Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On Writing Multiple Series

(Amy Reade is my guest today. The floor is yours, my friend:)

            Last week I was in a pickle (not literally, of course). I’m working on three series right now and moving seamlessly from one to another was not happening. When I worked on the first project, I would be fine. But when it came time to shift gears for the second project and then the third, I found I had no energy, no ideas left in the well.
            I know plenty of writers who write more than one series. And if they can do it, so can I. 
            It’s hard work writing one book, let alone two or three at the same time. I’ve imposed deadlines on myself to stay on track and on pace, but deadlines only work when you have ideas and can immerse yourself in a book to get those ideas down in edit-able form. Hence, I’m meeting the deadlines on the first book; not so much on the second and third.
            I knew I had to figure out a way to make three series work, and I think I’ve hit on a three-part solution.
            First, I limit myself to working on two books per day. On Day One, I work on the first and second books. On Day Two, I work on the second and third books. And on Day Three (you guessed it), I work on the third and first books. Then I start the cycle again.
            I know there are some writers who think it’s necessary to work on the same book day after day in order to stay in the flow of the story, but this is what’s working for me right now. If there comes a time when it’s not working, I’ll have to come up with a different solution (and another blog post about it).
            Second, I have found it helpful to take a break between projects every day. And I’m talking about a physical break—one where I get up and move around, do something vigorous. It may be taking my dog for a walk or getting on the spin bike or cleaning a bathroom. It can be anything, as long as it isn’t just eating lunch or (gasp) taking a nap. There’s truth to the rumor that getting the blood moving also gets the brain moving.
            And third, each project I’m working on is at a different stage of the writing-editing-publishing process. My first project is deep in the rewrite stages. My second project is in the soggy middle. My third project is at the very beginning of the rewrites. Once I’m ready to send the first book off to the editor, I’ll have just one book in the rewrite stage and I’ll start something new. I find that it helps not to be actively drafting three books at the same time.
            Do you work on more than one project at a time? How do you keep yourself sane and the creative juices flowing? I hope you’ll share your ideas with us.
 Author bio:

Amy M. Reade is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malice Series, consisting of The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross, all of which are set in the United Kingdom. She has also written a cozy mystery, The Worst Noel, and three standalone novels of gothic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade.
Amy is a recovering attorney living in Southern New Jersey. She is active in community organizations and loves reading, cooking, and traveling when she’s not writing. She is currently working on a second cozy mystery and a historical mystery set in Cape May County, New Jersey.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Complicating a Character's Life

In my mysteries, I like to give my protagonist big problems in addition to the central crime with which he's dealing.
Life comes with complications, so why should a mystery be any different?
In The Bartered Body, Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman is confronted with the theft of a body from a local funeral parlor. Not just any body, but that of the mother-in-law of Nathan Zimmerman, burgess of Arahpot and Syl's boss.
When Syl isn't dealing with crime his major concern is trying to convince Lydia Longlow, the strong woman he loves, to relinquish some of her independence and marry him. He's persevered with this and other problems in the two previous novels of the series (Fallen From Grace and Sooner Than Gold). In the past Syl's dealt with such issues as poisonings and stabbings, scary predictions by a gypsy fortuneteller, horse thieves, a political enemy, and even a few culprits taking pot shots at him.
The theft of an old woman's body is a new and complex problem, perhaps the most perplexing he's faced yet.
But, as I said, I like to complicate life for my characters.
While working on the weekly history column I write for my local newspaper I stumbled upon the Great Arctic Outbreak of February 1899, and  I knew it was an element made for this novel. This storm impacted the whole of the United States, including Pennsylvania where my story is set.
The impact of the storm was felt as far south as Florida, where temperatures dropped below zero in Tallahassee on Feb. 13. The cold was so intense cattle froze in the fields in many places. Telegraph lines--still the major means of communication between communities--were downed, rail traffic was halted by drifting snow, and cities and towns were completely cut off from one another for days. Orchards and crops were destroyed. It's been estimated more than 100 people died as a result of the St. Valentine's Day Blizzard of 1899.
Now, that's what I call a complication.
For good measure, I tossed in a few other problems for Syl--the arrival in town of a former flame who threatens his relationship with Lydia; clashes with his old enemy, former burgess McLean Ruppenthal, and  a string of puzzling armed robberies.
The Bartered Body is available in print and electronic formats.
Grab a copy here: https://www.sunburypressstore.com/The-Bartered-Body-9781620067567.htm
It's also available from Amazon, B&N and other fine booksellers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Gin Mill Grill--A Sandi Webster Mystery

I'm hosting Marja McGraw on my blog this week. Marja has a new Sandi Webster mystery to tell us about. The floor is yours, Marja.

John, Thank you for having me as a guest today. I enjoy your posts and I’m delighted to be a part of your blog.

You might wonder how I came up with a storyline that involves speakeasies and gin mills. I was stuck for an idea and sat down with a large book filled with the front pages of newspapers. I can’t say the headlines grabbed my attention, but farther down the page you can find all kinds of stories.

We like to say that things were simpler in the old days, and that people were more innocent than we are now. That’s not necessarily true.

Through researching old newspapers I’ve found some sensational stories that involved things you’d think might happen today, but not back in the thirties or forties. People are people, and they do unexpected things for surprising reasons.

I’m getting off track. When I started reading some of the stories, the ones farther down the page, I ran across one regarding the murder of a man and the disappearance of his brother. Needless to say, the authorities thought of the disappearing brother as their prime suspect. To the best of their knowledge, he’d been in the house at the time of the murder and somehow managed to escape.

That’s all I needed. This brief story got the best of my imagination and the storyteller in me was off and running. I wanted an interesting time and location involved in the story and what might be better than a speakeasy during Prohibition? I needed a resolution to the disappearing brother, and I found one. I also needed someone who might even care about the brothers in current time, and I found just the woman. I also needed suspects, but considering the era it took a bit more work to come up with some characters who might still be living after so many years.

As the story unfolded, I wanted to include a really scary guy, and I came up with one I think might give you the shivers. His nickname was Water Boy and I think you’ll love letting him give you the chills.

Sandi Webster-Goldberg and her husband, Pete, have a reputation for solving cold cases and it didn’t take long for a woman to walk through their office door with an old case.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy occasionally having Sandi and Pete solve a cold case is because the victim is “off stage,” so to speak. They don’t have to face a recent murder and I don’t have to let gore sneak into my books. When the pair solve a current case, it’s a bit trickier.


Sandi and Pete have earned a reputation for solving old cases, and they’re approached by a woman who’d like a 1930s crime solved. A man was brutally murdered and his brother immediately disappeared. The authorities believed the brother was their best suspect, but they weren’t able to track him down.

Case closed – or was it?

With the discovery of a private room in the house where the crime was committed, Sandi and Pete must change their thought processes and start running down other suspects and looking at other locations, including an old speakeasy.

Why would someone in the current day try to put a halt to the investigation? After all, the murder took place in the 1930s.

Circumstances are often not as they seem, and this case is no exception.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Syl's Back

Nineteenth Century Coal Region Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman has been one of my most popular characters with readers.

Tilghman was introduced in Fallen From Grace. His adventures continued in Sooner Than Gold. And now I'm thrilled to report The Bartered Body, third in the series, has been released by Milford House, fiction imprint of Sunbury Press
The third of his family to serve as a lawman in the fictional Arahpot, Jordan County, Pennsylvania, Sylvester has persevered in his duties and continued his quest to marry the ambitious and independent Lydia Longlow. Now, this time around, he faces one of his most difficult challenges as a law enforcement officer.
Here's the blurb:
Why would thieves steal the body of a dead woman?
That’s the most challenging question yet to be faced by Sylvester Tilghman, the third of his family to serve as sheriff of Arahpot, Jordan County, Pennsylvania, in the waning days of the 19th century.
And it’s not just any body but that of Mrs. Arbuckle, Nathan Zimmerman’s late mother-in-law. Zimmerman is burgess of Arahpot and Tilghman’s boss, which puts more than a little pressure on the sheriff to solve the crime in a hurry.
Syl’s investigation is complicated by the arrival in town of a former flame who threatens his relationship with his sweetheart Lydia Longlow; clashes with his old enemy, former burgess McLean Ruppenthal; a string of armed robberies, and a record snowstorm that shuts down train traffic, cuts off telegraph service and freezes cattle in the fields.
It will take all of Syl’s skills and the help of his deputy and friends to untangle the various threads and bring the criminals to justice.
The Bartered Body is available in print and electronic format from the publisher, https://www.sunburypressstore.com/The-Bartered-Body-9781620067567.htm as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers.
If you're looking for a fun read and haven't yet met Syl and his friends I hope you'll add The Bartered Body to your TBR list.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On Attracting Readers

What makes a reader pick up a book?
For writers, this is always an intriguing question. I've been monitoring a survey on the subject, and it resulted in a few surprises.
With the millions of books published every day, writers have to resort to every element available in order to stand out and be discovered by readers. We're told we've got to become a 'brand' so those coveted readers will recognize us and seek out our work from among all those available. Branding means getting your name out in the marketplace. You've got to promote yourself as well as your books. This endless drive to promote can become overwhelming, distract from your real job (writing), and become downright annoying to potential customers if you don't do it right.
Many of the writers I know are obsessed with a desire to acquire reviews because they've been told this is the key to discovery. Amazon, for example, gives marketing assistance to books with 50 or more reviews. Some marketing programs won't accept a book unless it has a designated number of reviews.
Surprisingly, reviews were not specified as a particular attraction for readers responding to this survey.
What a majority did emphasize as elements inspiring them to pick up and buy a book were: An attention-grabbing title; an intriguing blurb, and an eye-catching cover.
Another big concern was price. They seemed to agree $2.99-3.99 for electronic and $15-20 for print were fair prices.
I was a bit surprised they put title first, since most often the advice from "experts" emphasizes cover art. Personally, I do think cover design is among the most important considerations. Yet, there is the admonition not to judge a book by its cover, and I am drawn to the mystery of titles. Think of all the great novels you would know by their titles rather than the covers adorning their pages.
In regard to blurbs, a majority said they should be just long enough to give a hint of what the story's about (but not give away everything), should not include reviews and definitely should not compare the book or writer to another.
A number of the persons responding to the survey said they also like to read a few pages of the book to test the quality of the writing before making a decision to buy. The "look inside" feature for electronic versions got a big thumbs up. Reflecting the trend to shorter attention spans, a number of the responders said they would select a shorter book over a longer one every time--provided it had the desired other attributes.
Getting back to the subject of reviews, some discounted them as merely one person's opinion while others said they have been put off by manipulation of the system and inaccurate or misleading comments.
True, this was not a huge survey. But I think it provides some interesting food for thought.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Recommended Reads

As the year winds down, I like to assess the books I've read and make some recommendations.
To date in 2017, I read (re-read in some cases) 61 books--a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among acclaimed writers new to me with whom I got acquainted through several books were Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny. The month isn't quite up, so I may complete a few more reads.
Here then, in no particular order, are books I'm recommending to friends:
Fool's River by Timothy Hallinan. This is the eighth in his Poke Rafferty series. His obvious love for the Thai people shines on every page. Hallinan creates living, breathing characters and plots to keep one guessing and flipping pages. He depicts life in Thailand as one who is familiar with both the respectable tourist scene and the seediest districts of Bangkok. His characters are pragmatic people who have learned to live with corruption. There's violence, but also empathy, pithy dialogue and quirky humor.
Wanted: Dead by Wayne D. Dundee. Bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick is on the job again.
Only this time around (in the fifth book of the series), Bodie isn't intent on bringing bad guys to justice. Instead it's his job is to protect Tyrone Avery, a man fresh out of jail and with a $50,000 price on his head. If you have yet to read a Bodie Kendrick story, you owe it to yourself to grab one now. And this is as good a place to start as any. Trust me, you'll want to read the rest, too.
The Hemingway Files by H. K. Bush. It's a brilliant first novel with intriguing characters and situations, suspense and romance. If you love a book that will pull you in and continue to haunt you afterward, you'll want to read this novel.
Yellow Bird: A Webb Sawyer Mystery by Douglas Quinn. As always, Quinn has crafted a fast-moving, entertaining plot with colorful characters, a realistic North Carolina setting, a bit of humor and plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing. I think this is the fifth in his popular Sawyer series. Concern for an aging relative is Webb's route to troubling crime in this episode.
The Peacemaker by Andrew McBride. Up for an exciting western? Andrew McBride has crafted a gripping adventure tale with sympathetic characters and a secure sense of time and place. Well researched. Recommended to all who enjoy a good tale.
The Coroner's Daughter by Andrew Hughes. Another absorbing Victorian drama by the author of the brilliant The Convictions of John Delahunt. Hughes presents a canvas with likeable, realistic characters; a glimpse into early 19th century Dublin, a gripping plot that kept me turning pages and a satisfying conclusion.
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. A Kiplingesque mystery with an intriguing plot, lots of twists, sympathetic characters and convincing intrigue. This is the first in a series featuring Captain Sam Wyndham of Her Majesty's Imperial Police Force and his second, Sgt. Banerjee, commonly known as Surrender-Not. I've already read the second in the series, A Necessary Evil, and look forward to more of their adventures.
Trouble In Nuala by Harriet Steel. Set in the British Colonial period of the 1930s in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), this first in a new series introduces Inspector Shanti de Silva, recently transferred from busy Colombo to the sleepy hill-town of Nuala, and Jane, his English wife, a former governess. I found this a quick, entertaining read with a well-paced narrative, a pragmatic protagonist, an interesting variety of characters, a dash of humor and a balanced look at the political and cultural differences between the Sinhalese, the Tamils and their British overlords.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

No 'Peace On Earth' Until The End Of The Novel

(J. L. Greger, my guest today, is known for mysteries/thrillers with a scientific slant. Read on to see what she thinks makes for a good read.)

“Peace on Earth” is a frequent holiday blessing. However, readers don’t want “peace on earth” until the end of a novel. This is another way of saying that novels depend on tension.

In essence, the plot of a novel is a series of events during which a characters or characters resolve a problem or overcome adversity. A mystery at its simplest level is the discovery or a crime (usually a murder) and the determination of who did it and how.

Many authors accordingly believe their books need a victim, a protagonist, one villain, one investigator (sometimes the protagonist), and a few colorful sidekicks. They argue that books which include a number of additional characters are confusing. Perhaps these authors are correct. Their books are fast reads and often sell well.

But I think formualistic mysteries (or really any type of novel) are not satisfying for several reasons.
·         The end is too predictable. I like mysteries in which I’m not sure of the finale until the end. I also don’t like books with only one clear-cut villain. The “red herrings” need to be well developed and plausible.

·         The formualistic stories are not realistic. Life isn’t that straight-forward. We all face continual distractions. Although we respect the beauty of linear thinking, most of us make numerous missteps daily because of misleading or ultimately unrelated information.

·         Most problems aren’t solved by a single person in virtual isolation. Detectives work in teams and consult with crime labs, lawyers, and experts in various fields.

In other words, confusion is a part of most of our lives and should be part of novels. That’s one reason for subplots in novels.

I think the best books can be read at several levels. Teachers in high school and college literature classes drilled most of us on symbolism in novels, especially Moby Dick. Although many of those discussions seemed overblown, I think at least one character in a novel should have inner emotional turmoil. The swirls of confusion (self-doubt, anger, or regret) which swirls about this character at the start of the story should crescendo during the tale but be calmed by the end of the story. However, logical character development makes it unlikely the psychological profile of a character will change totally and the character’s issues will dissipate totally.

Finally, although we all wish each other “peace on earth,” most of us don’t want it in our novels until the last page. Some of us even like one unsettling note at the end of a tale to make us think. Think about that the next time you wish someone “peace on earth.”

You can win a free copy of my latest mystery—She Didn’t Know Her Place. GoodReads is doing a free giveaway of three signed copies. Enter before December 23 
at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36679089-she-didn-t-know-her-place
Blurb: In She Didn’t Know Her Place, Dana Richardson faces a dilemma in her new job. The Natural Resource Center, which reports to her, is alleged to be "doctoring" data to help industrial clients meet federal pollution standards. Her boss Guy Beloit, the president of State U, doesn’t care. Really no one, but Dana, cares. That's not true. Sally Stein cared and she died under mysterious circumstances.

The paperback and Kindle versions are available at: http://www.amzn.com/1979733112.

Bio: J. L. Greger is a former professor in the biological sciences and research administrator. She likes to include tidbits of science in her thriller/mystery novels: Riddled with Clues (finalist for a 2017 NM/Arizona book award) and Murder…A New Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers Association [PSWA] contest). Her collections of short stories focus on families: The Good Old Days? and Other People’s Mothers (finalist for a 2017 NM/Arizona Book Award). To learn more, see her website: http://www.jlgreger.com