Thursday, March 29, 2012

Today's Author Guest: Jeffrey Marks

As promised yesterday, Jeffrey Marks is my guest today, talking about where to find the latest in mystery titles and releases. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Above is the cover art for his extremely useful publication, Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel. It is the first and only how-to book on marketing and maximizing sales of genre novels, and I use my copy all the time.

From the early chapters of setting up a website and writing copy about your book to niche marketing, this book contains information necessary to navigate the quickly changing environment of bookselling. The fourth edition has a brand new chapter on social networking and how it can be used to sell more copies of your title. While specifically written for the mystery genre, the steps given can be applied to any genre. If you're an author and don't have a copy, get yours now! Here's Jeffrey's guest post:

Finding Information on Mysteries

I'm back again, celebrating the release of the 4th edition of Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel. Beth and I are having a bit of fun today, and instead of talking about marketing your own book, I’m going to talk to you about where to find the latest in mystery titles and releases.

My goal when I’m looking is not to find a group of authors who are promoting their own books, but to find sites that are mainly interested in listing new titles for me to read. In this manner, I can find the latest releases of my favorite authors, and occasionally I can find a new author to read. I’m always looking to read a book and these sites help make it easier for me to find them.

There are places that just list new titles for you. One of those places is The Blood-Stained Bookshelf, which lists by month new titles. It’s a great place to see the newest books and what’s soon to be released. The bookshelf is a wonder, if you know what you’re looking for. I can easily find titles by authors I’m familiar with, but it doesn’t help me to find a “new to me” author. Plus there aren’t many reviews to guide me in deciding if I want to read the latest or not.

Many of the people I know who attend conferences use the Edgars’ site to locate books by category. Again, this doesn’t tell you anything about the books themselves. It just lists books by the major publishers in the current calendar year. It’s not a review site. It was developed for authors to see if their book has been received, but I’ve found it to be a very handy site for looking up new titles.

I Love a Mystery Newsletter is another place to find new books. They do a great job of printing in depth reviews of recently released books and series. I tend to go to them if I’m unsure about a new title or series by an author. The reviewers are professional and share what I need to know without giving away spoilers.

Goodreads is another fun place to check out new mysteries. You can record books you’ve read or are reading and rate them both via a star-system and in reviews. I’ve found that most of the real book discussions take place in the groups, so look around for groups related to mysteries and many of them will discuss recent releases. There’s some self-promotion by authors, but it doesn’t drown out the collegial feel of the groups.

Another site that deals in books is Shelfari. This site lists the bestsellers lists in fiction and non-fiction, popular series, and recommended books. The site was acquired by Amazon in 2008, and it has some of the feel of that book-selling site. One of the features is a virtual bookshelf that allows others to see your books and vice versa, similar to Goodreads.

Library Thing is another similar site. I especially like the LT Newsletter that appears monthly. It has a number of suggestions on new authors and interviews with those authors.

Finally, there’s always the good old Amazon recommends. I usually look at the “coming soon” selections under that and check out the interesting titles.

Of course, in one blog, I can’t mention every site that I search looking for new books. I’d love to hear from others about where they find titles to read.

Thanks, Jeffrey! Now, who has a comment or question for him?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Jeffrey Marks

Tomorrow, author Jeffrey Marks will be a guest on my blog. He is a long-time mystery fan and freelancer. After numerous mystery author profiles, he chose to chronicle the short but full life of mystery writer Craig Rice.

That biography (Who Was That Lady?) encouraged him to write mystery fiction. His works include Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and a biography of mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher entitled Anthony Boucher. It was nominated for an Agatha and fittingly, won an Anthony.

He is the long-time moderator of MurderMustAdvertise, an on-line discussion group dedicated to book marketing and public relations, to which I belong and contribute to. Also, he is the author of Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel, the only how-to book for promoting genre fiction, and one which I use all the time.

His work has won a number of awards including the Barnes and Noble Prize and he was nominated for a Maxwell award (DWAA), an Edgar (MWA), three Agathas (Malice Domestic), two Macavity awards, and three Anthony awards (Bouchercon). Today, he writes from his home in Cincinnati, which he shares with his partner and two dogs.

In his post tomorrow, Jeffrey will share his expertise in where to find the latest in mystery titles and releases. I'm sure both mystery readers and authors will want to tune in and read that article! Also, he will be available to answer questions about his own books, the mystery genre in general, and marketing mystery novels, so feel free to ask him a question in a comment.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reviewing Films

Recently my husband and I volunteered to review films for the Breckenridge Film Festival, to help the committee decide what films to show at the June festival. As a fiction author myself, I'm familiar with the structure of story-telling, and as a former Universal Studios guide and techie friend of Pixar programmers, my husband is interested in the technology of special effects. So, we felt like we had something to offer as reviewers.

Last week, we watched and evaluated about a half dozen films, from shorts to feature length, dramas to documentaries. We both rated each one on a 5 point scale, with 1 being "a horrible film" and 5 being "yes, definitely include it in the festival." We also both provided a paragraph of text explaining our rating. I've used all but one of the 5 categories so far. We'll be reviewing films for two more weeks.

It's been an interesting experience to be on the evaluation side of the review equation, rather than having my own books evaluated by reviewers and readers. I often find that looking at other people's stories with a critical eye helps me hone my skills in ferreting out negative aspects of my own writing that need fixing. My experience in judging writing contests and participating in critique groups has proven this to be true. And, I expect the same from my film reviewing experience.

It's also exposed me to some very interesting projects. My horizons have been expanded, and I expect that attending the festival itself will expand them even more. I admire the risks that these filmmakers are taking, even when those risks don't pan out. If you have the opportunity to attend and/or volunteer for a film festival near you, I suggest you do it! You'll get a lot out of it.

(Photo by:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Day Off

I took yesterday off from editing to ski at Copper Mountain. Here's a photo of me with three friends there (I'm in the red suit). Back to editing today ...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Author At Work ...

I'm taking off from blogging this week to focus on final edits for my CATARACT CANYON manuscript. Please wish me luck, and please tune back in next week, when a very special guest will visit. In the meantime, for your enjoyment, here are some funny cartoons that illustrate 101 Excuses Not to Write.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Watching a River Come Back to Life

American Rivers is my favorite river conservation nonprofit, and I contribute to it regularly. I was moved by this article at their website about how dam removal has helped a river come back to life as steelhead, other fish and wildlife, and the health of the entire stream has dramatically improved. Take a look!

Horse Creek Dam: Six Years After It Was Blown to Bits

And just for fun, here's a link to an article giving 5 Reasons Whitewater Rafting Is Better Than A Theme Park!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Multitasking as a Series Author

Today I am over at Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, talking about multitasking as a series author, which I equate to juggling. Please visit the blog and let me know how you keep those balls in the air in your life!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Next Phase: Full Manuscript Review

Like many writers I know, I belong to a writing critique group, where we periodically review and comment on each other's work. My group meets twice a month, and we can submit up to 20 pages or 5000 words for critique each time. That means it takes quite a few months to review a whole book-length manuscript. Like the pencil pusher above, I've been pushing chapters of my latest manuscript through my critique group for a long time and have been editing the chapters based on their feedback. They still have a few chapters to go, but it's time to move on to the next phase of soliciting feedback on my manuscript.

That phase is a full manuscript review, where I ask others to read the full book manuscript at once and give me overall comments on the whole thing. One of the main things that this can accomplish that is hard to do one chapter at a time is to discover pacing problems, where the story slows down too much and the reader loses interest. Another type of problem that a full manuscript review can often find is continuity or logic problems that span multiple chapters--or skip multiple chapters.

Yesterday, I sent off the full manuscript of my latest book project (Cataract Canyon, the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series) to two trusted reviewers. The first is my literary agent. She reviews all of my manuscripts before I deliver them to my publisher. She has a good feel for the mystery market, for quality writing, and for what readers prefer and can tolerate, so I respect her judgement. The second reviewer is a fellow mystery author whose work I admire and who has traded critiques with me in the past. He doesn't have a full manuscript for me to review right now, but I am willing and ready to return the huge favor whenever he finishes his next book-length manuscript.

While I wait for their feedback, I'll continue to edit the manuscript myself, using critique group feedback and my own editing criteria and guidelines that I've developed for myself over the years. And, I'll hope that my two full manuscript reviewers don't find anything drastically wrong!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Water Sports Blogs and Websites I Recommend

Given that my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series has a whitewater river ranger as its sleuth, you would expect me to have my finger on the pulse of the whitewater sports community, and you would be right. If reading Deadly Currents has piqued your interest in this activity and you want to learn more, here's some recommended blogs and websites:

American Canoe Association

American Rivers blog, a river conservation organization that I support

River Ranger blog (particularly if you're inspired to become a river ranger and are looking for job postings)

Waterblogged, the blog for O.A.R.S. for a list of outfitters serving each state with whitewater rivers

Whitewater Rafting for similar information about outfitters throughout the US

Rafting Colorado website for information about Colorado outfitters's Whitewater festival calendar

FIBArk whitewater rafting festival website

US National Whitewater Center website, where our Olympic whitewater athletes train

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Sherry D. Ficklin

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Sherry D. Ficklin is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for her recent mystery release, After Burn, the first book in her YA Military Brats series. In the book, Reece Barnet and her father have just relocated to sunny North Carolina, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Just as Reece is starting to fit in, a rash of bomb threats rocks her father's experimental aircraft squadron. When the authorities track the threats to Reece's school, she decides to do some investigating of her own. Can she uncover the shocking truth of the person behind it all?

Below are Sherry's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it! Every comment is an entry into a contest for a free ebook copy of After Burn!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I’ve been writing for about five years, professionally, though I feel like I’ve been telling stories all my life. I was writing some fan fiction one day and my husband said, “you should really write something all your own.” So I did.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

It’s pretty intense. I have a notebook for each novel where I keep my character stuff. Everything from a very in-depth history to pictures of things they might wear and postcards of places they are from. The notebooks for this series have scraps of fabrics, song lyrics, and random things like that. Anything that reminds me of a character gets stuffed inside.

For some of my new characters I am doing something new. I gave my MC a Facebook page where I go on and post as her. It’s been a great way to sort of crawl in her head when I feel disconnected and also a fun way to get plot ideas. Most of her status updates actually end up in the book as chapter headings. So if you follow her posts, you get a glimpse of whatever novel I’m working on in that series. It’s been really fun.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

That depends on the series. The Gods of Fate, for example, was a complete surprise to me, plot wise. I sort of wound everyone up and let them run loose. Honestly, I didn’t know how it was going to end until I got there myself. They just took me along for the ride. For my other series I’ve had to do varying degrees of plotting. The new YA series I’m working on has gotten the most time on the plot board so far. It’s a time travel novel so I really had to step carefully with the plot so as not to tangle anything up.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Ironically my adult paranormal mystery series, Palmetto Moon, is much more character driven. There’s a murder to be solved (or two or three) but it’s all sort of secondary to my character and her personal entanglements. My GOF books are much more plot driven, and in some ways that’s easier. Murder is easy, personal issues are hard.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

The early rejections were hard. Heck, even now getting rejected is hard. It’s a little easier when you can cry into a stack of your paperbacks, though. It’s a tough business and it’s easy to take rejections personally. I’m not so much inspired to keep publishing, I’m just one of those people who is too stubborn to ever quit. If I ever stop writing, it will be because I’ve fallen in love with doing something else. But I doubt that will ever happen.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I do two full days a week, 9-4pm. I have little children in the house so that’s all I get most weeks. But if I’m on a deadline or editing a draft, I will lock myself in my office and push for days at a time.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Relax. Finish your book. Polish your book. And don’t take no for an answer.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I watch really terrible TV. Right now my obsessions are Castle (because of my long standing crush on Nathan Fillion) and The Secret Circle.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I am currently finishing up the first of my new YA series with my co-author and friend Tyler Jolley. It’s a steampunk/time travel novel. I’m really excited about it. My book launch party for Hindsight is the 8th so I’m gearing up for that. My first YA mystery novel, After Burn, just came out last month so I’ll be working on the next one of those later this year, and I just finished my next Palmetto Moon novel, Grave Secrets, which I’m hoping will be out later this year.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

You can check out all my books over on my website and you can follow me on Facebook. I love chatting with readers and writers and speaking at events so if you’d like to have me, there’s a contact page on my website. Thanks so much for having me here today!

Thanks, Sherry! Now, who has a comment or question for her? Remember that every one is an entry into a contest for a free ebook copy of After Burn!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Sherry D. Ficklin

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author Sherry D. Ficklin will be a guest on my blog. Sherry is a full time writer from Colorado where she lives with her husband, four kids, two dogs, and a fluctuating number of chickens and house guests. A former military brat, she loves to travel and meet new people. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she's on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is often only seen in blurry photographs. Her YA mystery, After Burn, the first in the Military Brats series, was released in December.

In her guest post tomorrow, Sherry answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to ask her some questions of your own in the comments. Sherry will pick a winner from among those who comment for a free ebook copy of After Burn.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Keystone Culinary Festival

This past weekend, my husband and I and some friends indulged in some of the less expensive events of the Keystone Winter Culinary Festival. We had a great time talking to chefs and sampling their wares. First, we went to the kitchen demo at the Alpenglow Stube, the highest AAA 4-diamond dining experience in North America. Below are photos of the entrance sign and my group.

Executive Chef David Scott talked about the restaurant, how he trains staff, and the appetizer that he was going to make for us to sample: Ragout of Blue Crab, comprised of lump crab meat, sautéed shiitake mushrooms and leeks, and lemon chive beurre blanc. The first photo below is of him making the beurre blanc sauce, the second is of the plating process, and the third shows the final product. Was it yummy! After devouring that, Chef Scott took us on a tour of the kitchen.

The next event we attended was a pastry demo performed by Ned Archibald, Keystone's Executive Pastry Chef. He made burgers, tacos, and spaghetti, all constructed from pastry, chocolate, and marzipan ingredients. The first photo shows Chef Archibald constructing a dessert burger. The bun is yellow cake, the meat is chocolate cake, the mayonnaise is buttercream frosting, and the ketchup and mustard are raspberry and apricot marmalade. The lettuce and tomato are fashioned out of marzipan. The second photo shows him topping a dessert taco with fake sour cream (more buttercream frosting). The next two photos show the results of his work. These were absolutely delicious and whimsical desserts!

After the pastry demo, we rushed over to the North American whiskey tasting that included Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye, George Dickel, Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky, Crown Royal Black, Crown Royal Reserve, and Crown Royal Cask 16. Accompanying the drinks was a lovely platter of crackers and cheeses. These events proved that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have a great time at the culinary festival, but from what I saw of the preparations, and from what the chefs were saying about it, the Grand Tasting Saturday evening must have been spectacular!