Saturday, April 22, 2017

When a Writer Has To Not Write

Scott D. Parker

I think it's fair to say that the best part about being a writer is the writing. But being an independent writer means that I have to wear multiple hats depending on the situation. In the past week and a half, I have not been writing. I've been doing all the other things that need to be put in place from the marketing, website, and general business direction. I'll admit that I don't mind most of these kinds of things. But they take me away from the writing.

I am in the process of re-branding my Westerns as written by "S. D. Parker." It is a strategy to keep those westerns seen by other Western readers who may or may not enjoy mysteries. I am not making a secret of the pen name so I don't have to duplicate everything, but I am having to do a lot of little things. For example, I created a specific western author page on my website. It will act as the landing page for the "S. D. Parker – Western Author" links and books. Well, as soon as I did that, I had to finagle all of the individual webpages featuring my western stories to fall under the new western author webpage. Not a huge deal, but it had to be done. One of the stories I have decided to rename with a shorter title. It was not just a matter of changing the title on that webpage, I actually have to create a brand new webpage for that story so that the URL would read correctly. It is an irritating little detail, but it is in the details where we differentiate ourselves from others.

Yesterday, on a day off from my day job, I scheduled myself sometime to revise the word files for the four westerns I currently have on sale. Going in, it seemed like a rather easy thing to do: fix the title page, fix the copyright page, and fix the URLs embedded in the files. That part was easy. Where I stumbled ones with the mailing list link. You see, the current mailing list is geared toward the mystery side of things and not the westerns. If I was going to divide my energies, I thought it a good idea to have two separate mailing lists. No big deal… Until I realized I have to go and make it. That sent me out to Mailchimp where I spent some time creating the brand-new Western mailing list.  Again, it didn't take a lot of time, but it was one more thing to do. Then there was the decision to create a western author Facebook page. Maybe it's overkill, but if I am keeping everything separate… Then it would make sense to have a unique western Facebook page. And I have one now.

I think you can see how all these little steps add up to a big chunk of time. I was so engrossed in all of this work that by the time I looked up, I had only 30 minutes to eat lunch before I had to go get my boy from school and take him to the orthodontist. When the two of us got home, he chilled in the game room while I went back to my office and fixed another book.

Tomorrow (for me; Today for y'all) will be more of the same — with the birthday party that we have to attend — thrown in for good measure. It is all gearing up for a launch on May 1.

Lest you think that I am giving up on mysteries — far from the truth — this summer I will refresh all of my covers. In fact, here's the new cover draft for THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES.

You'll note that it's just in draft state and the watermarks are still in place. I'll be purchasing those images in the next month. All of the mystery covers in this series — including the Benjamin Wade stories and the one Lillian Saxton novel — will have the same look and feel. And there will be a couple of new mystery stories that will be released this summer.

It's an exciting time here at the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio. How about y'all? What are y'all doing as summer approaches? Any new books we can discuss?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading, Writing, Lifing.

Never trust a writer who doesn't read.

We've all heard it before, and we've probably said it before. But the truth is somewhere in the soft squishy gray area we usually try to avoid thinking about. If you've got a day job, a girl friend, spouse, a kid or two, you are struggling to find time to write, which means you might be struggling to find time to read.

I've had the same painful, nagging cough for nearly a month. The doctor can't do anything for me but give some new allergy medications. I'll take them and hope Spring passes quickly. My cat has cancer. Prior to a couple weeks ago this meant cat shit was just everywhere all the time. The new meds he's on means I don't have to keep washing the sheets we put over the couch like Gramma used to do, and you can cuddle him without having to change your clothes. The kid is in her school's talent show - which means I'm saddled with practically begging her to practice, because at seven, I think she's a little too young to learn a lesson via fucking up in front of all of her friends at school. She's got Girl Scouts and homework and spelling tests. The husband has cool stuff going on at work but that means long days, and me making the commute to join him for the pomp and circumstance. And... I think I also have a life. It's hard to remember without looking at my date book, but I seem to recall having shit to do every single day, myself.

I'm not saying this to complain (well, I'm complaining about the cough and the scratches on my arms from giving the cat his medicine), because the truth is things are going pretty well. If I weren't also working on a novel, things would be pretty great. I'd be able to guiltlessly spend my free time relaxing with a book or binging Justified because my brain was tried of managing all my responsibilities and it would be fine. But I am writing a novel, and I am brain fried all the time, and I don't mind being honest about the part of being a writer that's actually work.

When your brain just wants to switch off, but you have a goal with your revisions (and revisions are never as fun or exciting as first drafts for me) being a writer sucks. The writing doesn't - it never does for me. But forcing the time, forcing another cup of coffee down, trying new gimmicks and "life hacks" to keep your focus strong and the distractions to a minimum - it sucks. I've been taking a break from hardcore revisions lately because I'm sick and I have a lot going on, and frankly I deserve it. But I've always found the easiest way to get excited about writing again is reading, so instead of giving in to the urge to watch TV or even just go to bed early, I've been getting through my long TBR. Whether it's new books I've been meaning to read, essay collections I've wanted to get to for months, or books like Breakfast of Champions that I managed to get through life without experiencing.

It's fun, and it's productive. Because I need to remember that reading is part of the job. And I need to reset my brain. And I need to get excited enough about books and stories that hacking all over my keyboard doesn't discourage me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Writing Code Has Been Cracked

By Steve Weddle

If you've written a few books and have decided your next work will be a writing tips book, give it up.  Derek Murphy has cracked the code.

You don't need to run down to the store and grab Masterplotz. You don't need to download one of those "99,999 Tips for Writing a Best Seller" from Amazon. Just head on over to the post and get to work.

Too busy to click? OK. Here are some of the things Murphy does:

Start with cover art.
Read best sellers.
Plot with tropes.
Make friends.

The one I find most interesting is starting with the book cover art. I can see how that would give you a good idea of what you want, a way to visualize your characters and the world and, perhaps, the stakes. Now, of course, you'd have ideas in your brainz before you get on with the perusing cover art, but think of how that could help you "crystalize what you visualize" (trademark pending).

Some folks print out images of their main characters. Maybe you're thinking of Ryan Gooseling. (Who isn't?) or ScarJo or that guy from that show on SyFy. So you picture your main character like that. Or you make a map of the lands and that helps. Or you start plotting with index cards and paste those to the wall. Whatever you do is swell and you're awesome, possum. But, starting with cover art? That seems pretty interesting and counter-interuitive. I dig counter-intuitive, natch. Why not put the cart before the horse, right? That way you're not rolling through horse poo when you travel.

Anyhoo, check out this post. Maybe it'll help you.

The really weird tricks, Derek Murphy

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who's My Audience?

by Holly West

Recently, I became involved in a conversation about book awards on Twitter in response to this article written by the fabulous E.A. Aymar for ITW's THE THRILL BEGINS. The gist of this exchange was that there is a significant difference between juried awards like the Edgars and peer-decided awards like the Anthonys, which are, in the minds of some, just popularity contests. And that we, as authors should be clear and honest about the differences.

Note: The Edgars are also judged by our peers, but the process is much more rigorous, involving committees and consensus among the members of said committees. Having never been part of that process, I can't comment further, except to say that I respect it. Ed's article gives information on how the ITW awards are determined, which I assume is similar to the way the Edgars are.

Starting early in the year, you might see your author friends campaigning for various awards. You might've even seen me campaigning. Or as I prefer to call it--reminding. Nothing wrong with reminding people who've read my work of its eligibility in a given year and I appreciate it when other authors remind me of their eligibility. If I've read and enjoyed their work, I'm happy to nominate them, but I don't always keep track of what was published when so a little nudge is helpful.

Such campaigning, however, made one of the conversation's participant ask who the writers were trying to connect with--readers or their writing peers.

For the record, I've been nominated twice--once for the Left Coast Crime award for Best First Novel (MISTRESS OF FORTUNE) and once for the Anthony for Best Short Story. Those nominations meant the world to me, they really did. You can call it a popularity contest if you want, but being recognized by my peers felt really great. And after the LCC nomination, I saw a small but definite uptick in sales. Given my low sales numbers in general, that was significant to me.

And to be clear, these awards aren't just nominated and voted on by other authors. Fans (those who've attended or are registered to attend a given conference) are also eligible to nominate and vote.

But as the title of this post suggests, this little twitter conversation resulted in a different quandary for me: who, exactly, is my audience? The truth is that at this point in my career, my writer friends are my main audience. I don't mean that I'm writing solely for them or that they've been supportive (though they have been), I literally mean that they represent the majority of those who've purchased my books. For a variety of reasons, the books I've written so far have not yet managed to find an audience much broader than those who know me, and a great many of those people are authors themselves.

The point I'm trying to make is this: Maybe some day my books will reach a larger audience, but that doesn't mean I'm not proud of the one I already have. And if that means I'm sometimes honored with award nominations, damn it, I'm even prouder. Yes, I understand that there are inherent problems with the way these awards are given out, but that's not a judgment on the quality of the material itself. And quite often, you'll see the same titles on multiple shortlists, including the Edgars.

Maybe the moral of the story is not to place too much importance on awards in general, although, I ain't gonna lie, I want an Edgar someday. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to get one by writing blog posts (or engaging in Twitter conversations) complaining about or dissecting award processes. Neither will you. So get out there and write, my friends. Hustle, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dangerous Ends

This August, for the very first time, I plan to take a trip down to Miami.  I'll fly from New York to Miami, and then from there rent a car to work my way through the Everglades and down through the Keys. I'm ready to sweat, but that's all right. I like the heat. And I'm sure that before I leave, I'll start getting in the mood  for southern Florida by reading some John D. MacDonald and Vicki Hendricks.  Also, James W. Hall and Charles Willeford.  Many more.  But one person I won't be reading who sets his books in and around Miami is Alex Segura.  I don't see myself doing that. But that's because he's written three books so far and I read all three.  His first two featuring his PI character, Pete Fernandez - Silent City and Down the Darkest Street - I read last year, and I just closed the back cover on his latest, Dangerous Ends.  

In the first two books, we got a look at Pete Fernandez as he grappled with alcoholism and vicious killers.  Almost inadvertently, through force of circumstance, he became a detective.  These two books felt like origin stories, tales of a character's difficult evolution. Pete helps solve two violent cases, but he makes many mistakes along the way. He causes pain to people he loves, and gets people killed. He's an unusual creation, a man we watch learning to be a private eye, a process that comes with messiness and grief. 

Despite everything, Pete Fernandez perseveres, and he finds that he likes detective work.  He's not suicidal, he tries to avoid danger, but he doesn't let danger paralyze him either. He pushes towards competence. And by the time we see him in Dangerous Ends, he's learned a lot about his craft.  He's actually become a professional private investigator.  He's not overly ambitious but has found a client niche that suits him. He can make a few bucks and attend AA meetings and live in peace.  He's more assertive at his job and becoming halfway proficient at life.

His creator, Alex Segura, has been proficient from the start of this series, but Dangerous Ends is his best work to date.  Of the three novels, it's the most strongly plotted.  It has more of a true mystery element than the first two books, and the twists and revelations continue till nearly the final page. Segura's ability to evoke a Miami beyond the usual famous and colorful spots remains impressive, and in this book, he adds something extra, tying the mystery plot to Pete's past and to his family's past in pre-Castro Cuba.  Past and present intersect as Pete gets deeper and deeper into a case way out of his professional comfort zone.  He investigates crimes that were set in motion by events that happened decades ago, in Havana.  Segura has said that he drew upon stories connected to his own family's history, and perhaps it's that dip into personal material that adds a subtle emotional layering to the book.  You learn a lot about Pete's childhood, and he comes to have a clear understanding of the sacrifices made and the blood shed by people very close to him who didn't want to compromise with forces they considered unjust and tyrannical. 

As I've found from the start with the Pete Fernandez books, Segura's writing has a smooth flow and just the right rhythm. He doesn't write flashy prose, but he virtually never writes an awkward sentence.  It helps make the novels exceedingly readable, and I zipped through Dangerous Ends as I zipped through Pete books 1 and 2.  I look forward to Pete number 4.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Spring break! Test run for summer. The little vacation that could. We tend to stick around town for the week. Museums. Parks. Hikes. We also hit the movies. We save our dollars for the arcade games. Shine our coins for the Gotcha machines. Pull the college savings for tickets. We love going to the movies. Power Rangers. Lego Batman Movie. Beauty and the Beast.

Speaking of Beauty and the Beast. I went to see the film with my mother and two daughters. It was perfect. The music was iconic. We can’t stop singing the songs, even the new pieces. Ewan McGregor, as Lumiere, turned in an inspired performance, as if he had been waiting to become the next Maurice Chevalier. Emma Watson was beautiful, charming and sweet, not at all like Hermione. Sorry, I’m a Ravenclaw. Josh Gad a riot, singing and dancing, so wickedly funny. The dance scenes were spectacular and the sets awe-inspiring.
Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed myself. You see, I was never a Princess girl but along came my ladies and a whole new world opened. My oldest is a self-described tomboy and yet she has a favorite princess. Merida. Brave. “I’ll be shooting for my own hand.” Fiery, red-headed Merida.
My youngest daughter has always been a Disney Princess gal, Belle her favorite. Though Princess and the Frog runs a close second. She has a thing for flappers and gumbo. The music was great.
The kids turned me on to the Princess thing and I turned them on to the animal escapades. I’ll admit, each one of us loves Marie. “Everybody wants to be a cat.”

Yup, my mom and I were Disney animal girls. Lady and the Tramp. 101 Dalmatians. Dumbo and Jungle Book. My mom and I had a standing date when I was little. We would see a movie, the Air Force base we lived on had a small theatre, and have lunch at the Chinese restaurant. We always got a booth and she let me have a Shirley Temple. Known as a Cherry Coke these days. Ah yes, I remember it well.
Mom and I did have one Princess moment pre-daughters. It just happened to be because of Belle.
In 1991, when the original first came out, my mother and I saw it together. A few weeks prior I had received word I would be moving to Los Angeles. I had finally been offered the job I had worked really hard to get. It was a crazy time.
Beauty and the Beast had a beast so we were excited but It was also about a girl who wanted more than her small provincial town. I sort of understood her dreams. I would be leaving the east coast with its train and interstate routes making it easy to get home and heading to California. Six hours by plane. If I could afford the ticket. Out there, I would be totally alone and out of my element. It was exciting. Scary. Needless to say, for many reasons, we both wanted to see the movie. We had a standing date, after all.
Fast forward nearly twenty-six years later and I was sitting in a theatre with my mom and two daughters watching Belle and her beast. The years in between were rocky to say the least. There were times it seemed neither of us were destined to survive. Alcoholic boyfriends. Drug addicted boyfriends. Insane, abusive bosses. Psychotic roommates. Stalkers. Psychopaths. Terrorist attacks. Cancer. That’s just the stuff I remember.

Point is, I never imagined myself getting married much less having babies. I never thought I’d be there, watching my mom and kids play hot potato with the Rainbow Twizzlers I smuggled inside my deceptively small handbag. Plus, the Hershey’s and caramel. We bought sodas and popcorn. I’m not a complete animal.
So, when my supremely sensitive ladies asked me why I was crying at the end of the movie and I told them it was because (SPOILER ALERT) Mrs. Potts was able to hold Chip once again I was lying through my blubbering teeth. I cried because I could not believe how lucky I was to have my girls with me. I cried because, after all the tears and years I discovered, you can have all the adventure in the world and still make it home.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Whatever you might celebrate at this time of year – Passover, Easter, the blooming beauty of spring – may you have a wonderful weekend of reflection and peace.