woman with a 0 dress size, Double D cups and slim hips may be considered beautiful among some US cultures, in many Caribbean and some African cultures that woman is just top-heavy.  Some European cultures favor the blond hair, blue-eyed alabaster skin look and others, the raven black hair with the olive skin tone. In the photo above the wearing of a disc in the lip by women is a sign of beauty in the Suri culture (Ethiopia).  The bigger the lip disc, the more cattle she receives as a dowry in marriage.
In writing, we have to be cognizant of the different perceptions of beauty, especially when it is germane to the story.  How do I get around the different perceptions of beauty in my multicultural romances?  I emphasize the commonalities:  the internal beauty that manifests itself in things my characters do and say.  I make my readers fall in love with the personality of the character, not the physical attributes.  After a while, that person could be a bald headed sumo wrestler or a double amputee with scar tissue for a face, the reader feels the beauty emanating from that person.

How do you deal with different perceptions of beauty in your writing?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Working Exercise Into Your Writing Life

In 2010, I took a break from the 9 to 5 to write.  I figured it was now or never and, with careful planning, I could make it work.  So far, it's going well.  I've put out one novel, I have another on the way and I should soon finish a non-fiction work which has truly been a labour of love.  I've been quite the busy bee.  Whereas before I used to put a book out every three or four years, I've whittled that down significantly but I've noticed that the whittling down in one area has contributed to an expansion in another.  What on earth am I on about?  Well, to be blunt, my waistline is not now what it was three years ago.  It takes more of the measuring tape to go around me.  Yep, the hours of sitting before my computer pounding out stories or editing stories have taken a toll on my weight.

Now, you might think that this has really nothing to do with writing but I'd beg to differ and this is an interesting take on the connection between fitness and creativity.  The fact that as writers we often sit hunched over our computers, tapping away, can also take a toll on bodies.

Writing is a sedentary profession.  Perhaps the most sedentary.  At five a.m. I get up and go jogging for about twenty minutes then walk for a further twenty-five or thirty.  I have breakfast at seven and by eight I'm responding to mail, checking Facebook, etc..  By nine I've begun to work on whichever manuscript is taking my attention.  I stop for lunch at about twelve and then I'm back at the computer a half-hour or so later.  I continue working until about five or six.  (This is the summer schedule - from September I'll be stopping at around mid-day to home-school my daughter.  There isn't much activity involved in home-schooling either.)  This means that I've gained a few pounds, I won't say how many but it does mean that I'm not quite the same dress size I was just a few, short years ago.

So far, I've managed to avoid some of the health issues like diabetes and hypertension that have affected certain family members but I can't count on luck to keep on dodging the bullet of ill health.  Clearly, a burst of activity once a day isn't enough to keep the weight down so now I'm trying to incorporate brief periods of activity into my whole writing day.  Two or three times a day I log on to YouTube and dance along to a few zumba clips.  I've also bought a stepper and use it whenever I'm on the phone.  Twice a week or so, I skip for about ten minutes.  These are all in addition to the morning exercise. 

I don't have to walk to my car or walk from my car to my office building to reach my work.  Neither do I live in a mansion; it takes me less than a minute to walk from my bed to my computer.  Working at home has meant that I've got to work harder and more consciously at building exercise into my my daily life but I'm trying.  Any tips would be appreciated!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cyberbullying & the ugly side of book reviews - Part 1

The craziness quotient on the Internet, and on book review sites in particular, is getting out of hand. 

Back in early 2006 I discovered a popular blog written by a literary agent, and for almost half a year I was addicted to its mix of snark, practical advice, humour and cameraderie. It wasn't long, however, before I discovered a disquieting underside to the blog. I'd never heard of cyberbullying then, but it was there that I first saw the phenomenon at work.

Some of the fans on the site were rabid in their attacks on anyone who challenged or dared to disagree with anything their idol, the literary agent, wrote. In her defence, the agent handled herself admirably even under dire provocation, and the time or two that she snapped it was both entertaining and understandable. It was some of her hardcore followers who were the problem.

The agent seemed particularly antagonistic to vanity presses and at one point she called for what amounted to a cyber attack against those she listed as the worst offenders. I think she herself must have been taken aback by what ensued: her loyal hordes ran off baying to do her bidding and bombard search engines with targeted blog posts and comments about the companies and personnel, linking back, I assume (I'm not too clear on the actual mechanics of cyber warfare), to the websites under scrutiny. 

If the exercise was meant to be an experiment in social engineering, it was successful beyond belief. Soon, the gleeful reports from the faithful started coming in: the articles, with their guided accusations, allegations and agreed-upon subject headings, soared to the top of the search rankings with an efficiency that had to be seen to be believed as page after page of the items posted by the bloggers pushed the normal results for the targeted presses further and further down the search rankings.

I was horrified. The agent had said that these presses preyed on clueless aspiring authors, but I wondered how much research her followers actually did for themselves before going on the attack. It seemed to me that they took the agent's evaluation of these companies and individuals at face value and ran with that. The 
entities may or may not have deserved the take-down, but that was not the main issue. What I found profoundly disturbing was that a mob blindly followed the instructions of someone they revered to inflict harm on other people without a second thought. History is soaked with the blood of those who were victims of blind obeisance such as this.

Fast forward to 2012 and the problem of cyberbullying on book review sites and blogs. A year or so ago a self-published writer made the rookie mistake of publicly taking a blog reviewer to task for a less than stellar review. News of the ensuing kerfuffle whizzed around the Internet and the writer was roundly castigated by hundreds of commenters on the blog. The frenzy snowballed as she kept popping up in the comment trail practically begging for more abuse, even descending to the use of profane language at times. 

That writer learned a hard lesson (at least, one hopes she did) about taking reviewers to task for their opinions of her work. Did it stop there? No. The truly disturbing part is what came after: many of those commenters sought out her book on Amazon and bombarded it with egregious, one-star reviews. The book may or may not have merited the reviews, but many of the reviewers never read it, and said as much. It was nothing short of a lynching, a gang-bang, a malicious and hysterical attack by a mob bent on destroying a writer because of her error in judgement on a blog. 

I've since learned that the reviewer gang-bang has become common on Amazon, Goodreads and other book sites. There are authors who live in terror of being targeted, and there are authors who have been targeted in the manner described, whose personal lives have been mined and disrupted, and who have been victims of death wishes, and even death threats. 

There are readers and reviewers who do and say stupid things. There are authors who do the same. While I support readers' rights to find a book - any book - not to their taste and rate it however they desire, forming gangs to 'take down' authors against whom they hold some grudge, or even random authors, is despicable and cowardly. 

There's another side to this. There are authors who don't play fair on the review sites and whose manipulation of the ratings may be contributing to the hostility of many readers/reviewers. In Part 2 we'll take a look at some of the abuses being perpetrated by authors.

I have a brand new Facebook page! All 'likes' appreciated. :) Liane Spicer

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How creative can creative nonfiction be?

I'm currently taking a course in creative nonfiction as I work toward my master of fine arts degree in creative writing. For me the mixing of 'creative' with 'nonfiction' is fraught with dangers – how creative can one be with the facts and still be telling the truth?

This past week I found myself among the minority in a debate over whether David Sedaris writes nonfiction. (For those who don't know Sedaris's work, I recommend starting with "Me Talk Pretty One Day," an anthology of his essays.) In his piece "Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa." Sedaris wrote that his life growing up in North Carolina had been so dull compared to his partner Hugh's upbringing as a child of the diplomatic corps stationed in various African nations that he coopted Hugh's childhood. Not out of a sense of wanting to be closer to his partner or out of any empathy for his partner's experiences; he deliberately presented events from Hugh's life as his own memories for no other reason that he found them more interesting than the truth – and by extension made him more interesting. Sedaris revealed that he routinely picks up other people's life experiences "like swiping change from on top of the dresser" and uses them as his own. To my mind this was an admission to breaking a rule, perhaps the rule for a journalist or essayist – that whenever reality is not what he'd like, he makes things up.

Strictly speaking, reality isn't always necessary for truth. There is a kind of truth that can be revealed through exaggeration or parody. In this regard stand-up comedy comes to mind. Mostly because I like stand-up – but the stand-up I like is that which holds up a mirror. One of my favorite devices for explaining our peculiar brand of racism here in the USofA is Christopher Titus's "I'm whitey and I apologize" routine. (Legally available in two parts here: part one and part two.) Most folks get it. As I'm sure most folks can think of at least one comedian whose humor illuminates truths that might not otherwise be seen. Or at least talked about.

There's also a breed of truth revealed in fiction. I suspect everyone has had the experience of being moved or enlightened by something in a novel or story that perhaps would not have affect them to the same degree if it had been prosaically stated. The same is true of song and poetry. As Chief Bromden so eloquently avers in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: "It's true even if it didn't happen."

There are a lot of essayist whose work I enjoy who may address truth but make no claim to writing nonfiction. I'm a big believer in truth through humor. Garrison Keiller - taken in small, carefully monitored doses - comes to mind. His 'memories' of Lake Woebegone probably contain elements of truth – the bones beneath his stories, as it were. But his insights into human nature are conveyed and illustrated through the fiction he builds around what truth there is. Jon Stewart wouldn't be able to bare the heart of American politics as effectively as he does if The Daily Show was a nonfiction news program.

Even in nonfiction, reality and truth are not always linked. Journalists often create composite characters – particularly when the identifying individuals might put them in danger. For the most part we accept accounts in which time is telescoped, the pace of the narrative flow skipping over gaps of time where nothing relevant happened, creating the impression events were closer together than they were, as nonfiction.

In the 1970s Hunter S. Thompson's "gonzo journalism" introduced us all to a subjective, first person reporting told from so deep in the narrator's mind that his fantasies, fears, prejudices, and hopes were injected into the factual account – a stream of consciousness in a blender approach that nonetheless conveyed a true and trustworthy presentation of events as the reporter perceived them. We knew – and hopefully he did, too – that he never conversed with spokes-lizards for the administration or witnessed sequined weasels devour each other at a cocktail party. He was using metaphor to characterize and editorialize. But underlying his surreal imagery was a foundation, a soul, of truth as he understood it; he was being honest. As he said somewhere, and I'm paraphrasing: "None of the great journalists in history were objective. Thomas Payne, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, all knew journalism was a means of affecting their environment. I have never understood the worship of objectivity in journalism. Of course, flat-out lying is different from being subjective."

In each of these arenas of creative nonfiction – gonzo journalism, memoir, first-person accounts, remembrances, investigative reports, biographies - we as readers can accept that the writer sometimes uses composite characters and/or events to illustrate while protecting the privacy and perhaps safety of others and we (usually) have no problem with humor and/or exaggeration employed to make a point. We as readers take as a given that the writer is presenting truth is being honestly presented. (Note that opinion - from movie reviews to political 'analyses' - are not, strictly speaking, nonfiction. Those presentations of subjective impressions have their own rules.)

A creative nonfiction writer - or a creative writer of nonfiction - can use humor, exaggeration, parody, composite characters, telescoped timelines or even reordered events and still give her readers an honest and insightful experience. A writer cannot pass off things she has made up when the truth does not suit her purposes and still call what she writes nonfiction.

What about you? What admixture of 'creative' do you think is acceptable in nonfiction. At what point and under what conditions does creative nonfiction go over the line into fiction?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ghost Writing: Yay or Nay?

A month or so ago, I received an interesting question from a fan via e-Mail: “Would you ever ghost-write a book?”

We exchanged a few replies, starting with me clarifying what they meant by “ghost writing.” Did they mean collaborating with someone “famous,” where our names are both on the cover, but I do the bulk of the actual writing because their name is the bigger draw? Or, perhaps I might consider working under a “house name?” And then there’s the real, honest-to-goodness ghost writing, where I’d toil in secret, sworn to silence through a contract and a (hopefully) respectable payment while someone else’s name adorns the book I wrote on their behalf.

Common examples of ghost writing involve celebrities, political figures or other “well-known” persons. Maybe they’ve got an idea for a book, or a publicist advises them that a book on some topic is a cool addition to whatever else they’ve got going on. They end up needing the assistance of a professional writer to see that notion come to fruition, and it’s decided for any number of reasons that the book would sell better with only the celebrity’s name on it, rather than carrying a “with” or “&” credit.

I have to admit, when I see books being “written” by certain people—politicians, reality TV stars, and so on—I almost always end up making a joke about it. You know:

“So, __________’s writing a book? Has he/she ever even read a book?”

“I heard __________ is narrating the audio version of his/her book. It’ll be the first time he/she’s read it. BAZINGA!”

And so on.

And what about working under a publisher’s house name? Classic examples of this practice include the Victor Appleton and Victor Appleton II pseudonyms used as the authors of numerous Tom Swift books spanning a century. Then there are the Nancy Drew mysteries as penned by “Carolyn Keene.” Recent or current instances include the various authors published under the pseudonym “David Michaels” for the series of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell novels, or those who continue to write the ongoing Mack Bolan/Executioner books, even though series creator and original author Don Pendleton died in 1995. Several romance and mystery novel series also publish under a single name, with the individual installments written by a rotating team of authors.

I’ve never ghost-written anything, nor have I yet been approached to do so. Would I do it? As with so many other questions in this business, the answer is “It depends.” I’m a professional writer, so one possible way to view it is as just another job, and I should be happy so long as my name’s on a check somewhere. Other obvious considerations are the topic, the schedule, the projected effort weighed against the expected payment, the personalities of those involved, and very much on the “ghost writee.” As another writer and I discussed at the time, a ghost writing assignment is a job with certain constraints; the sort of atmosphere with which I’m already very familiar thanks to my work with licensed properties (Star Trek, etc.). I’ve passed on jobs in the past for other licensed works because I didn’t like the terms, so I’d definitely be giving similar consideration to a ghost-writing job.

Some people might be swayed by the money such an assignment offered. While money wouldn’t be the deciding factor for me, it certainly would play into it. It has to be worth the effort I’d commit, right? If the money’s less than I’d make writing a book with my own name on it, which I could promote as my work to my readers and discuss in interviews and other publicity-minded endeavors, then I’m likely to pass on the ghost-writing gig. Of course, this could be the first of several jobs working for a publisher once I get my foot in the door, so perhaps it’s wise to take a smaller fee on this initial gig and the promise of better-paying work later? Also, if the job offered me the chance to work with somebody I truly admired—one of the Apollo astronauts, to throw out an idea since we’re all friends just talking here—yeah, I could definitely be swayed. If it’s somebody where I could tell working with them would be a seemingly endless series of headaches, I’d likely decline.

Decisions, decisions.

As for writing under a house name? Yeah, I could definitely see myself doing that, were opportunity ever to present itself. For example, I’ve read a bunch of those Mack Bolan books over the years, so the idea of getting to play in that world definitely has its appeal, just for the sheer fun I know I’d have doing it.

Do we have any ghost writers/house name writers in the group, who are able to reveal themselves? Or, maybe you passed on such an opportunity. Even if you can’t name names, titles, or publishers, what factored into your decisions? Any stories you’re able to share, or just want to get off your chest?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guest author Patricia Gligor: Novel Vacations

Patricia Gligor
I love to travel and I love to read mystery novels! Whenever I visit a city I've never been to before, I search for a local bookstore where I scan the shelves, looking for mystery/suspense novels by local authors. I do this for two reasons. First, I think it's important to support writers everywhere and second, because, when I come home and return to my daily life, I can open the pages and escape to the place I've just visited. It's a way to hang on to the "vacation" mode. For example:

In 2004, I visited Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, my favorite of the three. I found a bookstore on Martha's Vineyard and purchased a mystery novel, Murder on Martha's Vineyard, by David Osborn, a local writer. Back at home, I read the book and really enjoyed it. When I looked up the author, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he’d written more books in the series so I ordered them. I read all of David Osborn’s books and was able to “stay” on Martha's Vineyard a lot longer than my vacation time allowed.

In 2009, I went to Wilmington, North Carolina. I loved exploring the city. So much history! The old Cotton Exchange, which now houses several delightful shops, including a bookstore, intrigued me, as did the horse drawn carriages and the theater where John Wilkes Booth once performed. I bought two mystery novels by Wanda Canada, Island Murders and Cape Fear Murders. When I got home, I read both books and felt as if I were still sitting on a pier, gazing out at the Cape Fear River, watching the boats go by.

But, what happens if you can’t take a vacation this year? You’re certainly not alone! With the current economy and the sometimes demanding circumstances in our daily lives (illnesses, aging parents, small children, etc.), there are years when we have to “settle” for staying at home. Instead of feeling let down and deprived, why not go on vacation in your mind? Why not let your imagination transport you to places you’ve already visited and to places you’ve never gone before?

My vacation destinations this year have included another trip to Wilmington and the Cape Fear coast when I read Sin Creek by Susan Whitfield. I went on an archaeological expedition to Peru with William Doonan’s American Caliphate. I explored an old ghost town in Arizona with Old Murders Never Die by Marja McGraw and I journeyed to an isolated village on the New England coast with J.R. Lindermuth’s The Limping Dog. That’s just a few of the places I’ve “traveled” to so far this year.

Books can take you anywhere you want to go at any time of the year and you don’t even have to go through security at the airport or fill your gas tank.

By the way, have you ever been to Cincinnati? :)

A serial killer is on the loose on the west side of Cincinnati. Is it someone close to Ann? With all the mixed messages she's been getting, she can't be sure it's not.

Patricia Gligor is a Cincinnati native. She enjoys reading mystery/suspense novels, touring and photographing old houses and traveling. She has worked as an administrative assistant, the sole proprietor of a resume writing service and the manager of a sporting goods department for a local retail chain but her passion has always been writing fiction. Mixed Messages is the first novel in her Malone Mystery Series. She is currently working on the sequel, Unfinished Business.

Trailer for Mixed Messages

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You Can't Promote What Doesn't Exist

by Sunny Frazier

The world of publishing is very much like playing craps in Vegas. No matter how hard a writer evaluates a publishing house or tries to predict its future success before signing on the dotted line, the industry itself is as consistent as a roll of the dice.

There are calculations you can make based on factors such as the length of time the house has been in business, the size of its stable of authors, the number of titles and presence on the Internet. But, getting information on sales stats or evaluating their marketing is near impossible. You simply aren't privy to what is going on behind the scene.

I know a friend whose publisher closed shop and burned all the book stock. Another has had two publishers die on her. Sometimes a publisher goes in a new direction—say, deciding to switch from Christian publishing to erotica. Heaven forbid!

As the saying goes, nothing is guaranteed in life except death and taxes. While it's understandable that an author wants to hold on tight to their life's work until the “sure thing” comes along, the result is never getting a book out on the marketplace. Publishing houses have their ups and downs, their quirks and foibles. Remember, there are real people behind each house and they gotta be a little crazy to want to deal with the egos and eccentricities of writers.

How exactly do you pick a publishing house to get your novel out there? I could give you a generic answer, like find a good fit. But, if you haven't published, what is a “good fit?” This isn't a pair of shoes you're trying on.

One of the things you can do is contact the authors and ask “How is your experience with your publishing house?” Authors are usually very honest with their peers. But, don't stop at the first bad review because that could be a single experience or an author who is never satisfied. When you encounter people at conferences, ask how they feel about the house they're publishing with.

Many people rely on online sites like Predators and Editors or Absolute Write. The problem with these sites is that once a publisher or agent is blacklisted, they offer no recourse for getting off their hit list. Nobody is watching the watchers.

So, what is the savvy author to do? You're not going to like my advice, but here it is: jump in with both feet and hope for the best. Take a chance and get a book out to the marketplace. The only reason to hold on to your treasured words is if this is the only book you will ever publish. If that's the case, you don't have much of a career ahead of you or a publishing house willing to put money behind a one-trick pony.

Like I said at the start, it's always going to be a crapshoot.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Writing for Children

by Carol Mitchell

Writers of children’s books have the best job. Perhaps I am biased; my foray into writing has been through the Caribbean Adventure Series, a series of books aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. However, I think that we definitely have more fun!

In the first place, we are writing for an audience that finds it easy to suspend disbelief. Fiction authors must often write in a way that makes their readers let go of their preconceptions and believe the unbelievable. This comes naturally for children who are not yet bogged down by knowledge of the constraints of physics, biology, mathematics, geography and politics. They are willing to accept it all. Talking animals? Flying elephants? Why not?

I’ll give you an example. In the Caribbean Adventure Series, the main protagonist is a monkey. In the second book, he stows away on an airplane. Most adult readers asked me “How could he get through security?” The children accepted this without question – the monkey travels through time, airport security is a piece of cake!

Another advantage that children’s writers have is the ability to write with imaginative abandon. When I was in school, I was taught that you needed to have a story planned completely before you started writing. However, when I began the Caribbean Adventure Series, I never knew how the books would end until they ended. I thought that this method of writing was unorthodox, until I read that Enid Blyton, an English writer of great acclaim, had the same technique. Now, I am in the process of writing my first novel and I find that to write about adult’s life, I need to be more structured in my thinking and develop the book fully before really beginning to write the meat of the story.

Children’s writers do face challenges that their counterparts with a more mature audience do not. Since our books are usually about children in the same age group as our readers, they do not have a long history that can be woven into the story to develop their character. We are forced to use the way that they interact with other characters to reveal information about them. In the Caribbean Adventure Series, for example, I ended up using two children to enable the reader to fully understand my main human character.

Finally, to quote Spiderman (I am a writer of children’s books, who else would I quote?) “With great power comes great responsibility.” We address a very impressionable audience and I believe that writers of children’s books need to use this medium to send very positive messages to our future generation about responsibility, morality and the triumph of good over evil.

Carol Mitchell

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Half the fun of being a writer is diving into new genres.  Although I mostly write mysteries, now and again I enjoy wandering into other narrative traditions.  I can’t bring myself to write a romance; I’d probably blush or get something wrong.  And my poetry skills need some work.  
So I decided to try a road test - haiku.  Traditionally, haikus are short poems written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.  Sounds easy right?  Well it’s not.  Here’s why: I’m an archaeologist and a college professor, and part of being these things involves reading and writing academic papers.  And academic papers have citations.  But I still had to try.
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures, one of the most enigmatic of which is the Olmec.  As early as 3500 years ago, the Olmec, one of the earliest complex cultures in the new world, began crafting large stone heads called colossal heads.  For my money, it’s something that every culture should do.  
I’ve read a lot about the Olmec, so when it came time to construct my haiku, I had to pick and choose.  But when I finally got my desired syllables in order, the citations got in the way.  What could I do?  Nothing, right?  So here it is in all it’s glory, my haiku about the Olmec with in-text citations:
Style Brokers of the Gulf Coast
Formative (Flannery 1968: 79) motifs (Grove 1989:11)
altars (Grove 1973:129) and colossal heads (Drucker 1981:39)
anal (Heizer 1968:10) abstract (Coe 1989:74) vision (Graham 1981:164).
References Cited
1989 Coe, Michael D - The Olmec Heartland.  In Regional Perspectives on the Olmec.  Eidted by Robert J.  Sharer and David C. Grove.  Cambridge University Press
1981 Drucker, Philip - On the Nature of the Olmec Polity.  In The Olmec and their Neighbors.  Edited by Elizabeth Benson, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
1968 Flannery, Kent - The Olmec and the Valley of Oaxaca.  In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, edited by Elizabeth Benson, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
1981 Graham, John A. - Abaj Takalik.  In Ancient Mesoamerica: Selected Readings.  Edited by John A. Graham, University of Florida.
1973 Grove, David - Olmec Altars and Myths.  Archaeology 26: 128-135.
1989 Grove, David - Olmec: What's in a Name.  In Regional Perspectives on the Olmec.  Eidted by Robert J.  Sharer and David C. Grove.  Cambridge University Press
1968 Heizer, Robert E. - New Observations on La Venta.  In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, edited by Elizabeth Benson, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
For my next project, I think a larger poem is in order.  For now though, I’d also like to announce that my new Henry Grave mystery novel, Grave Indulgence, has just been published!
It is now available at some of the larger marine-themed bookstores near you, or at -

Grave Indulgence explores crime on the high seas, and establishes a valiant and original protagonist.  Henry Grave is an investigator for the Association of Cruising Vessel Operators.  A World War II P.O.W., Henry is as cunning as he is charming, and at 85 years of age, he fits right in with his fellow passengers.
At 1200 feet long, the cruise ship Indulgence is the largest in the world.  Accommodating 5400 passengers and 2100 crew members, she is nearly as populous as the Pacific island nation of Nauru.  At 226,000 tons, she weighs as much as four and a half Titanics.  
Indulgence is anchored off Helsinki, Finland, preparing to take on passengers for her inaugural voyage when Henry comes aboard.  Indulgence is one day old, and nobody has yet been murdered on board.  The same could not be said about day two.
With the help of an Arabian prince, a voodoo priest, and a displaced band of hunter-gatherers,  Henry draws on skills honed in a Nazi prison camp to track down a killer who might have his own reasons for taking this particular cruise, reasons unrelated to the sumptuous meals, delightful shipboard activities, and exciting ports of call.
12 million people take a cruise each year.
Most have fun.
Some die.
Henry Grave investigates.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Indie Publishing... does accessibilty help or hurt author image?

 Since Eugene posted her article on the fight between authors and reviewers I have been reading quite a bit of articles about the bullying debate.  As I read the blogs and comment threads I couldn’t miss the harsh tones and the aggression in the notes.  I reflected on my impression of authors as a child, as a teenager and later in life when I first published.  The kind of image that I am getting now is nothing like the one I had originally.

I always saw authors with a little mystique.  You know their work, a few sentences about their lives, but they basically kept a low profile.  Authors weren’t plastered over the national Enquirer.  Their web pages spoke more of their body of work than their lives.  There was a kind of nobility that I associated with the profession.  And yes, I remember at first when I said I was a published author, people were impressed.  Today, just a few short years after my first publication, being a published author seems to have very little impact on anybody.  What I get is the reaction, “I’m thinking about publishing a book too.” Wow, what a shift!

Could the accessibility to publishing offered by Indie publishing  be hurting the author image? 
Once ago few authors got their work published because they had to go through very selective publishing houses and vanity presses were seen as second class at best.  While authors promoted their work with book signings, tours, interviews and readings, they usually kept a low profile.  When a reviewer reviewed their work, the author remained silent, whether that reviewer liked their work or not (for the most part; I know there are blatant exceptions).  Because the publishing houses excluded so many and self-publishing was such an expensive venture, a few things happened, that affected authors and the industry both positively and negatively:

1.        Much fewer writers got their work published
2.       Potentially great books were overlooked
3.       Being a published author placed one into an elite group of published authors
4.       Most authors made little from their published books; yet money did not appear to be the greatest driving force, but the craft itself
5.       The author image was one of mystique, respect, and accomplishment

With the Indie revolution where anyone could publish anything cheaply the landscape changed.  The author is no longer just the creative mind behind the art, but the marketer-in-chief, the publisher, and CEO of his brand.  Author visibility increased.  There is a fervor to get one’s name out there and the driving force is to make writing lucrative.  The more blogs I read, the more I hear authors discussing the money aspect of writing and the less I hear of the love and passion of the art.
The biggest change I see, though, is the image.  Being a published author is no longer for an elite few whose work is bought and marketed by major publishing houses. And even the publishing houses expect authors to do the majority of their own marketing (so much for the mystique). I’m seeing contentions between publishing houses and right reversion played out publicly in blogs and on websites.  There is such an increase in competition for the market that even the offer of a free book has no appeal.  Contests have few participants.  Fights between authors and reviewers are hurting the image of both author and reviewer, and since many reviewers are also authors competing for the same markets you have to wonder about the integrity of some reviews.

Though I’m partial to that image of the author as an artist with a low profile, I know I have to embrace the new image of the author as the CEO and Marketer-in-chief.  But doesn’t that just tarnish the image?  Doesn’t it make you feel like part of that group that my mother would refer to as “wash your foot and come”?

Now this essay is by no means intended diminish the great contributions and work of Indie authors or publishers, but to merely examine the impact on the image of authors in this new landscape.  I would love to hear your opinion on this, whether you agree or disagree.  Does the accessibility afforded by Indie publishing hurt or help the author image?  And what exactly is the author image?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Creating a Sense of Place

One of my readers said to me that she really liked the sense of place in my books, the way I make the setting so vivid.  This thrilled me enormously as it's something I try hard to do.  I love reading books where I can imagine myself in the place because the writer has brought it so brilliantly to life.  Whether it's a haunted house or a distant planet in another universe, if you can imagine yourself there, then that story will live with you long after you've put the book down.  I read Dune decades ago but Arrakis still feels like someplace I've actually visited in real life.  

Every writer needs to give some thought to the setting of their stories so, today, I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.  When I'm starting a novel, I create a folder for my character sketches and my outline.  Pictures of places similar to the ones in my head go into it, too.  We don't have any Great Houses from the plantation era in the British Virgin Islands but I've been to a few on other islands such as St. Croix, Barbados and Jamaica so the photos I took went into the folder I made for Jessamine.  They helped to give me a feel for how the Great House would have been furnished and decorated.  I also did a Google search for Great Houses and found a few pictures from the American South which fit the feel of Jessamine, if not the exact look.  (Great Houses were the houses of the plantation owners.)

YouTube is also a great reference for this.  People go to visit historical sites and they record what they're seeing or, if you're lucky, you might also find a documentary or a National Trust website which will have not just pictures but offer some commentary or history as well.  Of course, if you're writing a contemporary then both YouTube and Google Street View will be immensely helpful.

Landscapes change over time.  A Caribbean island of two hundred or even one hundred years ago will look very different to how it looks today so another thing I often do is try to go back to original accounts - journals, travelogues, even old newspaper articles.  A lot of visitors to the Caribbean often paid attention not just to the people and the customs but also to the environment and wrote about the plants and animals they saw, smelled, heard and even ate.  Many of these old books are now available online so they're easy to access for a writer living far from a major library.  They are invaluable.

Then when I'm writing I try to use what I've learned - what is my heroine seeing, smelling, hearing in this scene?  Is she touching anything?  Tasting?  Sometimes I add this in as I'm editing if I think the scene needs more texture.  Not everything deserves lengthy description and many readers, nowadays, prefer a fast read, nearly devoid of description so it's up to you how much you use.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

When's the Best Time of Year to Release a Book?

I had a recent conversation with a fellow author about the best time of year to release a book. Years ago, I remember thinking in terms of specific times of year, but stopped focusing on that and simply went along with the dates that my publishers had set. But because I'm re-releasing titles and debuting a few ebook novellas, lately I have found this conversation to be very interesting.

I was told that the summer months are not as good for sales, as a lot of people are going on vacation, attending weddings and family reunions, putting kids in summer camp - thus there are tighter reins on finances during the summer months. Also, December can be a concern because readers are spending money on Christmas, though there is a tendency for readers to buy books as gifts, so it's a toss up.

An editor told me that the best times of year are fall and spring. Also, specifically February and March work well. Plus if the weather is bad, more readers tend to shut-in with a good book,whatever month that might end up being.

I suppose it just depends on the title and how bad a reader wants to buy it. I have author friends whose books came out this summer, and are doing very well, and some who always have January releases that do well, too. I have titles pubbing in December 2012, February 2013, and May 2013. In the ten years that I've contracted with various mainstream publishers, none of them have ever scheduled my book releases in the summer months (perhaps just a coincidence). Publishers do try and stick with a specific release month for each author, and readers seem to make note of that particular month when it comes to their favorite writers.

Do you consider the time of year as it relates to your book releases? Which time of year works best for you as far as sales, or does it not seem to matter one bit? Right now with ebooks, I think a lot of self-pubbed authors are posting their titles as soon as the books are done.

I know that publishers put a lot of thought into the subject, though I'm not certain the time of year matters as much as a reader's burning desire for the title. Interesting though!

Write on!