Great post by David Gaughran on why publishing is easy.
Monthly Archives: October 2013
Here’s a link about how Hugh Howey approached marketing his books. It’s all about connections and being authentic. Very cool piece.
Okay, so here’s something that happened yesterday that was extra super cool: I got word that the MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW gave YUCATAN DEAD a really great review. Talk about awesome. Up until now I’d never received a book review that had the words “very highly recommended” and “block-buster” in the same sentence 🙂
MBR is a well-respected book reviewer that supports small presses and self-published writers. In their words, “Midwest Book Review is an organization committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.” And, they don’t charge for reviews (unless you want to send them an e-copy).
Reviews are important to writers. They can make or break a book, believe me. So, if you have a favorite author whose books you love, go ahead and leave a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, Goodreads, or Shelfari, wherever you have an account. And, if you’re at a loss as to what to write, just say that you liked/loved the book. I guarantee the author will be glad you did.
Here’s the review (the link is below):
“A smoothly woven story of suspense, “Yucatan Dead” clearly demonstrates author D. V. Berkom’s mastery of her literary craft in creating memorable characters and an unrelenting thriller of a tension filled novel. “Yucatan Dead” is the stuff of which block-buster movies are made and a very highly recommended, entertaining addition to personal reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”
Link to Midwest Book Review’s review of Yucatan Dead (The review for YD is the fourth one down)
Lately, I’ve gotten emails from readers asking how I came up with some of the scenes in Yucatan Dead and thought it would be fun to post the photographs that inspired them from my latest trip to Mexico. I’ve found actually traveling and researching a specific area and noting the sights, sounds, smells, and general feel of a place works wonders on my imagination and lends more credibility to the scenes.
Before I left on the trip I’d been writing what I thought was going to be a mystery with my character, Kate Jones. This trip was supposed to be for researching a future novel. But Mexico changed all that.
And, as I’ve learned, you don’t argue with Mexico.
So, my mystery turned into a full-on thriller about the ruthless drug cartels that have destabilized so much of that country. Since I’m a novelist and basically lie for a living, I made up a group of off the grid commandos working deep in the jungle, fighting the cartels. Little did I know at the time, but groups of locals had steadily begun taking up arms against the cartels. Some of these groups have been backed/trained by the CIA and/or the DEA, as well as the Mexican government. Some continue to operate clandestinely. Many are now being hunted by the cartels, and the number of people from several ‘hot’ areas in Mexico who are requesting asylum in the United States has skyrocketed. Although there are still several places deemed by the State Department as safe to travel in Mexico, obviously, there are some areas you should avoid. Driving through Sonora and Sinaloa in an old jeep in the middle of a scathing hot September would be one of them 🙂
Back to the trip: in the book, I gave one of the drug cartels Kate ends up fighting against the name of El Castillo, which is the name of one of the main structures at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb the pyramid after someone fell to their death a few years back, but it’s still mighty impressive to look at.
There’s a scene where Kate stumbles upon an undiscovered Maya site (of which there are said to be hundreds in Mexico and Guatemala) which had a cenote, or fresh water spring hidden beneath decades of jungle growth.
If you look closely, you’ll see an ancient wall underneath all that vegetation…
While inland, I stayed at a historic hacienda built on top of an ancient Maya site by the Spaniards in 1523. These Spaniards went so far as to use the stones of a Maya temple for its walls (the hacienda is now run as an eco-tourism resort managed by Maya). In Yucatan Dead, Kate is kidnapped and taken to a hacienda deep in the jungle to meet her nemesis, Roberto Salazar. The description of the place grew from my experience while at the hacienda, and my jumping off point was the entrance (note the brick wall–these were ancient Maya building materials, most likely from the temple that had stood there centuries before).
Hands-down, my favorite places were the ancient Maya archaeological sites of Ek’ Balam and Coba (Chichen Itza and Tulum were pretty fantastic, too, but sooo crowded, it was hard to get a good feel for them). The showdown between Kate and Salazar takes place at a fictitious Maya site that I based on a combination of them all. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of Ek’ Balam, one of the most recently discovered sites on the peninsula (yes, those are my hiking shoes):
The next picture is where I got the idea for the entrance to the temple at the top of the pyramid. This is called the Temple of the Jaguar, and is located on the tallest pyramid at the site. You can still climb this structure as well as the rest of the buildings, although I’m not sure how long that will be true. More and more people are discovering the site and the impact of all those tourists on the ancient structures is growing.
Roughly translated, Ek’ Balam means black jaguar, or bright star jaguar, and the big cat figures prominently in Yucatan Dead. In the photo above, the teeth along the bottom form the lower jaw, depicting the open mouth of a jaguar.
There are carvings of winged beings, some sculpted with a distinctly smaller arm, allowing for the Maya belief that people born with physical differences had special powers.
This picture is of the pyramid at Coba, which you can still climb (as of 2013). It’s the tallest pyramid on the peninsula (138 feet) and when you’re at the top you can see dozens of mounds in the distance that are thought to be undiscovered ancient Maya sites. The view from the top is fantastic, to say the least, and was one of the high points of the trip.
A structure with a small room sits at the top of the pyramid, with a carving on the outside depicting the Descending God, an upside down dude with a helmet. He’s also referred to as the Honey God, since honey was one of Coba’s main trade products. No one really knows who or what he represents, but that’s their best guess.
An interesting tidbit: many of these sites are connected by what are called sacbes, or raised paved roads (usually white since they were/are covered in limestone and stucco). One of them runs from Coba all the way to the coast and many were used as trade routes between communities.
Another structure referred to in the showdown scene in Yucatan Dead resembles the Observatory at Chichen Itza, which is thought to have been used by the Maya for studying the cosmos.
And, of course what pictorial essay about Mexico would be complete without the obligatory Caribbean beach shot?
The Yucatan Peninsula was one of the most intriguing places I’ve been to and I plan to re-visit the area. It’s relatively safe, although you still need to be on the lookout for the ubiquitous gas station pumping scams and slow-moving farm machinery. Cartel violence has been reported just outside of Cancun, but is miniscule compared to other places in Mexico so don’t worry unnecessarily about going. Victims are generally related to the cartels in some way, either by being in the business or knowing someone in the business. Don’t take stupid chances like walking alone at night, or going into a dangerous area alone (just like when you go anywhere new). Otherwise, the Mexican people are warm and welcoming folks, and will treat you well if you treat them the same. Mexico is a fabulous country to visit and has many, many faces. I guarantee if you keep an open mind, you’ll enjoy what it has to offer.
Today on Awesome Authors I get to interview multi-MULTI genre indie author, Kathy Rowe. Kathy is a contributing author on Indies Unlimited, and has written romance, horror, sci fi, and erotica. I’m sure if there’s a genre she hasn’t written in, she’ll be tackling it soon! Here’s her bio:
(From the author): K. Rowe is a multi-genre author and retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant. She has been writing for the last twenty-plus years. Stationed at various bases around the U.S.A. and in Europe, she draws from her years of active service. Blending fact and fiction, she spends hours researching technology and locations for her work.
She lives on a 100-acre farm in eastern Kentucky with her husband, four dogs, three horses, two cats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and a pig named Sherman. When not pounding out several novels a year on her laptop, she can be found working in the garden, or in the fields proudly driving her 1953 Ferguson tractor.
Her favorite part about being an author is interacting with her fans, and she appreciates reviews and feedback. You can find more info on her here:
D: Welcome to Awesome Authors, Kathy! Please describe your latest release in two sentences or less.
D: You write in multiple genres: sci-fi, contemporary romance, erotica, horror. What’s it like switching between such vastly different genres? Opportunities? Challenges?
K: I used to think I could only write military thrillers- since “Project: Dragonslayers” was my first book that took me 20+ years to write. But after that, I started looking around to see what else tickled my fancy. So I took a stab at horror (no pun intended) and also romance. I had a few folks read them and said I should try other genres. One of my horror author mentors dared me to write sci-fi. Well, you know what happens when you dare someone? And then along came the “Space” series. I tend to fall in love with my characters, so just making one book doesn’t always seem to satisfy me, I’m quite happy writing series.
K: I know I’ll probably get my wrist slapped for this, but I rarely have time to read fiction. I spend far more time (what I have) reading non-fiction to either gather information for stories, or to learn more about the writing craft itself. My shelf of writing/screenwriting books is ever growing. As for my favorite genre, that’s a hard one. I have very much enjoyed writing sci-fi, but the romances have also been personally rewarding.
D: When it comes to writing, are you an early riser or a night owl?
K: Totally an early riser! 20 years in the military has my mind and body conditioned to being up early—well, around 7 am now. And I also have morning barn chores which includes feeding close to 30 animals and turning our three horses out in their paddocks. Once that’s done, I come back to the house and can sit down and write.
D: How much research do you do when you write?
K: Depends on the book. The military thrillers have MONTHS of research done before I even start writing. Sci-fi, well, a lot of that I can make up, but remembering to be consistent can be tough. And you must try to play by the rules of physics; although breaking them is sometimes okay. Romances require some research to make them plausible. My novella “Cowboys and Olympians” threw me into a new realm of equestrian sport: reining. I knew nothing about the discipline, so I had to contact folks that did. Once I had all the information, I think it really helped make the story. I also e-mailed the racing manager for Keeneland Racetrack here in Kentucky for my book “Silks and Sand.”
“…Everything gets done in time.”
D: What do you struggle the most with when writing? How do you overcome it?
K: A lot of times I get a great idea, I rush to the keyboard, and hurriedly type everything into a Word doc. But once the initial “steam” bleeds off, I hit walls. Case in point: “Money Breakers”—it’s a story about crooks that manage to hack into the Federal Reserve Bank computers and steal millions of dollars. Sounds like a cool idea, right? I thought so, but all that will require vast amounts of research into the possibility of being a workable storyline. So it sits on my computer in a folder to come back to later. Most of my stories are pretty self-revealing, and once in a while I’ll hit a snag and put it aside to work on something else. Eventually, an idea will pop into my head and I’ll go back to work on the first project. Everything gets done in time.
D: What type of book promotion has worked the best for you?
K: Some, none! I’ve used a shotgun approach to promotion. I don’t heavily promote on social media because I know it bugs the crap out of folks to be constantly spammed by book promos. When I get ready to launch a book, I may put a few posts on Facebook and Twitter, but that’s about it. When the book launches, I post a few more. I may even post a review (if someone writes one) and links to buy the book. I have one free book, Space Crazy that I’ve sent out to the big eBook sites that post freebies. EReader News [Today] posted the book, and in one day, I had over 1,000 downloads on Amazon! It’s also free on Smashwords, and to date, I’ve had over 2,400 downloads on that site. Some people think giving something away for free downgrades us as authors. Well, I took the advice of another Indie writer who put up a book for free, and he got so many fans that bought the next book in the series (and so on) that he got to quit his day job and become a writer full time. I’m not there yet, but one of these days. And there’s always “face time” in the local community by doing book signings and other events.
“…just write—every day if you can. Write anything and everything. A little, a lot. Just write!”
D: Who is your favorite author? Why?
K: Oh, tough one. As I look over my shoulder in my office at the 16 shelves of books, 14 of them are non-fiction! And the 2 shelves that have fiction, 1 is equestrian fiction, and the other miscellaneous authors. Truly I don’t have one favorite fiction author, but for non-fiction, it would probably be Alois Podhajsky- a former director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I have several of his books on horse training and love the way he wrote.
K: Best: just write—every day if you can. Write anything and everything. A little, a lot. Just write! Worst: keeping locked to a word count every day. No, I’m not going to write 2,000 words a day. Sometimes my muse can’t do that, or I have other things that need to get done around the farm. I find doing that only stifles my creativity. So what if I only write 300 words one day? You better bet they’re going to be 300 great words.
D: What are you working on now?
K: Another contemporary romance titled, Farmer Boys and City Girls. It’s about a Chicago city “girl” (divorcee) that moves to rural Kentucky (okay, yes, I’m writing some of what I know) and meets a guy at a tractor rally. He’s good looking, but not without some scars. She falls for him, but is unsure how to make her intentions known once she finds out he’s a fairly staunch Christian. The story takes an interesting twist when two other brothers get thrown into the equation. I consider it a “hot” romance, not erotica. I’ve kept my mind adjusted for romance. And the sex scenes, while definitely hot, are not erotic-type graphic.
D: In light of the huge changes in publishing, where do you think the industry is headed? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
K: I think the Big 5/6 will have their work cut out as more Indie authors break into the big time. As long as an author takes the time to put out a high quality book that has a great story, why do we need traditional publishers? From everything I’ve read lately, if you’re a new author with a publishing house contract, you’ll get your book published, in stores, and maybe a teensy bit of promo. We all know the days of brick and mortar chain book stores are numbered. So by being Indie, yes, we will not see our books on store shelves, but we can see them on the bestseller list on Amazon, Smashwords, and BN! And look at Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey- NYT bestsellers!
In 5 years, I’d like to see myself with several more novels out, and my biggest hope would be selling a screenplay adaptation of one of my novels, or even an original screenplay. I’ve always been intrigued by Hollywood and scripts. Having a movie done of my book would seriously be the icing on the cake.
“As long as an author takes the time to put out a high quality book that has a great story, why do we need traditional publishers?”
D: What advice would you give to new writers?
K: Stay focused. Write. Write well. Study the craft. And if you want to publish, take the necessary steps to put out a quality product: professional editing, beta readers, formatting, and a quality cover. Following those steps will give you the best chance of attracting readers because if you put out crap, they will give you bad reviews, and you won’t get anyone to buy your books. I may love telling a story, but I also like seeing those royalty deposits going into my bank account.
D: If you could time travel (past or future) where would you go and why?
K: I think medieval time was a cool era in our history. Granted, as a female in that society, we didn’t have many rights or freedoms, but I think seeing how everything really worked and how folks lived would be interesting. So far I haven’t dabbled in that era. I have quite a few non-fiction books on it, but not sure if I’m ready to tackle historical fiction in that time. I’m having enough trouble with a Civil War screenplay right now!
D: I can imagine! I’ve stayed away from historical fiction because of the massive amount of research required.
Thanks for stopping by, Kathy. It’s been a fun interview! For more information about Kathy and her books, please click on the links at the end of this post. But, before that, how about an excerpt? Here’s the description for Space Available. The excerpt follows.
Description of Space Available: Book three of Dar’s Adventures in Space:
Captain Dar Meltom sets his sights on a mission of utmost importance. With the stolen Plexus in the cargo bay of the Marsuian, he heads to Satiris, the planet of his ancestors. Once there, he encounters dangerous creatures, and Lukxia, the last purebred Satiren female on the planet. Dar deploys the Plexus, hoping it will bring Satiris back to life. Rather than keeping Lukxia as a second mate, he presents this most precious gift to Krodus, his long-time worst enemy, now friend.
But that’s not enough adventure for Dar. Lurking not far from Erotis is a wormhole. It’s the very one that brought his father Edward Meltom, Earthling astronaut, to the Ontarrin Galaxy. The explorer in Dar wants to find his father. So together with his mate, Parnela, and Schmuff his Nouian engineer, they tempt fate and enter the wormhole.
What awaits them is anything but a warm Earthling welcome. Quickly taken prisoner by humans, Dar and Parnela are imprisoned and subjected to a battery of tests. Dr. Robert Ciroli is tasked with studying them. He’s given two weeks to extract as much information before the aliens will be terminated. Knowing there is little on Earth that matters to him, Robert helps Dar and Parnela escape.
They arrive back in the Ontarrin Galaxy and find Satiris a planet reborn. Where sand once claimed the settlements, it is now lush and green. Dar returns to Erotis and asks Krodus to address the Satiren High Council for permission to repopulate the planet. After much deliberation, council agrees. Dar is thrilled that Satiris is once again for Satirens.
Dar looked over his shoulder as they walked. The town was only a small glimmer in the late afternoon sun. He tore open a package and pulled out a piece of jerky. “Hey, it looks the same as the stuff we have at home.” Taking a bite, he chewed. “Hmm, this has a sweet taste.” He took the bottle of orange liquid and opened it. “Well, let’s see if this is Manko soda.” Taking a sip, he blanched and coughed. “Oh! Definitely not Manko soda!”
“What does it taste like?”
“Uh, it’s a fizzy-like soda, but the taste is really sweet.” He offered it to her. “Try some, you might like it.”
The princess took the bottle, held it to her lips, and took a tiny sip. “Hmm, actually, it’s quite good!” She took a larger swallow. “I like it.”
“Enjoy, I guess I’ll be drinking water.” He took another piece of jerky and munched on it. “I need to find us a place to stay; it’s gonna get dark soon, and I bet even colder.”
“Why didn’t we stay in the town back there?”
“Too many Earthlings, they may have gotten suspicious.”
“Oh, you’re just paranoid, Dar.”
“And rightly so. I promised I’d keep us safe.” He looked down the road. “There’s a structure not far. Let’s see if it’ll make a good place to stay the night.”
“It appears to be a big red house.”
“Not many windows if it’s a dwelling.”
Parnela heard noise behind them. “Look at all those black objects coming at us.”
He turned around. “Let’s get off the road, they seem to be in a hurry.” They stepped from the pavement and continued walking. The objects came to a screeching halt behind them.
“I have a bad feeling.” Dar dropped his bags, grabbed Parnela with his left arm, and pulled her close. His right hand went behind his back, ready to brandish his knife.
The doors of the objects opened, and Earthlings poured out. They swarmed around Dar and Parnela. They were surrounded by large Earthling males dressed in black. Their faces were covered, and they wore something that looked like armor on parts of their bodies. They held black things that Dar thought were rather primitive phaser rifles. Knowing he was outnumbered, he slowly took his hand from behind his back, moving it away from his body.
“Don’t move!” one of the males bellowed. Dar didn’t understand the words, but he had a good idea about what was being implied.
“Stay calm,” he whispered to Parnela, hoping she would comply.
“I know. We’re strangers and they don’t understand us. Just stay calm and hopefully they’ll help us.”
“Who are you?” one of the Earthlings said.
Dar didn’t reply.
“Who are you? Are you from another planet?”
Again, Dar was silent. He truly wished he could communicate. And then he remembered the words the male in the store said. “Have a nice day,” he said slowly.
Buy Space Available on
Whoa. A little over-reaction on the part of booksellers, me thinks. Interesting article on David Gaughran’s blog regarding the kerfuffle in the UK over erotic titles and children’s titles coming up in the same search. Sigh.
Here’s a great post about structuring your novel/screenplay by Alexandra Sokoloff. The ideas are clear, concise and even if you’re a writer who doesn’t outline, extremely helpful in regard to thinking about story structure and plot points. Personally, I don’t go as far as she does with the whole post-it, index card method, preferring to use a handwritten timeline with notes on which scenes I want to use (way simpler for me), but I may try it for the next book to see if it improves my workflow. The thing about this business–ya gotta be open to new ways of doing things or you’re going to be standing in an alley, alone, scratching your head, wondering where the heck things went off the rails.
Or something like that.
Today on Awesome Authors I’m excited to introduce you to award-winning short story mystery author, Barb Goffman. Barb is a fellow Sister-in-Crime member and has worked previously as a journalist and an attorney. Here’s her bio:
“Barb Goffman won the 2013 Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2012. That award-winning story, “The Lord Is My Shamus,” was recently republished in her collection of crime-fiction stories, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press, April 2013). The collection includes all her award-nominated stories, plus five new ones. Barb has been nominated multiple times for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity crime-writing awards, as well as once for the Pushcart Prize. She works as a freelance, crime-fiction editor. In her spare time, Barb serves as a co-editor of the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series (Wildside Press), as program chair of the Malice Domestic mystery convention, and as secretary of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She’s also a past-president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.”
B: Thank you, DV, for inviting me to blog here. I’m a short-story author. Most of my stories involve crime/mystery. Just last month, I won the Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2012. My first collection of short stories, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, was published in April by Wildside Press. I also run a crime-fiction editing service, offering developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. In my past lives, I was a newspaper reporter and an attorney.
D: Congratulations on winning the 2013 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Short Story for “The Lord is my Shamus” (not to mention being nominated for the Anthony and the Agatha, as well). You must be thrilled! Tell us about the events leading up to the award.
B: Thrilled is a good description. After my name was announced as the winner, I sat in my seat like a deer in headlights for several seconds, not quite believing I’d heard correctly.
The Macavity Award is given out by Mystery Readers International (MRI). Each spring, members of MRI submit their choices for best mystery novel, first mystery novel, mystery short story, mystery non-fiction book, and mystery historical novel published in the prior year. The books/stories with the most votes become the official nominees, which this year were announced in July (that was a great day). MRI readers then vote for the winners over the summer. The winners are announced each year during opening ceremonies at the Bouchercon mystery convention.
One thing that’s particularly lovely about the Macavity Award is that it’s a reader-based award. It’s extremely satisfying to know that people read my story and liked it enough to submit it in the spring for possible nomination. (Winning was quite wonderful, too, especially considering the stiff competition.)
D: Tell us about your latest release. What was your favorite part about writing it? Least favorite?
B: “Dead and Buried Treasure” came out in mid-September in the Halloween crime anthology All Hallows’ Evil. The call for stories for this anthology stressed that the editor wanted character development, so I created an introverted character with low self-esteem who finds love and begins to feel better about herself. But not everyone is happy about that.
I’m an introvert. I tend to feel uncomfortable at large social gatherings and have always felt that my desire to avoid such situations was looked down upon by some friends and family who thought I should be more social. This story gave me the chance to show my side of things, which I really enjoyed. As for my least favorite part of writing the story, there really isn’t one. I love writing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it.
D: What inspires you and why?
B: I love anthology prompts. I love being challenged to come up with interesting story ideas that, hopefully, make the editor think, Ahh, this is what I was looking for. Or even better, for the editor to think, I didn’t even realize I was looking for this. When I’m writing a story, I want the reader to finish and have an emotional reaction. Sometimes I want them laughing. Sometimes I want their mouths hanging open in surprise or shock. I love the challenge of writing a story that will prompt a reaction like that.
D: What do you find most challenging about writing short stories? Why?
B: I find coming up with plots to be the most challenging part. I can come up with interesting beginnings—I often will hear character voices in my head that set up a good story, but figuring out what happens next is most difficult for me. I’m envious of other authors who say they have plot ideas pouring out of them. For me, plots often are elusive and devising good ones require a lot of work.
“Being able to create a complete story is very satisfying, and since short stories are, by definition, short, writing them gives me the chance to have that satisfaction on a regular basis.”
D: Tell me about your process: do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants?
B: I plot. When starting a story, I’ll often sit with a pad of paper and jot down ideas. For example, with my very first story, “Murder at Sleuthfest,” I started with the idea of wanting to kill off the person who stole a ring I stupidly left sitting on a bathroom sink at the 2004 Sleuthfest conference. So I wrote down “kill ring thief.” Then I thought, why would a person who steals a ring get murdered? And I wrote down possible answers to that question, which prompted more questions in my mind, and resulted in me writing down more ideas to flesh out the plot. When I go through a process like this, I often end up with a sheet of paper filled with possible ideas and arrows leading from one idea to another. Once I’ve come up with a plot and characters that excite me, I’ll circle the key ideas that figure into my final idea, and then I’ll start writing. At that point, I probably won’t have all the characters in my mind or know the exact route I’ll take to reach the story’s conclusion, but I’ll know what that destination is and I’ll know the key stops I’ll want to take on the trip to get there.
D: What do you like best about writing short stories?
B: I like how I can go from story idea to typing “the end” in a short period of time. I used to be a daily newspaper reporter. Every day I worked on a different story. I loved the fast turn-around and how I could work on something new every day. Short stories provide the same opportunity. I regularly can come up with new ideas, new characters, and new twists, instead of working on the same story for months on end (which I’d be doing if I wrote novels). Being able to create a complete story is very satisfying, and since short stories are, by definition, short, writing them gives me the chance to have that satisfaction on a regular basis.
D: Short stories require a bit of a different skill set than writing novels. You need to draw the reader in, tell the story, and wrap things up much more quickly. How do you develop your characters within the parameters of that shorter form and still make the reader care what happens?
B: Each story needs that zing—the thing that draws the reader in and keeps her turning pages. With me, it’s often humor, such as in the Thanksgiving mysteries I’ve written. But I also write more serious stories in which I devise a situation that whets the reader’s desire to see justice done. The reader hopefully keeps reading to see if (and how) the bad guy gets what’s coming and if the good guy is vindicated.
Stories work—really work—when they resonate with the reader. For instance, a story about a woman foiling a bank robbery could be a good story. But to make the story stick with the reader long after it’s over, have the woman realize that the robber is her baby’s father. Should she do the right thing and save the poor hostages, resulting in the man she loves going to prison and her baby growing up without a father? Or should she help him, compromising her own ethics and risking her own freedom and putting her child at risk of having no parents to raise him?
“Stories work—really work—when they resonate with the reader.”
It’s not difficult to have a complete plot, fleshed out characters, and resonance in a short story. The use of small details can be very telling. A single thought can show so much. And, as with the bank robbery example above, you can come up with a scenario that tugs the reader’s heartstrings and have the story play out in just a few pages. The key is focusing on the important details and making every word count. You also have to remember that you’re telling one tight tale. There are no subplots. No family sagas. You come into the story as late as possible to tell the tale you want to tell and then, as soon as you hit the sweet spot at the end, you stop.
D: What advice would you give to new writers?
B: Read, read, read. Then write, write, write.
I learned how to write mystery short stories by reading them, letting their structure become a part of me. (And I still read them to this day. It’s always interesting see how other authors approach things.)
Once you’ve read a few stories, begin writing. (Actually, if you’re a plotter like me, first come up with an idea for your story.) Know that your first draft won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. That’s okay. You can always revise but only if you get your first draft done.
D: Which writers have influenced you the most?
B: I’ll start with the late Barbara Parker. I loved her legal-thriller series. One day I was reading one of her books and suddenly thought, “I could do this. I could write a novel.” Barbara Parker created characters that I wanted to visit with again and again, and she inspired me to want to replicate that experience.
I also have to mention Jan Burke because when I decided to write my first short story, I picked up Jan’s story collection, Eighteen, to learn how short stories were structured and written. So Jan was my first short-story instructor.
“Know that your first draft won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. That’s okay. You can always revise but only if you get your first draft done.”
And finally I need to mention Donna Andrews. In the mid-2000s, I’d had one short story published and had stopped writing. It hadn’t been a conscious decision to do so, but I’d gotten busy with other things and since I’d met my goal of being published, I didn’t feel that internal push to keep going. Donna, who lives in my neighborhood, knew all this, but she encouraged me to join her critique group anyway. She told me I didn’t have to write anything, that I should just come and give my thoughts and be with other writers. I know she thought that if I spent time with other authors, I would be inspired and start writing again, which is exactly what happened. I don’t know if I’d be writing today if it hadn’t been for Donna’s push.
D: What practices have you found to be most effective in promoting your short stories?
B: This is a difficult question to answer because I usually don’t know when a book I have a story in is purchased and what prompted that purchase. So I asked my Facebook friends this question. It appears that my social-media promotion works best. When I have a new story accepted for publication, I mention it on Facebook. When the cover becomes available, I post it. When the story comes out, I mention it. If the book goes on sale, I let folks know. Each time, I include a purchasing link to make things easy. I’m on Facebook often, and my story promotion amounts to a small percentage of my posts, so (hopefully) my friends don’t feel bombarded by them. I also have been very fortunate to have been nominated for a number of awards. Whenever that happens, I mention it. I’ve heard from some readers that they picked up my stories because of the nominations.
I’ve also noticed that whenever I blog or am interviewed on a blog, the Amazon ranking on whatever book I’m promoting goes up.
Another thing I do that I think probably has been effective is getting out into the mystery community and meeting readers and other writers. I regularly attend my local Sisters in Crime meetings, for example. People get to know me and hopefully like me, so they’ll try one of my stories. And as a reader who’s become my friend told me, once she read one of my stories, she was hooked.
D: If you could time-travel (either backward or forward) where would you go and why?
B: I would go back to October 14, 2006. That was the date I brought my now-late dog, Scout, home to live with me. Scout died this past July, and I miss him every day. I would love to go back to the day he came to live with me and have the chance to relive and cherish every moment.
D: I’m so sorry, Barb. Losing a pet is so hard. I love the idea of going back to when you first brought Scout home and being able to see him again.
Thank you for stopping by, and sharing a little bit about yourself with us. For more information on Barb’s stories, please see the links at the end of this post. But first, we get a teaser from her award-winning short story, “The Lord is My Shamus”:
B: Here’s the first scene from “The Lord Is My Shamus,” which appears in Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. It originally was published in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder.
You’d think after all these years, I wouldn’t be nervous in his presence. Yet my sandals shook as I approached the swirling cloud.
“You asked to see me?” I crooked my head, trying—but failing—to spot him through the mist. Why was he always such an enigma?
“Yes.” His booming voice echoed. “I’m sending you back to Earth to do some investigating for me.”
“A man has died, and I’d like you to probe those who knew him best. Find out what happened.”
Now I know better than anyone that it’s not my place to question God. He has his reasons for what he does. But come on. He’s omniscient. Why would he need me to investigate anything for him?
“Umm . . . okay,” I said. “But don’t you already know what happened?”
He chuckled. “Well, yes, I do. But you of all people understand suffering and the need to know why it happens. So I want you to help this man’s family by looking into his death and encouraging the killer to admit his sins and repent.”
“The killer? You mean—”
“Yes. This, Job, is murder.”
Link to e-book version of Don’t Get Mad Get Even at Wildside Press
Link to print version at Wildside Press