Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Christmas Spirit and Silence is Concurrence now available!

What a great week!
Both my holiday historical mystery novella, Christmas Spirit, and my short, short ghost story, Silence is Concurrence, have gone live on Amazon! I'm very excitied (as I'm sure you can guess).

That clears the ground for me to concentrate on writing Hidden Aspects, a new historical mystery featuring Prudence Barnard and Knighton Gaunt, the two main characters from The Vital Principle. I plan on torturing myself during November by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to attempt to get the first very rough draft of Hidden Aspects done.

As I go slowly go insane, I'll be blogging about my NaNoWriMo adventures during the month. Wish me luck--I really want to get close to finishing the rough draft if at all possible.

Once I get the rough draft done, I'll put it aside to concentrate on getting the editing done for Escaping Notice, the final (at least for now) book in the Archer family series. Escaping Notice will feature Helen Archer, the younger sister of Oriana Archer who you met in The Necklace. With luck and the help of my editor, we're hoping to get Escaping Notice out early in 2012.

Whew. My head is spinning.

Here is a bit about my two newest releases.

A Regency mystery novella

A blizzard envelopes the English countryside five days before Christmas, stranding Eve Tomlin and her mother when their carriage shatters a wheel. The women struggle through the snow, forced onward by a wraith-like figure gliding through the trees. Exhausted, they find an apparently abandoned house and stumble inside. They are confronted by Giles Danby, a guest at Folkestone Manor. Danby ruthlessly tells the women they must go.

Their host has just been murdered. A killer is on the loose.

Or a vengeful specter, if they believe Danby’s father. A specter Eve may have glimpsed in the woods.

Desperate to solve the mystery and remain alive, they can only hope the Christmas Spirit isn’t searching for another victim.

Silence is Concurrence
A Southern ghost short story

Collecting material for a book of ghost stories, Kate travels to North Carolina's beautiful Outer Banks to collect an eyewitness account of a haunting. She has a few difficulties finding the house, but eventually she meets Mrs. Corley and hars her story.

Although she doesn't realize it, Kate may find more material than she knows what to do with.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coming Soon - Preparing for a New Book Release

Pre-Release Checklist

Ever wonder what an author is doing the last few weeks before his or her book is released? Think she’s just sitting around with a smile on her face, eating chocolate-covered strawberries and waiting for the accolades to roll in?

If it were only that easy.

So what really does go on behind all the lights and glamor? (Oh, if only there really were lights and glamor…)

Technically, the author has been working his or her tail off not just for weeks, but for months before the book comes out. She needs to get ARCs (advanced reader copies) out to reviewers in hopes of getting folks to start talking about the book before it hits the street. These days, a lot of readers rely on not just the book’s back cover blurb, but also reviews. I know I use reviews to figure out if there are elements in the book that either appeal to me or don’t appeal to me before I purchase it. I find the one-star reviews the most helpful in figuring out if there’s some element I’m not going to like. I don’t care about the number of stars, per se, but I do care about certain gruesome or horrific elements (or erotic) that don’t appeal to me.

Blurbs and Taglines
Some publishers are kind enough to have some poor editor create the snazzy, tantalizing blurb you find on the back of the book. Others leave it up to the author. So if it’s in the author’s hands, she must to write something that is going to make readers buy her book. The blurb is generally just a paragraph or two, about one hundred words long. Most of the time, it presents the central conflict, e.g. Jane finds a dead body, is discovered standing over it, and is arrested as the prime suspect.

The blurb is sent to the publisher (for the back cover) and used by the author on her website and for any promotional/marketing activities.

In addition to the back cover blurb, the author needs to come up with a sentence, i.e. tagline, that encapsulates the brilliant premise of the book. Jane must find the real murderer before he finds her! Jane sees dead people! Whatever. It sounds really easy, but trust me, it’s not. This tagline (plus the blurb) has to be so enticing that readers are hooked.

The Final Few Weeks
Right before the book is released, there is a flurry of activities.
  • Updates to the author’s website 
  • The new release should be listed (coming soon!) on the main web page, with a link to the book’s web page 
  • A web page should exist for the book with the following information:
  • Cover image & publishing information (e.g. release date)
  • Back cover blurb and tagline
  • Purchase links which the author will activate when the book becomes available for purchase
  • An excerpt (optional)
  • Links to any reviews (from the ARCs the author sent out)
  • Tweet, blog, and otherwise socialize—the book is coming soon!
  • Figure out a marketing plan including any contests, e.g. GoodReads, from your website, Facebook, etc.
  • Line up blogs with other bloggers to spread the news – but just schedule blogs for now. Don’t actually start blogging too heavily until the book is out and has a purchase link, otherwise “I want it now!” readers will forget all about it by the time the book is released. 
Timing is everything. In this digital world, there is an expectation that there should be a “buy now!” link on any blog or other social media note about a book. This can actually be the hardest part: holding back until the book is “live” and folks can actually buy it!

I know I can’t wait to start talking about Christmas Spirit which will be out in November. There’s no buy link, but it is coming soon to an eReader near you!


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Harvest Time

It's Peanut Harvest Time!
That's right, if you live in North Carolina, it's time to get at harvesting those peanuts. We live surrounded by fields and the last few days, the farmers have been busy, busy, busy. Used to be that those fields were used for tobacco, alternating with corn and cotton with the occasional soybean crop to keep things interesting. Now, it's corn, cotton, soybean and peanuts.

The corn crop went to heck this year because of the drought, so those fields were pretty much a waste. But at least the guy who farms around us has a pretty good crop of peanuts. I've already seen one truckload delivered to the peanut factory down the road. (Their warehouse burned down a couple of years ago, so they have to store the peanuts in some old warehouses previously used for tobacco, but it seems ot be working out for them.)

For those who have never seen what this process looks like, here are a few pictures. Basically, the farmer turns up the soil around the peanut plants to expose the roots where the peanuts are growing. Then, once that's all done and they dry out a bit, he comes back to harvest the peanuts, which are really not nuts at all, but a member of the legume family, like soybeans.

Once they're harvested, they fill up dump trucks with the peanuts and drive them off down the road to be roasted and processed at the local peanut factory. There's even a store, Houston's, in Dublin where they sell various peanut products ranging from your traditional peanuts-in-the-shell to peanut brittle. Sadly, I developed a late-life allergy to peanuts so I have to forgo all this goodness. :( But my husband still enjoys them.

Halloween Is Near!
And of course as if you didn't already know that I'm a complete nut, I've been working on our Halloween family. They're all duded up for the holiday and once October is over, I'll be getting them ready for the next round of holidays, as well. Our UPS delivery person gets a big kick out of these and takes pictures as I change their clothes appropriately for the season, so I guess I'm not the only nutter around.

It takes so little to make me happy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Professionalism and Jon Cryer

I don’t know Jon Cryer and know nothing about his personal life, and I generally avoid all the “scandal rags,” celebrity gossip, etc, like the plague. But during the meltdown of Charlie Sheen and its impact on “Two and a Half Men,” you couldn’t really avoid hearing about it, even on the radio.

As a society, we’ve come to accept and even expect immature behavior. Tantrums pass for “speaking your mind,” and whining and back-biting is the norm. It’s always made me very, very sad that our desire to be young forever has led us to embrace the childish, rather than adult and professional behaviors. In fact, I often wonder if anyone knows what it means to “be a professional” and act thoughtfully and rationally, anymore. To my delight, however, it appears that some folks still value the traits we used to associate with being an adult.

Now, most of the time, when someone in the Hollywood gang breaks down, you get one of two reactions from his/her associates: nothing (as in “No comment”); or a scathing retort wrapped in a whine. Perhaps even hysteria accompanied with a good bout of crying. But not with Cryer.

I’ve always thought Cryer was a good actor. To a large degree, he quietly carried “Two and a Half Men.” But he never really came to my attention as a true professional until this Sheen drama unfolded. Two things really stood out. He didn’t do the “no comment” thing, but he also didn’t whine or speak badly about Sheen.

He behaved with quiet, amused dignity. I wish some of our politicians would behave as well as Cryer in the face of a public scandal or disaster. In fact, Cryer behaved exactly the way I wanted my character, Prudence Barnard, to behave in “The Vital Principle”. She didn’t go to pieces, weep or lash out when she was accused of murder. She behaved with dignity and met the challenge to prove her innocence. I wanted her to have the traits I’ve always admired most in adults: a sense of humor, kindness towards others, and a sense of professionalism. She’s not perfect, but she’s not a childish mess, either.

Cryer’s professionalism first “hit me over the head” when a morning radio program played a snippet from an interview with him. I don’t have the specifics and my memory is so bad I’ll probably get most of it wrong, but it does show how a professional handles a frankly terrible situation.

“He called you a troll, how do you feel about that?” the interviewer asked, obviously trying to spark a ratings-booster outburst of some sort from Cryer.

Cryer said, “Well, I haven’t wanted to admit this…” (And I thought, NO! Don’t sink to his level! Don’t do it…) “But I am a troll.”

He then went on to do an incredibly funny bit about how he’d tried to hide the fact that he was a troll for years, etc. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard and an absolutely brilliant way to handle this. Instead of talking trash about Sheen or treating us to a fit of hysterical tears or anger, he simply made a joke. And the joke was not at Sheen’s expense. Now that’s the way it should be done. Professional. Gracious. Adult.

Honestly, at that moment, I thought Cryer could easily walk on water and cure all the ills of mankind. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Then not content to rest on his laurels, Cryer continued to respond with well wishes for Sheen. He moved forward. He cooperated to keep the show going. He was a man about the whole thing.

When they reconstituted “Two and a Half Men” and I caught the first episode, my respect for Cryer as an actor went up yet another notch (if that’s possible). He literally carried the weight of the show. There was an undercurrent of awkwardness as the other actors and actresses tried to pull it together and regenerate the smooth feel of an ensemble that is running well. But you could see the jagged edges where things didn’t quite mesh.

Of all of them, he seemed the most relaxed and the most determined. It was like watching one of those local theater shows where they’ve managed to get one major actor to be in the play. That actor knows his lines and knows how to act and he’s literally dragging the performances out of the others to make them shine, as well. I got the definite feel that Cryer was the glue holding the show together, the one who knew what had to be done and was doing it. The others, frankly, still looked a little shell-shocked. I expect that will change over time and the cast will mesh, but in that show, he really stood out.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, “Bravo, Cryer! Well done.”

It’s nice to find someone who still knows what it means to be a professional, and someone I can use as a model for my characters like Pru. I’ve got another book for Prudence Barnard and Knighton Gaunt brewing, so now, whenever I get stuck, I’ll just think, “How would Cryer respond to that?”

With humor and dignity. That’s how.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Guest Author: Elizabeth Means

I met, virtually of course, Elizabeth as a fellow author published by The Wild Rose Press. Our publisher has done so much for us and many other authors struggling to have our voices heard. Elizabeth and I have so much in common, particularly when it comes to science, that I was very happy when she agreed to join us.

Elizabeth Means

Do you ever find yourself wondering if the dark red stains on your significant others clothing could be the blood of a murder victim?

Hopefully you don’t. Ever.

But just for giggles let’s get into the Halloween spirit a little early and say that you did. How might you go about figuring it out in a timely manner? One that wouldn’t arouse their suspicion?

Oh, and let’s also pretend the year is 1880.

Give up? Well so did my main character – almost. Fortunately, during one of my novel-research-marathons I learned that German scientist Schönbein discovered the ability of hemoglobin to oxidize hydrogen peroxide and make it foam in 1863. This resulted in the first presumptive test for blood. A rudimentary and convenient test I was thrilled to be able to work into my storyline as it brought my main character one step closer to finding the true killer!

For the mad-scientists among us, the chemistry behind the reaction looks something like this:

Blood contains an enzyme called catalase, which breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas.

2H2O2+catalase releases 2H2O + O2

When this reaction occurs, the oxygen gas is released as bubbles. That’s why you see fizzy bubbles when you pour hydrogen peroxide on a bloody wound.

This test is not fool-proof, however. Other organisms, including plants and some bacteria also make catalase. But it was a great forensic tool for the time period and can still be easily used today.

Considering All Hallow’s Eve is right around the corner…perhaps I’ll keep my bottle of hydrogen peroxide handy. Strange things have been known to happen by the light of the October moon.

A Short Bio
Elizabeth Means lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband and pretentious cat. When she’s not working, reading or writing, she enjoys hiking, biking, and chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.

While she likes many genres, she’s particularly drawn to Victorian era romance stories that are fueled by forbidden love and quite often…murder. The foggy streets, swirling coat tails and foreboding castles make it a difficult one to resist. Her new release, Dangerous Charade, is now available in print and e-book from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon and other major online book retailers. Visit her website at

Dangerous Charade teaser

“One-two-three... two-two-three… very good.” Julian held Gabrielle securely about the waist as they moved across the floor in perfect unison. “You’re a surprisingly quick study.”

She nodded demurely, barely able to concentrate on whatever it was her feet were supposed to be doing. Or not doing. Dancing with Julian was proving to be even more unnerving than she had feared. Having his body but a breath away from hers was far too distracting. He was her number one murder suspect, and she needed to keep her wits about her now more than ever.

“Are you sure you’ve never waltzed before?” he asked.
“Never,” she lied.

He spun them around quickly, catching her off guard, causing her to cling to him tighter. “I believe you’re ready for Rocancourt’s ball. I no longer fear you will trip over both my feet and embarrass us silly.”
She pursed her lips. “I can assure you I would do no such thing, with or without your lessons.”
“You don’t say?” He furrowed his brow in mock thoughtfulness. “Do you know what I’m thinking, Gabrielle?”
“I cannot begin to imagine, my lord.” She cursed the butterflies in her stomach. The effect he had on her when he breathed her name in that seductive drawl of his was maddening.
He leaned down so his face was beside hers and whispered in her ear. “I think you have a secret.” He felt her body tense. “Oh, yes, I’m onto your little game.”

* * * * * *
Thank you, Elizabeth! And I loved that excerpt.