Monthly Archives: February 2014

Top 5 Ways to Beat Crazy-Writer Syndrome

Welcome to CTI’ve been writing full-time for a while now, and I seem to have fallen into a comfortable routine of home days (two days during the week where I do nothing but stay home and write) and away days, or days that I have other stuff I have to do that takes me away from a full day of writing. I’m still able to make my word count (usually) on those days, but I also get to go out into the real world and pretend I have a life.

At first I looked forward to those two home days, mentally rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of a long, unhurried stretch of time to spend with my work in progress. Uninterrupted hours in which to concentrate on putting words to page, staring out the window and planning the next scene, completely immersing myself in the world of my characters and blowing stuff up with wild abandon.

Um, yeah. Not so much. Funny thing about spending that much time alone. You get a little whacked.

Let me amend that. Spending that much time alone in a writer’s brain is a first class ticket to cray-cray town, and seriously, not in a good way.

I have noticed myself tossing witty bon mots at the ceramic foo dog in the hall when passing by on my way to the kitchen, as if it could hear me and might respond. A group of squirrels digging up the lawn looking for nuts? I’d talk through the screen, asking them how their day was going and offer to give them all rides to the waterfront park. Once, when caller I.D. showed a call from the local ‘No on Initiative WTH’, I answered just so I could have a conversation with the robot.

So, so sad.

One day, after writing a particularly complicated scene, my husband came home from work and walked in on me talking to the picture of Dorothy Parker pinned to the wall by my desk. He mistakenly assumed I was on the phone from the animation in my voice.

Now he knocks.

It got me thinking. I’m certainly not the only writer in the world that experiences psychotic breaks, right? So, I decided in the spirit of helping others I’d offer a few of the ways that have worked for me to combat those inevitable days when you’d rather dash through the streets like a mad woman, looking for an actual human to talk to than spend another minute alone with yourself and your manuscript.

5 ways to Beat Crazy-Writer Syndrome (CWS)

1) Go to your local grocery store and chat up the meat guy. I guarantee he’s as starved for conversation as you are and just might give you a little extra something with your free-range chicken thighs. And, he might help you figure out an intriguing way to kill that annoying character in chapter four.

2) When those religious people on a mission (the ones with bad acne, wearing razor-creased white shirts and skinny black ties) ring the doorbell invite them in to discuss the latest trend in enhanced interrogation techniques and modified ammunition. Offer tequila.

3) Flag down the nearest policeman and ask them what would happen if, hypothetically, a person used enhanced interrogation techniques on an unsuspecting visitor as *cough* research for a novel. (Note: This tactic should be reserved for extreme circumstances, as you’ll end up with more time on your hands than you might like. Although, it does have the added benefit of three meals a day and TV privileges).

4) Go to your nearest coffee shop and order a drink, snag a table near the front and greet everyone who walks in, engaging them in idle conversation about decapitation. The majority of customers will think you’re annoying, if not flat-out bug nuts but eventually someone may take pity on you and sit down. Extra points if they’re a serial killer or a hit man for a drug cartel.

5) Walk into the nearest FBI field office with what looks like a bomb strapped to your chest holding a dead-man’s switch in order to get a good idea of what would happen to your character if she did the same thing in your work in progress. (Note: remember to smile and tell them you’re a writer. Granted, a sniper will likely take you down, but if you get shot you can always use that in a book, right?)

And there you have it—my top 5 ways to combat CWS. How about you? How do you keep the crazies at bay?


Awesome Authors–Charles Ray

Author photoToday on Awesome Authors I’m pleased to interview prolific writer, former diplomat, journalist, and current intrepid world-traveler, Charlie Ray. I first became aware of Charlie through Indies Unlimited,where he’s a frequent commenter. He’s much more active online than I could ever hope to be, as he maintains several blogs, regularly posts on Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook, not to mention taking the time to stop by other blogs to show his support. Not only that, but he pens both fiction and non-fiction, is a fabulous photographer, and a fine artist. Whew. I wish I had that kind of energy and talent! Intrigued, aren’t you? Then what the heck are we waiting for? Let’s get to the interview:

(From the author’s bio): Charles Ray has been writing fiction since his teens. He won a Sunday school magazine writing contest when he was thirteen, and having his byline on a short story published in a national publication forever hooked him on writing. During his time in the army (1962-1982) he often moonlighted as a newspaper or magazine journalist, and was the editorial cartoonist for the Spring Lake (NC) News, a weekly newspaper, during the 1970s. In addition to his writing, he was an artist/cartoonist and photographer for a number of publications, including Ebony, Eagle and Swan, and Essence, and had a monthly cartoon feature and did several covers for Buffalo, a now-defunct magazine that was dedicated to showcasing the contributions of African-Americans to the country’s military history.

After retiring from the army, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service, and served as a diplomat in posts in Asia and Africa until his retirement in 2012. He has worked and traveled throughout the world (Antarctica is the only continent he hasn’t visited), and now, as a full-time writer, continues to globetrot looking for interesting things to write about, draw, or take pictures of.

DV: Hi Charlie! Thanks for being here. Please tell us about yourself and what you write.

CR:  I grew up in a small town in rural East Texas and fell in love with books at an early age. I wrote my first fiction (a short story for a Sunday school magazine) when I was 13, and it won first place and was published, so I became hooked on writing as well at an early age. I write like I read – in a variety of genres. I’ve done books on leadership and management, a couple of books of my photographs (I’ve done newspaper and magazine photography, and taught it at an L.A. City College overseas program in Korea in the late 1970s), and several books of fiction. I do a mystery series (starring a PI based in Washington, DC) and a western/historical series about the Buffalo Soldiers. I’ve also done fantasy and comedy, and did a sort of dystopian sci-fi bit about the confluence of political/religious extremism and climate change (The Culling). My wife says my problem is twofold – I have a short attention span and I refuse to grow up.Cover for Death and Taxis

DV: 🙂 You’ve had quite the storied career in the U.S. Army as well as the State Department. How have these experiences influenced your writing?

CR: As you might imagine, a lot of the things I’ve experienced naturally find their way into my writing – including people and places. In the main, though, having spent nearly 50 years traveling around the world has taught me to be observant and store impressions that can later be called up in the stories I write. Everything, including what I see and hear on my subway commute here in DC, is grist for the creative mill. I got the idea for my first book on leadership watching an old lady chastise a couple of loud teen girls on the subway one day (Things I Learned from my Grandmother about Leadership and Life).

DV: Obviously, you’ve done a LOT of traveling. Which places are foremost in your memory and why? Do you plan to use them in future writing projects?

CR: The only continent I’ve never visited is Antarctica. As to which stand out – they all do in one way or another. I’ve visited the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge, walked the Great Wall, and flown over Colombian and Panamanian jungles. Angkor Wat is one of my favorite places, but so is the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. I once flew from Cape Town, South Africa to Copenhagen, Denmark in the middle of December – that was an unforgettable experience – and have lived in the German Alps. I’ve been all over the U.S., and loved every inch of it. Little bits of places and people I’ve encountered find their way into almost everything I write. I’ve lived in Washington, DC off and on since 1982, and a lot of my current work (except the Buffalo Soldier series) is based mainly in the DC area. Long answer to a short question, but the short version, is, yes I do.

“…having spent nearly 50 years traveling around the world has taught me to be observant and store impressions that can later be called up in the stories I write…”

DV: I’ve always wanted to visit Angkor Wat. I’ll have to pick your brain about it later 🙂 Please describe your latest release.

Cover for Frontier JusticeCR: I just finished Frontier Justice, a fictionalized account of the first two years of the service of Bass Reeves the first African-American deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. Even though the accounts are fictitious, they’re based on historical research.

DV: That sounds intriguing. What prompted you to write Frontier Justice?

CR: After reading a couple of my Buffalo Soldier novels, my daughter, Denise, suggested that I should do more western/historical stories about the Old West because of the distorted images of the period by popular media. In my research for the Buffalo Soldier series, I’ve learned that a lot of what I thought growing up watching western movies in cinema and on TV was wrong. Ten percent of the cavalry on the frontier, for instance, was African-American, as well as the infantry units. After the Civil War, most of the U.S. Army was deployed west of the Mississippi to support the country’s westward expansion, so if the movies were accurate, many times the cavalry coming to the rescue would be men of color. Moreover, many of the cowboys and outlaws were minorities. So, I’m just trying to use my fiction to fill in some of the blanks.Cover for Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite

DV: We definitely need more historical accuracy in our educational system. I always found it odd that no one questioned what we were taught in school. You’re definitely a prolific writer having written both non-fiction and fiction, including the Al Pennyback mystery series and the historical Buffalo Soldier series. What do you enjoy about writing in each genre? What do you find challenging?

CR: I like mysteries and westerns – always have – because they’re action oriented and usually have a sort of Aesop-fable moral to them. I like mysteries because of the puzzle factor, and westerns because of the way the world is seen in simple terms. The challenge is to take the formulas of these two genres and create fully fleshed, interesting characters and less-than-simple plot lines, and tell an interesting story. The other challenge is to keep from sounding too similar when I switch from one to the other.

“I’m just trying to use my fiction to fill in some of the blanks.”

DV: How long does it take you to write a novel?

CR: Depends. The mysteries take a month or two because of the need to work out clues and red herrings and the like. The westerns I can do in about three weeks as soon as I’ve decided on the opening and ending.

DV: Do you research before the start of each book or while you write?

CR: Both. I do basic research before starting, but as I write, I’m constantly looking up things like weapons capability, date of events, etc. Research never ends.

DV: Do you outline or make it up as you go along?

CR: I do a chapter by chapter sketch. Main action and characters involved. But, I leave space between chapters, because sometimes as I’m writing, something new will come up and things get changed. I don’t do excessively detailed outlines because that constricts the creative flow. What I do is end each day’s writing session by starting the next chapter. Then, I visualize in my mind the action, get a feel for smell, sound, etc., and then start writing.

“I don’t do excessively detailed outlines because that constricts the creative flow.”

DV: Great method. I think Hemingway worked like that. Do you edit as you go or wait until you’re finished and then go back through the manuscript? Do you hire a professional editor for your work?

CR: I correct gross and obvious mistakes as I work, but wait until I’m done – let it cool off a few days, and then go back over it from page one. I thought about paying for a professional editor, but from what I’ve seen of many traditionally published books, errors will still creep in. As long as they don’t interrupt the flow of the story, or are just so numerous they indicate carelessness, I don’t think it makes a great difference. I’m more concerned with getting the layout looking smooth and professional.

DV: What made you decide to “go indie”?

Cover for The CullingCR: I worked as a freelance journalist for decades. Pay was low and slow, and only the few best sellers had any control over their work. I was also curious about the mechanical side of publishing.

DV: What kind of marketing works best for you?

CR: I’m still experimenting. I do a blog and a lot on social media, and that does generate a few sales. In the highly competitive world of today, I don’t expect a 50 Shades of Gray response, just modest, regular sales, with increase over time as word gets around. I also do speaking, keep spare copies of books with me to hand out when I travel, and get the word out through a couple of professional associations I work with. I worked with an organization at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, for instance, and got a spot in their magazine about my Buffalo Soldier series. Leavenworth happens to be home to the Buffalo Soldier monument. After the article appeared, my sales shot up over a thousand percent for three or four months, and that series continues to do relatively well.

DV: Nice. Niche marketing is a great way to do it. What advice would you give to a new writer?

CR: Write – write every day. Don’t let self-doubt or naysayers turn you off from it if writing gives you a thrill. Read a lot, and not just the genres you write. You can learn a lot from what others have done. Don’t have a thin skin about criticism.

“I don’t expect a 50 Shades of Gray response, just modest, regular sales, with increase over time as word gets around.”

DV: In light of the huge changes in the publishing industry, where do you see yourself in five years? How do you think publishing will change in the future?

CR: Hopefully in five years I will still be writing, only to a larger audience. I think the e-book and Indie revolutions have changed publishing, making it more democratic, and as it matures it will become more ‘traditional.’ Unlike many, I don’t think physical books will be completely replaced by e-Books. I think the prices of books will go way down, so anyone looking to become rich by writing should perhaps look for another occupation.

DV: And now, my favorite question: If you could travel anywhere through time (either backward or forward) where would you go and why?

CR: I’d actually do both. I’d like to go back to the post-Civil War period to see what it was actually like (my grandmother was born in 1895, and told interesting stories about growing up), and then I’d like to go forward a hundred years to see what the world will be like.

DV: Great idea! I’m certainly curious to see how everything works out in the future…

Thank you for stopping by today, Charlie, and good luck with your writing!

If you’d like to learn more about Charles Ray and his work, please see the links below. But first, here’s an excerpt from his newest release, Frontier Justice:


Bass Reeves was a big man.

At six-feet, two-inches, and weighing one hundred eighty pounds, he would have been an imposing figure even without the bushy black mustache that covered his upper lip and hung down to the edge of his square chin, the long, muscular arms, and hands, each of which was bigger than two hands on most men.

He had just returned to his farm from a scouting job with the U.S. Marshals over in the Indian Territory, and during his absence, many of the chores which were beyond the abilities of his young sons had remained undone. Dressed in a faded pair of brown canvas pants and a blue wool shirt, he was hoisting a fence pole into the hole he’d just finished digging when he saw the rider approaching along the road from the town of Van Buren.

His curiosity was aroused. It wasn’t often that people from town came out this way, most especially just before the middle of the day. Removing the battered brown Stetson, he took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his broad, brown brow, and stood watching as the single rider drew nearer.

When the rider was about a hundred yards off, Bass was able to distinguish features. He saw that it was a white man with a long, dark brown beard that came to a point midway down the front of the black coat he wore. His hair, dark brown, almost black, splayed out from under the white hat he wore pulled down low over his forehead. Bass saw the butt of a Winchester rifle jutting out of the scabbard attached to the right side of the saddle, and assumed that the man also had at least one pistol in a holster. Few men, white or black, went anywhere this close to Indian Territory without a firearm. Bass’s own weapon, a Winchester repeating rifle, was leaned against a small tree about ten feet from where he stood. He’d left his Colt .44 pistols at the house, not figuring he’d need them just to mend a little fence. And besides, they’d just have been in the way.

Not that he was in any way worried. The stranger didn’t seem to pose any threat. He rode up, pulling his horse to a halt about ten feet away. Up close, Bass noted that he was almost as tall as he was, but considerably lighter, maybe a hundred fifty pounds or so. His expression, while not hostile, wasn’t particularly friendly either. There was something about the face that seemed familiar.

The man dismounted. He left his rifle in the scabbard and tied his horse to the fence post Bass had just an hour earlier planted in the ground. As he walked closer, his coat flapped open revealing a revolver high on his right hip.

“Don’t seem particularly friendly,” Bass thought. “But, don’t seem threatenin’ neither.”

The man stopped just beyond his reach.

“You Bass Reeves?” he asked.


Blog and Social Media Links:

Links to selected recent books:

Frontier Justice:

The Culling:

Death and Taxis:

How to Respond if Someone Holds a Gun to Your Head

P14-45 handgun Since I write novels dealing with guns and criminals, I’m always looking for no-nonsense advice from professionals (law enforcement officers specifically, although interviewing a criminal via email would certainly be interesting).

I just re-read an article with a wealth of information regarding what to do if you’re ever in a situation where someone is holding a gun to your head. Whether you’re writing a scene or are interested in what to do if it really happens, here’s a link to a post by former law enforcement dealing with that specific scenario. I especially enjoyed his snark about wearing stilettos and shrink-wrap clothing…

ACX, Audible, and Audiobooks–Oh, My!

ES-IN17These past few months, I’ve been having a blast producing audiobooks for my novels. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while and can’t remember exactly what the catalyst was now, but I currently have two books available with two more in production, and plans for at least two more by summer. Since I’ve been fielding questions from fellow writers on the process, I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned along the way. (At the end of this post I’m giving away 3 copies each of both audiobooks, so if you’re interested, make sure you stick around—you may just win 🙂 )

Question #1: Which company did you use to make the audiobook?

I used, a subsidiary of Amazon and couldn’t be happier with the process. It’s free except for the time commitment and pretty darned easy. The hardest part for me was picking the narrators from all the auditions. My only caveat would be that if you’re looking for that radio mystery theater kind of recording with sound effects and different narrators acting out the voices, you’ll need to use another company. ACX is an exchange that works to bring together narrators and writers to produce straight audiobooks. Usually, this means one narrator per project. On occasion you’ll luck out and get a husband and wife team working together, but one narrator is the norm.

Question #2: How long does it take?

Depends on the narrator. Usually, it will be anywhere from 3-8 weeks. For Serial Date ACX attached a stipend of $100 per finished hour payable by ACX to the narrator, with the requirement that it be completed within 60 days. My narrator, Jim Kilavey, rock and rolled and had it done within 3 weeks. He’d produced several audiobooks previously, so knew the process. Once the book is completed and you approve the recording, ACX does their thing (engineering, quality control). It takes them about 3 weeks to approve the book. Once approved, the book will be available for sale on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes .

Question #3: How do you choose a narrator?
First, you need to provide an audition script, which means you upload an excerpt of your book for narrators to read. Try not to upload too long of an excerpt—five minutes worth is plenty. I made that mistake with Bad Traffick by uploading much too long of an excerpt (didn’t realize it at the time). Even a 5-minute audition requires a lot of work, so keep that in mind. It’s easy to re-upload an edited excerpt, though. And don’t just use the first couple of pages of the book. Find an excerpt that has dialogue between main characters. If you have a lot of action scenes like my books do, include something along those lines, so the producer/narrator can show you how they’ll handle it.

Once you’ve decided on an excerpt and made the book available on ACX, you can search producer (a.k.a. narrator) clips to find the perfect voice and send them a message asking them to audition, or a producer can upload an audition during the audition period if they’re interested in working on the book. If ACX attaches a stipend, you’ll probably receive several auditions. This makes it a bit harder to choose, since many of the producers on ACX are professional voice-over artists. Either way, it’s fun and kinda surreal to hear different interpretations of your work.

Question #4: What if you don’t like the producer’s work? Can you change narrators?

This is where you’ll need to be careful. The contract has a kill-fee stipulation once you’ve approved the first 15 minutes. If you’re doing a royalty-share (more on that later) the kill-fee is $500 plus any expenses incurred by the narrator up to that point. If you’re doing a one-time payment to the producer, then it’s something like 75% of the total the narrator/producer would have received for the completed work. Be sure to work with your producer and make sure you’re completely satisfied with their narration before you approve that first 15 minutes. The producers I’ve used have been easy to work with, so any glitches or mistakes were easily rectified. If either of you don’t like the way it’s playing out (before you approve the first 15), then you’re both free to stop production with no penalties. If that happens, you’ll need to open up production for auditions again.

Question #5: What does it cost? How do you get paid?

I decided to go with the escalating royalty-share (50% to ACX, 25% to me, 25% to the producer for the first 500 units sold. Royalties increase after that). That way, there were no upfront costs other than my time. You can also pay the producer an hourly rate which is typically between $100-200 per finished hour (pay-for-production) and allows you a 50% royalty. For example, if I’d chosen the hourly rate, The Kate Jones Thriller Series, Vol. 1 would have cost between $860-1720 (8.6 hours x $100 or $200). Another reason I did the royalty-share is so that the producer/narrator has an incentive to promote the audiobook.

As for payment, ACX pays monthly via either check or direct deposit (US banks). If you opt for direct deposit, the breakdown of titles sold shows up in the mail a couple of weeks later. And, you don’t have to wait 60 days for payments like you do with Amazon.

All in all, it’s been a lot of fun to hear my books read back to me by professionals.  I’ve gotten emails from readers who prefer audiobooks and are happy to be able to listen to Kate and Leine’s stories while commuting to work, which is the best, most satisfying reason to do this. Another obvious reason is that audiobooks are an added revenue stream in addition to print and e-Books. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do this when I first heard about ACX.

I’m happy to answer questions, so feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best. If I can’t answer it, then at least I can point you in the right direction.

Now, for anyone who would like a chance to win a free audiobook, there are two ways to win:

1.) sign up for my free newsletter (I send out maybe 3 newsletters a year, so no spam, I promise) to be automatically entered to win, or,

2.) leave a comment below with your email address and you’ll be entered that way. You can do both and get your name in the ‘hat’ twice, if you’d like 🙂

I’m giving away 3 copies each of Serial Date and The Kate Jones Thriller Series, Vol. 1 this Saturday (February 8) and will contact the lucky winners by email. Good luck!

***UPDATE: We have winners! I’ve emailed instructions for a free download to djsgcampbell, nadams1291, wegmglan, lizzy79, ransue92, and girltoyjaz! Thanks for playing, everybody 🙂


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