Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Every Dreamrush of Story Ideas Needs Limits

To celebrate the weeklong Amazon Kindle giveaway of his short story collection, Dreamrush, fantasy author Garrett Calcaterra discusses how limitations, as much as inspiration, help shape a story.


When people find out I’m an author, they always want to tell me about a brilliant story idea they have that I should write. I’m polite, of course, but after thanking them, I let them in on a little secret among authors: ideas aren’t the hard part when it comes to writing stories. In fact, most authors probably have more ideas than they know what to do with, and there’s a crucial step needed before an idea becomes an actual story.

No, I’m not talking about the craft of prose writing (although that is a big component of the hard-part when it comes to writing). Rather, I’m talking about imposing limitations on big ideas so that they can take shape. Let me illustrate what I mean by limitations with some examples from my collection of genre fiction, Dreamrush.

Back in 2011, I came across a call for short story submissions for a steampunk anthology. I was already a fan of the genre, but the editors had a caveat for the stories they wanted. They wanted something different than the typical Victorian England settings found in most steampunk stories. That limitation was what spurred me to write the stories “Deus ex Aurum” and “Gold Comes Out,” a pair of stories that mash up steampunk, fantasy, and alt-history during the backdrop of the California gold rush. I’d actually been wanting to write a story set during the goldrush for a while, seeing as how I grew up just a mile from where John Sutter discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, but I’d had that “big idea” for a while, and it had amounted to nothing. It was that call for submissions that imposed limitations on the idea: not only was my story set during the goldrush, it was a steampunk world with John Sutter at the heart of the conflict.

With my novelette “Page Fault,” the set of limitations were quite different. The story was intended to be an introductory tale for a shared-world project in a creative writing class I was teaching. As a shared world project, the class and I devised an entire codex for our fictional world, which created a framework for students to write in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. As such, I had to work within both those limitations, and the limitation that my story needed to set the stage for the students to go on and write their own stories. The end result was a story that not only stood on its own, but stands to this day as one of my favorite stories, incorporating elements of fantasy, noir, cyberpunk, and post-apocalyptic fiction.

The last story in my collection Dreamrush is “Wulfram,” a tie-in prequel to my fantasy series, The Dreamwielder Chronicles. In that instance, I had pages and pages of backstory and history for both the fictional world and the character Wulfram: an evil, shape-changing sorcerer who hunts my protagonist in the first book of the series. I easily could have written an entire novel chronicling Wulfram’s life, but that didn’t really fit into the production schedule nor the story arc of the series, which was meant to be a trilogy starring the dreamwielder Makarria. What made more sense was to write a tie-in short story that showed the hidden side if Wulfram, and also served double duty as a promotional story, one readers could try out without too much investment, and then if they liked it, try out Dreamwielder. With that limitation—literally a limitation to keep the story under 20 pages long—I was able to distill Wulfram’s entire life-story into a single, tragic tale that embodied who he was.

I could go on, as I’m sure any author could, but just like a big story idea, a blog post should have limits…

Get the Kindle edition of Garrett Calcaterra’s book Dreamrush for free for a limited time (August 8 – August 12, 2017) by clicking here. To learn more about the author and his series The Dreamwielder Chronicles, visit www.garrettcalcaterra.com

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Power of Blogging




There are so many reasons not to write that blog post you've been meaning to... work, family, the occasional good night's sleep. But there are many reasons you should be writing that blog post; I'd like to give you another.

A few years ago I wrote a blog about Bob Rohner MD, who taught human Pathology at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, NY. 
(4 Lessons from a Great Teacher.) 

Dr. Rohner was the best natural teacher I have ever had. I decided to write the post because Dr. Rohner had been a huge influence on my life, and I had never had the chance to express that to him or thank him in any way. 

I wasn't even sure he was still alive, to be honest, but that didn't make any difference to me; I wrote the post and hit Publish, feeling better about the whole thing, as if writing about him constituted some kind of partial payment to the debt I owed him. And that was that, or so I thought.

This is where the power of blogging comes in. Somehow, I have no idea how, the post got read by some person who referred it to another who referred it to another, and the next thing you know I am getting a string of e-mails from a bunch of other people, all previous students of Dr. Rohner, on whom he had had a similar influence. It was so gratifying to know that many others felt the same way, that I decided to forward the post to Dr. Bob. (And why not send the post directly to the man I wanted to thank?)

I sent the post. A few weeks later, the following e-mail showed up in my inbox:


Peter,my brother in the profession,
Thank you so much for you message, and forwarded blogs...
There are reassurances in what you wrote. ....First I can reassure you that you indeed have a talent for writing.(" Blessed is he who has an alternative profession"....old saying). Now if the federal government  fouls up the health care system of the country you can sit down and write best sellers.
Reassurance? Aye,Peter, when my Bertie (my wife of some 53 years ) died some years ago, I withdrew into the back of my cave in the Tully hills as a reclusive grumpy old man  who emerges only twice a day, mornings and afternoons, to throw rocks at the passing school buses.
I am soon to enter into my four score and seventh year with only vague memories of my days at the medical school. In fact, those days to me now are like a fleeting memory of a dream when one awakens . I need affirmation that they ever occurred. Your message  was such a affirmation and  reassurance.
Saint Paul in one of his letters mentions that no one man can be complete, but each of us has been given an individual talent. He writes of the gifts of prophesy ,healing, preaching, teaching, speaking in tongues,  and a couple  of others that I have forgotten. I found( to my surprise) that my teaching efforts were much more appreciated than I ever thought they deserved. Hell ,Pete, I thought I was just doing what I was assigned to do and it was nothing special. Like your writing....it just flowed out effortlessly one it got started.  Well, actually there was a lot of work put into the preparation of the teaching sessions  mainly because I wasn't all that damned sure of myself and so it will be with your writing.....lots of preparatory work will make the writing ,good to start with ,much better.
I keep remembering Housman's poem to a dead athlete.. especially the stanza  that goes....
"Now you will not swell the rout
of lads who lived their honors out;
runners whom Renoun outran
and the name died before the man."
Well, your message reassured me that there is a chance that my name may even yet out live me.......
NU....Peter....cherish your wife dearly, your time together is short....and thanks again for your cyber remembrance....
Love in God's name,    Bob Rohner

Dr. Rohner died last month, in his 92nd year. When I read the obituary in the Upstate Alumni Journal, I was so thankful I had taken the time to affirm and reassure a man that his life's labor had been appreciated so very much. I encourage you to do the same. I suspect there is someone in your life who 1) helped you in a tight spot, 2) gave you advice or guidance that moved your life in a better direction 3) went out of his or her way to improve your life in some way.

Take the time to acknowledge them; write a blog about the effect he or she has had on your life. I have written four such blogs, and I can assure you that each one was well worth the time I invested writing it. 

A blog I wrote about my pre-medical adviser--who had to give me some very tough advise--was especially gratifying for both of us, and many others as well. 
Look for the Silver Lining

The post I wrote about my father, the number one person in my life, both during his life and still after his death, brought him back to life for the several hours I wrote it, and every time I re-read it. Keep that in mind when you wonder why you are writing a post (or anything, that matter) it only needs to mean something to you, the rest is all a bonus.
A Father's Day Tribute to my Dad

There was also a post I wrote about my favorite professor from college, a man with whom I became good friends after I graduated.(And with whom I remain good friends, even after I wrote the post.)
A Tribute To Edward F Callahan, phD



Cheers, peter



Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.


:)  






Sunday, June 18, 2017

Writing Historical Fantasy Fiction: Resources and Tips for Writers

The key to crafting a captivating historical fantasy is to submerge the reader’s senses.

Writing contemporary fantasy is easier by comparison because, in some way or another, we are simply recording the details of the world around us while we weave our fantasy story. Likewise, pure fantasy worlds are realities we ourselves shape. We make the gods. We make the men. We make all the rules.

When writing historicals, however, we have a duty to capture the details and the experience accurately. How does a writer capture the essence of a past era, whether 100 years ago, 300 years ago, or even millennia?

The answer: research.

As daunting a task as you may think researching your time period might be, if you write historical fantasy, you’ve probably been doing it for a long time without even realizing it.

Here are some sources and references that will be useful to the historical writer.

HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: Yes, I will start by saying the vastest source of historical detail lies within history books. It’s absolutely true—but very daunting. Apart from earning your degree in history, what else can a writer do to get those necessary details?

FILM & SCREEN: This is avenue of research you’ve explored without really thinking about it. It may even be the reason why you’re interested in writing historical fantasy in the first place: you’ve visited a particular era and you want to go back and put your own spin on it. TV, movies, documentaries. If it’s on a screen, watch it. Get a feel for the way people move, their mannerisms, their speech. Beware, though—you cannot view one program and declare yourself a historian. You’ve got to watch a lot. Look for patterns—consistencies, oddities. Over time, you get a feel for what is perceived by most viewers as the norm. Anything outside it will be viewed either as uniquely difference or wildly inaccurate. Choose your path wisely.

TOURS: Visit the place where you’d like to set your story and seek out historical details yourself. Stop at a visitor’s bureau. Go on guided tours. If you cannot travel, take a virtual tour instead.

Those are what I consider the easy ways. Here are a few others I’ve learned from a wonderful author, Nomi Eve, the author of Henna House, a historical women’s fiction novel set in 1920s Yemen. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a writing conference and she gave amazing advice to authors on how to “breathe life into the past”.:

MISSIONARY & EXPLORER JOURNALS: These are first person accounts of strange lands and new places. Some were scientists, out to record every detail of a new land. Some were missionaries, eager to bring back the details of new cultures. You can collect their sensory experiences—taste, smell, sound, color—and wrap your readers in them.

COOKBOOKS: Did you just laugh at me? If you did, then stop, because one of my favorite cookbooks is one based on A Game Of Thrones. The feasts are massive, the food both eloquent and medieval. The cookbook puts me right back in the middle of George R. R. Martin’s world. My second favorite is a German cookbook that is perhaps fifty years old. I love it not only for the recipes but also the stories within, the introductions to each chapter, the side notes about preparation and serving. That cookbook transports me back into the kitchen of someone’s Bavarian great-grandmother and is a historical excursion all on its own.

Think on this a moment…how much of our lives are spend eating and drinking, alone or with others? Cookbooks will tell you not only how food tastes and looks, but how a house smells, how people prepared their meals. You know that one does not snap their fingers to have a feast appear. Work goes into food preparation, and life occurs while we do that work.

MUSEUM CATALOGS: Museums will publish and sell catalogs of their exhibits which you can purchase on-line or in museum gift stores. We can’t all travel to different continents to tour an exhibit, but we can buy the catalogs: they contain pictures of the items on exhibit, along with descriptions and explanations of their use. My favorite museum catalog is one I picked up after viewing a Leonardo DaVinci exhibit.

MUSIC & FOLKTALES: Both are wonderful sources of historical data. Lyrics are signs of the “current” times. Songs are part of a culture’s “oral tradition” and is accessible to all singers, all listeners. We even classify music by the era in which it was recorded. The language, the sentiments, and the “current events” used to write lyrics give great insight into the singer’s world at the time. The bardic tradition truly is alive and well today. Likewise, folktales are windows to the past. You can find folktale collections for sale anywhere you shop for books.

HISTORICAL SOCIETIES: The Internet makes contacting them easier than ever, and they are generally staffed by people who are passionate about the history they preserve. Nearly every town in my area has one. We have a rich coal mining history in my area and so our towns were established on the coal companies, the German and Welsh men who ran them and the Irish who worked them. Lots of history, both Old World and New, have been preserved by our local historians.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Crowdsource your contacts list. Ask questions on Facebook or Twitter. You may be surprised at who in your friends list knows the answer. Social media truly is a global community so you may find a lot of information about the world you are researching just by posting a question.

Five Tips To Improve Your Historical Fantasy Reader’s Experience
Some things to remember: when you set out to write a historical fantasy, remember that it’s a fantasy, first and foremost. You need to incorporate the proper types of plotting, characterization, and story elements necessary for the fantasy genre. The historical aspect should come secondary to the story—it anchors the story, it enhances the setting, it gives individualized details to your character, and it may cause you to alter story specifics to fit the era.

Historical aspects should submerge the readers in the experience so make sure you provide a sensory experience: sight, taste, smell, sounds, and touch.


  1. Capture your setting. Incorporate street names, landmarks.
  2. Pay mind to clothing worn at the time, especially if social classes had great disparity between them.
  3. Add a layer of language. Remember that speech varies among people based on social class and education, even personal experience. Do use slang and foreign words when appropriate. (I’m not a big fan of books written in dialect, though. I don’t want to have to sound a line out just because I didn’t know what to do with all the apostrophes and mysterious contractions.)
  4. Incorporate prevalent religious beliefs. Faith systems are very important because they may influence social behavior, mannerisms, and speech--everything from ethics to OMG.
  5. Make sure your fantasy fits the history, and vice versa. They should enhance each other, not make people wonder what the heck was that author thinking? 
The last one may be the most important tip of all. When I wrote The Heartbeat Thief, I chose to begin the story in the English Victorian era because of its societal views on death as well as a woman’s place in the world. The story itself is a vampire-type tale, where the Immortal steals heartbeats rather than drinking blood to survive. The character wanted to remain within society, not pursue a dark solitary life. A touch on another’s skin is intimate, perhaps to the point of scandalous—at least to a Victorian mind. It seemed like the fantastic elements were ideal for a Victorian setting.


Another reason why I chose that era if because the story is structured to follow Edgar Allan Poe’s story Masque of the Red Death. The first lines of the book mention the character was born the year it was published, each section is started with a relative quote from the story, and the main character’s journey through her mortal/immortal life take place in the same order as the seven apartments of Prospero’s palace. The last room is draped in the colors of black and blood and it is there that Death awaits. Once again, the fantasy and the history complement each other as perfectly as I could imagine.

Give Your Readers An Experience They’ll Never Forget
Ultimately, you want to write the story that takes a reader to a place in time and space that leaves them wondering…could this have actually happened? Historical details aren’t just decorations—they build an environment that readers can experience for themselves. You want them to journey back with you to live out that story, page by page.

And there is no greater reward than hearing a reader tell you that you got it right. This is a review  The Heartbeat Thief earned shortly after it was published.
"Krafton not only tells you a story, she makes you experience it with your senses. You can feel the fog moistening your skin as Senza wanders around London. You can smell the city's decay. You can hear the clatter of horses against the cobblestones. And your own heart will anguish along with Senza as she despairs about life--and death--in an era when a woman's beauty guaranteed her a well-matched marriage, even more than her wealth..." --Ronesa Aveela, author of the Mystical Emona series 
This review quote went a long way to validate the research I’d put into writing The Heartbeat Thief. It makes me feel proud of this book.

You should be proud of your book, also. Put serious work into researching your historical period. Don’t write your book as if it were a history lesson; write it as an amazing fantasy that dwells within the constraints of an interesting time period.

Historical details should infuse the setting and characters with the flavors unique to that place and that time. If you wrote your fantasy story a dozen different times in a dozen different historical settings, you should end up with a dozen separate, unique experiences.

Take your reader back to a time long gone by. Let the fantasy keep them there.




USA Today Best-Selling Author Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of two urban fantasy series (The Books of the Demimonde and The Demon Whisperer) as well as several stand-alone titles. She also writes for upper-YA audiences (formerly under the pen name AJ Krafton). THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fiction Writing: How To Include Pets, and Why You Should

Described by readers as Silence of the Lambs
meets The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Blessed Mayhem, Book 2, releases July, 2017 from
Crossroad Press.

Click Here to look inside Wings of Mayhem.
I love writing pets into my stories. Not only is a great way to show a killer’s soft side, but they become important family members for the main characters. In my stories, I’ve used a Rottweiler, mastiff, and St. Bernard (MARRED and CLEAVED), a calico, tabby, and all-black cat (Wings of Mayhem), pet crows (Blessed Mayhem), and a black bear (A Sultry Abyss in SCREAM). I’ve even borrowed a friend’s Bulldog for Black Out (RUN), but I felt so responsible for him, I couldn’t include him like I’d originally planned. God forbid I returned him emotionally scarred from the experience. It’s much safer to use fictional pets.

Need a way to show your character’s quirky side? Include a bearded dragon, snapping turtle, boa, tarantula, or exotic bird.

Is your character adventurous? Give him a pet moose, lion, leopard, or tiger to love. How ‘bout a pet elephant? When writing about pets let your imagination soar.

Fit the pet to a specific character to cue readers about their personality. By using well-thought-out animals, it can say a lot about who the main players are, where they live, or even, their state of mind. It’s also fun to juxtapose. Give a tattooed biker a Chihuahua or toy poodle. Readers will love it!

A few things to keep in mind when writing pets into fiction...

If you kill the pet, you better have a damn good reason for it, a reason readers will understand.

For example, Bob and I watched John Wick recently. [SPOILER ALERT] I fell in love with the Beagle puppy that his dead wife sent him. When the bad guys murdered him I almost shut off the movie. If my husband hadn’t begged me to keep watching, that would’ve been it for me. Turns out, this moment kicked off the quest (First Plot Point in story structure). Not only is it an important scene, but if it didn’t happen there’d be no story. See? Understandable reason why he had to die. John Wick would not have gone ballistic over a stolen car. The puppy was the only thing left he cared about. It had to happen.

The safer option is to not kill the pets. 

Why Does the Character Have That Specific Pet?

Like I mentioned earlier, you need to know why the character chose that pet. Is he lonely? Does a couple use their pets to fill a maternal/paternal need? Are you using that pet as a way to show the character’s soft side? Does the pet become the only one who'll listen to their fears, sorrow, or hidden secrets? In other words, for an introverted character, pets can assume a larger role in the story so your character isn't talking to him/herself.

As the writer, you need to know why that dog, cat, bird, lizard, or bear is in the story and what role they play in the plot. Does a K9 cop track criminals? Did your criminal character train a horse to be the getaway driver? Does the killer feed his pet hogs or gators human flesh? Why that fictional pet exists is crucial to understand.

What’s the Pet’s Personality?

Catch up with the Grafton County Series.
MARRED is Book 1

Click Here to look inside.
Animal lovers know each pet has his/her own personality. If you’ve never owned the pets you’re writing about, then I suggest doing a ton of research till you feel like you have. For example, while writing Blessed Mayhem I needed to know how crows communicated and how people could interpret their calls. What separated a crow from a raven, what they felt like, what they smelled like, what foods they enjoyed most. In order to make the characters real I spent countless hours of research into the life of crows. They’re fascinating, by the way. I'm now working to coax a pet crow of my own. Story for another time. 😁

What Does the Pet Look Like and How Does S/he Act?

First, you’ve got to know the basics…their markings, voice, breed, habitat, diet, etc. Then delve deeper into the expressions they make when they’re happy, content, sleeping, aggravated, and downright pissed off. Every animal has their own unique personality, mannerisms, and traits. Stimulate the readers’ five senses. Don’t just concentrate on sight. By tapping into these deeper areas, our fictional pets come alive on the page. It can really add a great deal to a story, too. A scene where the hero or villain cuddles with a pet can add a nice break from the tension, a chance to give the reader a moment to catch their breath before plunging them back into terror.

Plus, they’re fun to write.

Does the Basset Hound snore so loudly he keeps the rest of the family awake? Is he now banished to the garage at night? Does the German Shepherd's feet twitch when he's dreaming? Does the Bulldog throw his owner the stink-eye when he can't reach his favorite toy? 

Dogs do more than bark. Use their full range of grunts, moans, groans, happy chirps, and playful growls when your character plays tug-of-war. For cats, nothing is more soothing than a purr rattling in their throat as your character drifts asleep. Soft claws are perfect to massage the hero's back after a brutal day.

Years ago, I had a pet turkey who used to love to slide his beak down each strand of my hair. This was one of the ways Lou showed affection. I'd sit in a lounge chair with a second lounge chair behind me, and Lou would work his magic till I became putty in his beak. He knew it too. After all that hard work, I couldn't deny him his favorite treats.

Symbolism and Locale

Need an already-creepy area to become even more menacing? Have vultures, eagles, ravens, or other carrion birds circle overhead. Use coyotes’ eerie chorus of howls. A lone wolf baying at the moon might be a bit cliche. Try to be more unique with your animals. The woods are filled with animal sounds.

A few favorite background noises and wildlife sounds...

Crickets and tree frogs symbolize a desolate country milieu or swampland.



Dead silence works well too, but sometimes you need that extra oomph to evoke the correct emotional response. Anyone who’s ever spent time outside, in the dark, with only wildlife around for miles, can tell you their calls have a way of raising all your tiny body hairs at once.

Ever hear a Fisher cat? Their cries sound like a baby being slaughtered. This the best YouTube video I could find, but around here they're even more sinister. When a Fisher cat screams it's a tough sound to ignore.



If your character is camping or lost in the woods, ground the reader with the songs of nature and a crackling fire.



Near a lake? Use water lapping against the shore.



Listening to nature and animal sounds can also be a great way to trigger the muse.

Consistency

If your characters are snuggling with a pet in the first few chapters, then you must include them in later scenes too. Otherwise, the home environment won’t ring true. Where’d the dog go? He was in Chapter Three and now, he’s gone. What happened to him? Animal lovers will notice his/her absence.

If your villain is killed and you’ve gone to great lengths to show how much he loves his dogs, then make sure the reader knows what’ll happen to those dogs after his death. Did your hero just orphan them? Or did the villain write them into his will? Maybe he or she has a family member that will care for the dogs. The tiny details matter. Think of it in terms of yourself. If you own an African Gray, then chances are s/he will outlive you. What provisions have you set in place for his/her care after you’re gone? Same goes for fictional pets.

Aging Pets

Everyone ages, even fictional pets. Sometimes the years aren't kind. Does your dog character limp from arthritis? Then you can't let him charge out the door with a spring in his step. He needs to lumber into a room. He's slower than your younger animal characters. His muzzle now has gray. Around the eyes are graying too. Maybe he takes medication for achy joints. By including the aging process readers can relate. We've all had older pets, and it broke our hearts to see them age. Unfortunately, your fictional pet needs to age too. We can prolong this process, but we need to at least show them slowing down. By doing so, we can also show the emotional angst it causes our character to see them this way.

The Day-to-Day

Does your fictional dog have a favorite squeaky toy? Does your cat like to get high on catnip? Maybe s/he knows where your character stashes the bag, and every time they leave the house the cat gets wasted. Maybe your character goes to the local butcher every Saturday to buy the family dog a bone. If your fictional dog is panting in the summer heat, please give him a bowl of water to cool off. Whatever you do, don't lock him inside a car in ninety-degree heat.

Ever see a dog drunk on apples? It's hilarious! Let your fictional dog eat fallen apples, then show him stumbling back to the house. How about peanut butter? Peanut butter and animals can be a winning combination. Does your fictional cat walk on the counters? Does your fictional dog beg for food at the dinner table? On the sly do your children characters slip bacon to him? How 'bout cauliflower, and even the dog spits it out. You get the picture.

Have fun with your fictional pets. I do. They're some of my favorite characters to write.

Check out how I used pets in CLEAVED
Book 2 in the Grafton County Series.

Plus, why I climbed inside an oil drum for research.

Click Here to look inside.


What about you? Do you enjoy reading about fictional pets? If you write, do you include pets in your stories?

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. 

In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue co-hosts "Partners In Crime" on Writestream Radio Network. She's also the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter. 

Sue lives in rural New Hampshire where she's surrounded by wildlife...bear, moose, deer, even mountain lions have been spotted. Course, Sue would love to snuggle with the animals, but her husband frowns on the idea.

Enter the Summer Thrills and Chills Giveaway for a chance to win a $25 gift card and six e-books from participating authors.

Connect with Sue online, or join her mailing list and be the first to know about contests and giveaways. As a bonus, you'll also get to play in the Crime Lover's Lounge. Your secret key code will unlock the virtual door.

Twitter: @SueColetta1

Friday, May 12, 2017

Time Management


Once upon a time, I had 10, 12, even 13 hour writing days. This was not my atypical schedule, I'm not that ferocious, but it certainly happened...especially during deadlines. The only things to ever interfere with my writing day back then, were walking and spending quality time with the dog, getting more coffee, and bathroom breaks, a side effect from all the coffee. Looking back at my old self now, I see how spoiled with time I was. I was SO damn time-spoiled that I sometimes wrote a scene, then rewrote it twice, then rewrote it back to its original state. This was before I started saving my deleted scenes in a separate folder, and clearly I didn't need to; I had time coming out the ying-yang. I was Joffrey, sitting on my iron throne of time. I was Scrooge Mcduck, doing back strokes in my pool of spare minutes. DuckTales, anyone? I was that dude at the strip club, swiping 20 dollar time-bills out of my hand like they were nothing.

Fast forward a few years and add a baby, a strict schedule, and general life that you a) didn't care about when you're 22. Or b) opted out of because the time-fairy would soon return with a fresh bag of more time, just for you. Back in the day, I made a conscious decisions to not have a life outside of writing. If I had the option to hangout at the pool with friends, or write, I chose writing every time. Now that I have a child and have to lead by example, I can't do that anymore...unless, of course I want to raise an asocial recluse with agoraphobia.

So, here we are...time management.

There are 24 hours in a day and my baby naps about 2-3 hours if I'm lucky, spread out through the day. That's what I have. So, what do you do when your writing day is cut from 8-13 hours and down to 2-3?

One: Acceptance.

You cry a little, because you realize life is now different and there's nothing you can do but accept it.

Two: It's not how much time you have, it's how you use it.

The time you don't spend writing--e.g. changing diapers, doing spread sheets, going, Hi! Hello! Bye-Bye! Toodeloo! If you're a Walmart greeter--spend it thinking, plotting, and planning out your scenes. I've always been a big plotter, but I've generally let the scenes write themselves, only knowing the scene's opener, closer, and the plot point. I always liked the surprise of not knowing every event of every story-line before it was written. Sure, it took a few passes to get it right at times, but it was worth it for the chance to strike gold.

Well, luxuries like that are for people who bathe in time, which, again, I no longer do.
Also, because I know I'll have less time for rewrites later, I now need to feel sure about the direction of the scene before I start it.

Three: What can go?

Dinner? In order to live one supposedly needs to eat, so probably not.

Sleep? I can hear other parents laughing at this, because, well...it's not like there's much to begin with. But see if you can make it on one less hour of sleep 1-3 days a week, not 5-7. Whether you're a parent, a worker, or like most, both, set the alarm an hour early, or go to bed an hour later. It's amazing how much you can write in 60 minutes.

TV/Reading time? Most of us need to unwind, and it usually involves a TV. Since I love shows, movies, books, hell, I'd take story in pill form it they had it, I don't want to give up all my TV/Reading time, if I even get any. I am, however, willing to cut it down by a half hour to get some extra writing time.

Favorite pastimes?
My favorite thing to do now days is hangout with my daughter. Since she happens to be the cutest baby in the world, it's not something I'm willing to give up. Just yesterday she laughed at her own foot for fifteen minutes, and if that's not worth watching, I don't know what is. It falls under the Life category and it is, as the scientists put it, real friggin' important to body and mind. Writing makes your life better, and life makes your writing better. It's about balance.

Social Media Time?
Sorry, it has to go. Unless you're doing promos or work, cut it down. If you have time to scroll the newsfeed for 30 minutes, you have time to write. FYI: I took me three days to complete this post. Why? Because in times like these, that may or may not go down in my personal history as the Great Time Famine, I chose to write instead of write about writing. Make sense?

That's all I got. It's not much, but every minutes counts. Even if you only have one hour a week to write, and it takes you three years to finish a project, by the end of those three years, you'll actually HAVE a completed book. Yay! Meanwhile, if you instead spend those same three year saying "I don't have time to write." you'll have absolutely nothing. Boo!

As my favorite greeter once said: Thanks for shopping a Walmart. And, Toodeloo!


Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series.  Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.
authormiathompson.com


Monday, May 8, 2017

Marketing Tips From A Newly Published Author


Launching my first book was a time of excitement, anxiety, awe and of humbleness for me. At last one of my big dreams was coming true. I spent a lot of years saying I wrote because I loved to write. That publication wasn't important to me. But I was only fooling myself.  Most of us write because we want to be heard. Without readers, we remain mute. 

As of this today, the novel has 90 reviews on Amazon and 70 plus on Goodreads. They average about 4.5 stars. With a lot of work to get the word out, A Bend In The Willow was selected as one of Amazon's Hot New Releases and climbed to #4. 
A friend suggested I talk about the process of getting to this place--that it might be of interest to other writers.  This is what I've learned:

1. Write the very best book you can possibly write. Don't think you're finished because you've come to the end. Edit. Rewrite. Edit and rewrite some more until you've done all you can.

2. If you are self publishing, hire a good editor. Take her suggestions unless you have a very good reason not to. 


3.  Get someone who is good with grammar to proofread the book.

4. Have a great cover design. I was very fortunate that Tirgearr assigned me an editor, had the book proofread and designed a fantastic cover. If you are self-publishing, you need to take the same steps.

5. About six weeks before the book is to launch, start soliciting reviews. Some publishers will do this for you. Most will not. I went through Amazon's Top 10,000 reviewers and pulled out the ones who reviewed books similar to mine and who'd left an e-mail. There are websites you can join that will do the scanning for you and provide you with a list of e-mail addresses.

6. I wrote query letters to each one--giving them a brief summary of the book along with the cover art. I was polite. I told them how much it would mean to me if they'd review the book. But even if they didn't want to, I appreciated the time they'd taken to read the query.

7. When I heard back, I sent their requested format. Since Tirgearr publishes first in e-book, I had mobi (for Kindle) e-pub (for Nook and other e-readers) and PDF.  Be polite. They are doing you a favor. I sent out twice as many ARC's (advanced reader copies) than I have, so far, received reviews--but 50% is a good turnout.

8. When they wrote back with their reviews, I thanked them profusely and asked them to post the review on Goodreads (they allow reviews on books that have not yet been launched)  On launch day, I already had 35 or so reviews on Goodreads. I also asked if they would like to be on my list of reviewers for my next book, Redemption Lake, which will launch in May. All of them said, "yes".  This is important because it will decrease your work load when your second novel is released.

9. The morning of book launch, I sent an e-mail to everyone who'd requested the book, reminding them that they could post their reviews on Amazon. I told them not to worry if they hadn't read the book yet, I'd greatly appreciate their review whenever they had time to do it.  Again, be nice. 


10. About a month before launch, I set up promotions for that week. Places like: Book Lovers Heaven, Book Goodies, The Fussy Librarian, My Book Place, Ebook Soda, Read Cheaply, Free Kindle Books and Tips.  EReader News Today (ENT) is one of the better sights but requires reviews. As soon as I had some reviews in place, I contacted them.  According to my publisher, 162 ENT readers bought the book. Well worth the investment of $50.00

11. You might want to start out with a low price. Tirgearr started A Bend In The Willow at .99. The price went up $4.99 after the launch.  Readers are more likely to take a chance on a new writer with a low price. And for the first book, you want to get your name out there. You may not make a lot of money, but you are getting name recognition and fans who will want to read your next book.

12. Don't be afraid to ask other writers who have been through this process (either self publishing or with a small press) for help. I would have been lost without my very generous writer friends. Most writers like to help and share what they've learned.

I hope you found this advice helpful. I'm flying by the seat of my pants a lot of the time, too. It's a learning curve. But, thanks to some hard work, 
 A Bend In The Willow got off to a great start and was actually one of Amazon's Top 100 Hot New Releases.  


Now, comes the maintenance phase for A Bend In The Willow. 
Picture
Available on Amazon

My second novel, Redemption Lake, will be released on May 17th.  It is available for presale for only .99. The price will go up to $5.99 on May 22. I'm hoping I've learned enough with A Bend In The Willow to successfully launch another book. It isn't as hard as you think it will be. I promise. 



Available on Amazon

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book or Movie; A Very Private Gentleman vs. The American


Like so many others, I entered the theater showing The American with a large drink, enough popcorn for a family of eight, and expectations I was about to see a film along the lines of a Jason Bourne action-thriller. And therein was the basis of my initial disappointment (yes, the popcorn was too salty, but I was expecting that.) What I wasn't expecting was the paucity of action and thrills, which after all, are the main stays of an action-thriller. And, because I was always waiting for the action and thrills to begin I glossed over the first half of a genuine film, a true adaption of the book from which it was engendered. Keep in mind I hadn't read the book yet (it would be almost seven years before I would get around to that) and the trailers for the movie all promised George Clooney was just subbing in for Matt Damon or Tom Cruise.

But The American is not anything of that sort; it is a much, much better film; I can say that because I watched it a second time and it mesmerized me from the get-go with its Eurocinematography, patience, and restraint. The American is a subtle movie, featuring one of George Clooney's best acting performances. If you haven't seen it; put it on the top of your list. Watch it in the evening with a nice glass of Orvietto, or in the late afternoon with an espresso; you'll see what I mean. In addition to Clooney, Violante Placidio plays Clara with a wonderfully subdued sensuality, and Paolo Bonacelli shines as the priest who befriends the mysterious visitor to his parish.


As good as The American is, though, A Very Private Gentleman still takes top honors. I have never read anything quite like this book, although I should like to and I am open to suggestions (you can leave those in the comments section if you want to, or e-mail me at the address below.) The prose is picturesque (kudos to Clooney the director of The American for camera work that mirrors the prose) the characters--especially the main character--are complex and unique, and the setting is so well done you are sure you've been to this section of Italy before. And while the story is not the strength of the book, it moves along at just the right pace, a pace that lingers and meanders in the right spots, like an old churchyard in a secluded mountain valley or the dimly lit corner of a bar that lets off from a narrow alley.

Good fiction transports the reader; it you want to go to the Italian Alps but can't find the time, here's the link to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I also like to include several other opinions; here's Roger Ebert's review of the movie and Publisher's Weekly review of the book.

Now, as to why it took me almost seven years to get to reading the book... well, I guess I don't have a good answer to that.

Cheers, peter


Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.


:)  





Saturday, March 18, 2017

The List

Rewriting is super easy...
said no writer EVER.

The first time I realized the importance of rewriting and notes, I was nineteen and in school for screenwriting. It was my favorite teacher who said the phrase I'd never forget: "writing is rewriting."

The term first draft meant nothing to me back then as I only did one pass before moving onto the next project. I immediately took the wisdom to heart, and the words became a mantra over the years. But just because I understood "writing is rewriting" didn't mean I automatically knew how to execute it.

During the second semester, we had a class dedicated to the subject, and were tasked with rewriting one of our scripts. With my new mantra in mind, I set out to dedicate myself to the rewrite. We had nine people in our class and everyone gave notes on every script. So that was eight people, eight different opinions, with about two-three notes each, bringing the total in somewhere between 16-24. So, what did I do? Eager and inexperienced, I implemented them all. The result, a 200 plus page script (your average movie is about 110) full of nonsense. If the script was a plate of food, it would've been spaghetti with ice cream and relish smothered turducken. Yummy. No?

After I submitted my script and realized my mistake, I vowed I would find a system that worked for me. In the end, and after years of writing, it came down to three ridiculously simple steps.

1. Receiving the Notes


There's a moment when you initially receive the feedback that your gut let's you know if a note feels right or wrong. Go with it. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
That said, don't confuse your hurt ego with your gut. Gut in writing, I feel, is just your subconscious story-logic, while the hurt ego manifests itself through anger or in unjustified refusal. Remember that there's a reason your reader feels the way they do.

If you're dealing with a inexperienced reader, I.e. not your agent, editor, or fellow writer, learn to decipher their message. Let's imagine your gum-chewing friend Lucy says, "I
would totally love it if the guy she likes was named Edward instead... and if he was a vampire."

Your initial thought is probably: Lucy, you suck.

But what Lucy said may actually have meant: "I didn't relate to the MC's love interest."

Voila. A note you can work with.

2.  Making the List


'Twas a very average and unspecial day, when I realized I was rewriting in a very hap hazardous, cluster f**k-y way. I'd start at the beginning and work my way through the notes as they came up. If your notes affect nothing but the page you're touching, this system works great. By the time you reach the end, pop the champagne, you're done. However, more often then not, one change sends a ripple effect through the manuscript. So, about 35, 000 K in you're not only dealing with the change coming up on the next pages, but you're simultaneously dealing with all the ripples from previous changes. The result isn't only a cluster f**k, but also something that overwhelms you and makes you feel like you'd rather stick something sharp in the eye than deal with it.

The day I wrote a precise list of changes, along with their ripples, and went through them note by note, my rewriting process from I hate my life to, Meh, this is not so bad. The simple action of numbering the notes, then crossing them off as they were implemented, made the process  ridiculously manageable. I, personally, don't even take them down in order; I just like number them so I can say: "Only number 6 and 9 left. Saucey."

This way, if you're having a particularly draining day (like the time I woke up to a teething baby, a dog with diarrhea, no toner, and a low-on-battery smoke detector going beep.....beep.....beep until I banged it loose with my Swifter) you might want to go with an easier note. If you wake up to the smell of coffee, yawning like a Disney princess, and birds tweeting on your window sill, it might be a good day to reel in that big sucker you've been dreading.

3. The Read


I didn't start doing this until my books came out on audio and I had a listen. Though Elizabeth Norton, who narrates the series, does an amazing job bringing the characters to life, all I could hear when listening were unnecessary words and repetitive sentences. So I started The Read.

No, I don't mean read your manuscript. I know you have, one million times. However, squinting at you computer's bright screen, while you read and fix, fix and read, isn't reading. Print your manuscript, once your think it's ready for the next set of eyes, then get cozy and read it, not like an author, but like a reader. I'll even read it out loud to myself, just to catch odd story
movements, certain adverbs, and other unnecessary words. This part of the process might be my favorite as it involves me, a couch, and a variety of snacks. It's my license to be lazy.






Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series.  Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.
authormiathompson.com

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

CONAKRY BUSINESS TIPS 101

by

Arthur Kerns

This is an excerpt from my West African travel journal, early June 2000.

June in the West African country of Guinea means rain, especially along the coast. The rain comes like a wall of water, with wind and black clouds that horizontally bend palm trees and snap the hardwoods. These storms are sudden, cling to the ground, and last longer than storms I’ve experienced in the United States. The streets flood and anyone not in a high riding four-wheel drive is at risk. It’s best to stay put and sit out the gale. Unfortunately, this may take a whole day. However, that doesn’t really matter; there’s not much to do here, even on a nice day.
I’m staying at the Hotel Camayenne in the capital city of Conakry. I asked a number of people, Americans and locals, what Camayenne means. I receive mixtures of puzzlement: why would I ask such a question, gee I would not have ever thought of asking that, but I’ll ask around and get back to you with the answer. Since Sabena Air owns the hotel, my Guinean friend suggested that it was the name of the corporate director’s wife. Later, I learned that it is name of the peninsula where we’re located.
The hotel is an island of civilization, very small, very vulnerable. Outside is the real Guinea. Across the street impoverished tradesmen, refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia meander back and forth; hawking singsong fashion tribal masks, statues, and assorted gewgaws. There is an especially decrepit three-story apartment house across from the hotel that I must get a picture of. It encapsulates the town’s atmosphere: mold on the unpainted façade, rusty railings, clothes hanging from broken windows, trash all about the balconies and grounds.



Last night, after a rain, my Guinean friend and I were smoking cigars by the hotel pool overlooking the steel gray ocean. The tide was high and there was a full pale lifeless moon. A moist salty breeze came in from the sea.
A young, thin man approached our table and I assumed he was taking drink orders. He wasn’t. He was a merchant, a trader in tribal masks, a refugee from Sierra Leone, who had conducted business with my friend a few days before. He had a mask in a bag that he selling; the same mask he tried to sell the day before to my friend, unsuccessfully. He was making another pitch in his Leonean English, not Guinean French.

My friend told him, no, he was still not going to purchase the mask. It was too large. It would not fit on his wall with the other masks. It was too expensive. He had inquired of other Sierra Leoneans, creoles, who knew masks who said that the price was too expensive for the quality. The young man countered, but it was his only mask, the only one in his personal inventory. He worked at a stall across from the hotel. This was to be a private deal, between the two of them. 
He continued, “It’s a good price.” He looked into the bag. I could not see the mask. My friend said, “It’s not a good price. It’s not a good quality mask. I don’t want it.”
The young man stared. “You will not give me the money?”
My friend shook his head. “No. We’re talking business now. You do not have a good mask.”

The young man was a soft-spoken fellow, with fine facial features. He had the sad eyes of a recent refugee from a bad place. “Why do you not give me the money,” he asked again. He was barely audible.

My friend sighed, and then proceeded to give him some business advice. The mask is not thin enough. The wood must be thin for a mask to be of value. The wood must be hard, hard wood that was dry before carving. The young man reached into the black bag and felt the unseen mask. He stared at a space in the air between my friend and me. 
“Do you remember the other day, when I was looking at your masks? I was feeling them. Running my hands, my fingers along the sides, feeling the carves, how deep they were, if the carved lines ended into points. None of the masks I felt were of good quality. I know good quality Sierra Leonean masks. I lived in Sierra Leone. I know. Your mask there,” he pointed to the bag, “is of lower quality.” 

The young man squirmed in the chair and spoke quickly and quietly, “This is a good quality.” 
“No, it’s not.”

A long pause. My cigar was good and burning even and cool. The damp breeze, now with the fetid smell of the tropics, made my shirt limp.

“Look,” my friend said. “You want to make a lot of money on this one mask. You want to sell it for 100K guineas, when it is worth only 25, maybe 30. It cost you how much?” 

No answer, except for some shoulder and arm movements. 

“It cost you 10K, right?” 

A big smile, “No. No.” 

“10K or maybe 15K guineas,” my friend continued. “So make a profit of 10K for this one, the sell five more masks, at this good price to the tourists. Sell more at less profit. That adds up. Don’t wait for one big sale that may never come. Sell a lot for a little profit for each one.” 

A long silence. He was staring in the air again. “You will give me the money, yes?” 

“No. I told you, I’m not giving you any money. This is business.”

As my cigar burned down, the exchange continued. The same words, the same business lesson offered, the same resistance. I never saw the mask that was never sold.



We were joined, uninvited, by the young man’s boss, the proprietor of the stall across the street. The new guy had energy, while the young man just sank back into his chair, holding the bag with the mask nobody wanted at any price.

The new guy starts with the buzzwords. “Knowledge is power. Power is life.” 

My friend knew him from the day before. “We’re talking business,” he says, then goes on to repeat the same theme given to the young man, who I doubt wanted to hear it again. After a few minutes, the new guy says, “You are a philosopher.” 

My friend says, “No, I talk business.” He then shifts the topic. “What are you wearing,” he asks the new guy. “Around your neck?” 

It is a large tooth-like brass pendant hanging from his neck on a brown leather string. The new guy says something about it being a totem from his village. My friend says, “Make those things, about five of them, to sell at about 10K a piece. Those Sabena airline flight attendants over there will buy them just like that.” He snaps his finger.

The new guy is speechless, and then mutters, “10K? We sell good masks for 100K.” 

“No,” my friend says, “You try to sell masks at 100K. You can sell many of those pendants to women and make a little on each one and make more money. Build a business.”

The new guy doesn’t like the drift of this conversation and heads back to pitching the masks. My friend, however, is unmovable. My cigar has gone out and I feel raindrops. It’s time to retire for the evening. My headache has come either from the malaria medicine or the conversation. I say goodnight to the three men, none who notice I’m leaving, and pass by the blonde Sabena hostesses. Those pendants would look good on them.
Back in my room with the screeching air-conditioner going full blast, I review the day’s events. Think I’ll leave out Guinean business practices in my daily report to Washington.


Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thrillers, The Riviera Contract, The African Contract and The Yemen Contract.
See more in author’s website, www.arthurkerns.com