Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

Jul 22, 2021

Choosing Your Next Book

 

Happy Cute Kid Girl Choosing Two Book Stock Vector - Illustration of  doodle, cartoon: 167740868 

Whether you open a website or walk into a bookstore, there's nothing like the feeling of choosing what you're going to read next. Sadly, I've been disappointed more often than thrilled this year, and at lunch with a friend the other day, she said the same. "Maybe we read too much," she told me. "We've heard it all and seen it all as far as stories go." While that might be true, I can still get pulled into a book if it's done well, as I have been with my current read, WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker. It's not an easy book, but when I find myself thinking, even worrying, about the characters when I'm not reading, I know it's because of good writing. Of course, reading is as individual as writing. I can't tell you the book will affect you the same way. I can only give you my reaction.

Choosing a new book is both easy and hard in our time. There are tons of books and tons of places to find them. Still, I've noticed that the traditional publishing world is very much centered on safe choices these days, and they often don't appeal to me. One safe choice is the trending topic. When a book is a success, you can expect a couple dozen similar ones will follow. The covers will be similar in mood and style. The titles will suggest the bombshell best-seller. I got sick of books with "GIRL" in the title some time back. And the time/setting/focus will be the same. Right now it's WWII stories. After some excellent ones (and there still are some out there), we have a host of pale copies, like the one I'm currently reading, which tells me how the protagonist feels as if describing what she had for breakfast and boils down to French people=good, Nazis=bad. Quelle surprise!

The other safe choice for traditional publishers is authors who already have a name. While there are authors whose work I always buy, smart readers know some of them don't write their own stuff anymore. Look for the "with ___" on the cover, which means in most cases that some unknown author wrote it and the "big" author agreed to put his/her name on it, equaling a nice paycheck for everyone. Then there's "franchising," a way of benefiting from an author's name when he's too old to write or even after he's died. It all comes down to money, but for discerning readers, that results in disappointment.

I also note with sadness that editing has suffered--not so much in grammatical things but with allowing big-name writers to do whatever they like. Length is stressed over concise storytelling, and I sometimes find myself paging through to find the plot. I skipped about twenty pages of a legal thriller the other night, and when I jumped back in, the SAME WITNESS was still testifying. Big authors are allowed more leeway to stretch credulity as well. In a book by a well-known author, a fifty-year-old male murder victim was mistaken for a young woman because the killer covered the corpse with flowers. ("Oh, right, guv, we can't move all those flowers. We'll assume it's a young girl because she's done up like Ophelia in Hamlet.")

On the other side of traditional is independent publishing. (In case you're wondering, I started out with a traditional publisher and am now independent.) The problem here is uncertainty as to the quality of the work. Anyone--and I mean anyone--can publish on a dozen sites without investing a single penny, and that means there's a lot of bad work out there. Conscientious writers (like me!) hire editors and test their books with beta readers many times in the process, so they are fairly confident they've got a story worth reading. For a reader, however, it's hard to tell the difference when book shopping.

The other problem with independent authors' work is finding it. Type in a keyword like "mystery" and you'll get a list of the big names. But what if you've already read everything your favorites have written? There's no way to find an independent author with a similar style. We depend on social media to publicize our work, and the results are spotty at best. Often people say things like, "I really liked KIDNAP(.)org. Have you written any more books like that?"  or "I read all your historical mysteries. Do you ever publish anything else?"

"Um, yeah."

So how can you find authors new to you who write good stories? It's not impossible.

Read the recommendations of bloggers/influences who like the kinds of books you like. Here's one: https://radio-joyonpaper.com/?s=Peg+Herring

NOTE: The cover was different back then. Here's what it looks like now: 



Check out the samples on Amazon or other bookselling sites or read a few pages in your local bookstore (They don't mind). I can usually tell with that much if it's my kind of book or not.

Talk to people, online or in person, to find out what they like. I met a woman in a bookstore the other day who recommended a book to me (WWII era) and I bought it. I also often take booksellers' recommendations. They read a LOT of books, so they know if a particular story rises above the ordinary. I have found that young booksellers aren't as helpful as those closer to my age, though. Kids think J.K. Rowling was the first writer to ever explore the idea of a kid learning he wasn't just an ordinary guy--sheesh!

Jun 9, 2020

Looking at Covers-Please Weigh In




The Kidnap Capers is a three-book series starring Robin and her "hoods," who take down crooks by unorthodox, often humorous methods. 
Book 3 will be out on September 1st, so we're trying to settle on a cover. I'd like input from readers on what's eye-catching and gives the sense of a humorous but suspenseful story.
Here are their covers (these are for the audio books because that's what I can find right now):

Keeping the red/black theme, we got these two possibilities. They'll be fine-tuned once we choose a basic idea.



If we skip the idea of coordinating colors, I like this one too:



Please tell me which cover you prefer, or choose elements that work for you that might be incorporated into a new cover (e.g., "I like the lettering in X but the picture in Y.")








Mar 15, 2020

Writing, My Precious

Image result for cartoon person readingWe sometimes hear writing described as precious, which, according to one definition I found, is some combination of
1. self-absorbed – the author inserting his own personality too much in the narration.
2. autobiographical – the story is about something that changed the author’s life, turned into fiction.
3. trying too hard to make the text sound nice/pretty
4. trying too hard to effect a style

Last night I dumped a book after about 20 pages for reasons I can't pinpoint except to call the writing precious. I felt like the author was standing at my shoulder, asking, "Didn't I describe that character completely? Isn't she stunningly beautiful?" Every character was described in great detail before he/she ever said a word. In addition, they might just as well have worn signs that said, "LIKE ME" or "DON'T LIKE ME." The "good" characters were perfectly beautiful or incredibly handsome, and the "bad" characters had beady eyes or a bald spot. Again I "heard" the author asking, "Don't I do this description thing well?" After only twenty pages, I didn't care enough to keep reading.


I've got another book going that is precious for a different reason. I'll probably finish reading it, though I have to make myself keep going. It's historical, and the author is trying (I think) to copy the style of Victorian writers, which, as anyone who's read Dickens knows, is rather long-winded and roundabout. I like Dickens, but adopting that style for a novel of today falls into the precious category. The author is trying too hard, and as a reader I want to say to him, "Just tell the story!"

As an author I admit that it's hard to walk the line. Writers aren't supposed to insert themselves into a story, but we're also told that one can't write well unless she digs deep into her emotions and reveals herself in some way. Readers expect lovely language, but too much is "flowery" and gets you nominated for the Bulwer-Lytton Award for horrible writing. We're expected to understand style and develop one of our own, but if the writer's hand shows, we're being precious. Even big-name writers reveal their prejudices at times, though it's best to be even handed. (I love the fact that people still argue about what Shakespeare did or didn't believe about race, sex, religion, etc. He was very good at offering both sides and letting the reader decide who was right.)

A writer's job is to write, hopefully so well that the reader forgets there was a writer. When we stop our reading and think, "Oh, there's the author," that's a failure on her part. That's when writing is precious. 


Mar 12, 2018

...and Then the Monsters Showed Up


I'm not a big reader of science fiction, but I love it when it's well done. (Michael Crichton comes to mind.) Good sci-fi writers explore interesting social questions while constructing cool plots about things that haven't happened...yet.
My complaint with SF is that all too often the story ends with "and now we must kill the aliens before they kill us." The last few chapters are the all out battle for the survival of our species, with lots of things blowing up and gallons of green blood spilt.
That's not my thing. In the most recent example I read, the story began well, with questions about how time travel would actually work and what the resulting physical and mental problems might be, but it ended up with monsters pouring out of the portal and lots of shooting. We started with questions and ended with an arcade game.

SF isn't the only predictable genre, which is why genre fiction has a bad name with literary folks. Who hasn't started a romance novel and known from the first chapter what was going to happen and who was going to end up living happily ever after together? (Sometimes it's a tossup between two men, but if you go with the less socially acceptable one, you'll probably get it right.)

Mysteries are often predictable too, and after reading them all my life, I really enjoy finding one that escapes the rules a little. An interesting (but not mean) sleuth is great, a unique setting is nice, and if at all possible, a solution that's clever and even obvious...after I read it. Too often these days I know the "who" early on, and I tend to skip chapters to get to the end and find exactly the same thing that happened in the last five books I read: The protag is bloody but alive, the cop that doubted him/her becomes a friend/lover, etc. etc. etc.

Even "literary fiction" novels, those books that are supposed to "transcend genre," are often the same old same old, and lately they seem to come in streaks. I'm tired of books about bookstore owners who are delightfully fey, tired of titles with "Girl," and tired of lead characters with no redeeming qualities who wallow in their own misery for 400 pages and end up exactly where they began.

If you're nodding your head as you read this, I know what's wrong with you. You have read TOO MUCH. YOU NEED TO STOP READING BOOKS. (YOU NEED TO STOP WATCHING TV AND MOVIES TOO.) YOU NEED TO GET A HOBBY, LIKE COLLECTING SPOONS OR WEAVING YOGA MATS OUT OF OLD GROCERY BAGS.

Or you can keep doing what you're doing, looking for the one book in ten that occupies your mind and satisfies your heart. That's what I intend to do!

Nov 28, 2016

Free Books and All That

I'm kind of bad at selling things (which is odd because my dad was a used car salesman. He wasn't the stereotypical one, though, and worked hard to find the best car for the money for each customer.)
Anyway, even with years of watching people sell things to other people, I can't make myself tell readers that my books are amazing and will change their lives. Nor can I follow the advice of one writer I met who said, "When people come up to your table at a signing, shove the book at them so they have to take it into their hands. They'll be embarrassed to put it down, so they'll buy it."
Really? I'd be embarrassed to be that pushy.

So here's the deal. It's the holiday season and people are looking for gifts. If you know a mystery reader, you might consider giving one of my books. I've listed below the first in each series, and I'm giving the Kindle versions away over the next month on Amazon. I won't hide my motive: if a person reads one book, this author hopes it will lead to buying the next and the next.

You win. I win. I like it that way.

First Sleuth Sisters Mystery (four so far, another on the way) is free TODAY/TOMORROW on Amazon. (Nov. 28-29) It's called, oddly enough, THE SLEUTH SISTERS. (Written as Maggie Pill).
Link to Amazon

The first Dead Detective Mystery (4 total) is THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY. Link to Amazon

The first Loser Mystery (3 total) is KILLING SILENCE  Link to Amazon.

The first Simon & Elizabeth Mystery is HER HIGHNESS' FIRST MURDER. Link to Amazon

All my books are available in print and e-book. Most are available in audio. Of course I have stand-alone mysteries too. You can find out more about them here on my site, at Amazon, or you can ask any bookstore to order them for you through their regular distributor.
 


Sep 26, 2016

Parents Reading Poems

...and reciting.
My mother was a great reader of poems, and she always had a book of them nearby. A Child's Garden of Verses was one of my favorites, but there were many more, and as we grew older, the poems grew more complicated: Poe, Whittier, Masters, and Dickinson. Later she discovered Shel Silverstein, and she read his work to her kids at school, unaware that some of them were banned for promoting cannibalism ("Someone Ate the Baby") or other silly non-reasons.
My dad was a reciter of poems, and he had a million of them. They were generally less literary than mom's, and from time to time he got scolded for choosing ones with words like poop in them or topics we were too young to understand, like marital infidelity. (No, I didn't get it, but I liked the fact that Mom was afraid I might.)

They made me a life-long lover of poetry, and I actually use poetry to calm myself down. If I can't sleep, I recite some of the two-dozen or so long poems I memorized as a result of teaching high school English for decades. The combination of different topic, rhythmic cadence, and effort needed to recall the lines distracts me from whatever I'm stuck on long enough to let me go to sleep.
When my spirits need a lift, I recall (sometimes in bits and pieces) the poems my parents passed on as I was growing up and almost immediately feel better. 

These days I can visit Mom or Dad simply by reciting their favorite poems in my head. The lines come in their voices, and I can almost see their faces, Mom's intent on the book, Dad grinning a little at the humor in his favorites. I contend that poetry has done me much good in my life and certainly no harm. Every parent should find a few poems to read or recite to the kiddies. It balances those nagging parenting moments that are necessary but sometimes unpleasant, and makes for peaceful, enjoyable times together. It's a legacy your children will carry with them always.

One of Mom's favorites:
Choosing Shoes  by Frida Wolfe
 
New shoes, new shoes,
Red and pink and blue shoes.
Tell me, what would you choose,
If they'd let us buy?
Buckle shoes, bow shoes,
Pretty pointy-toe shoes,
Strappy, cappy low shoes;
Let's have some to try.
Bright shoes, white shoes,
Dandy-dance-by-night shoes,
Perhaps-a-little-tight shoes,
Like some? So would I.
BUT
Flat shoes, fat shoes,
Stump-along-like-that shoes,
Wipe-them-on-the-mat shoes,
That's the sort they'll buy.

One of Dad's (I chose a clean one. There are lots of versions of this online, but none like Dad's.):
One dark day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight.
A blind man stood by to watch fair play, 
And a dummy shouted, "Hooray, hooray!"
A dead horse came galloping by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye--
Knocked him through an eight-foot wall
And down in a dry ditch that drowned them all.

Aug 29, 2016

Buchbrauchen

Okay, I made that word up, and I never studied German, so don't criticize!
There should be a word for wanting something good to read but not being sure what you want or able to find it.
Apparently what I want to read isn't very popular right now.
I've been sick of serial killers for years, but that's mainly what Amazon offers when you type in mystery.
I'm also sick of protagonists who aren't much better than the criminals they seek. I gave up on two books this week. In one the protag shared his client's cocaine with him and spent waaaaaay too much time describing the physical attributes of the sleazy, slimy women the client surrounded himself with. In the other, every cop was corrupt and every lawyer was shady to the point I was sick of all of them.
I've never been much for books where the mystery takes second place to something else, like growing kumquats or shopping.
I'm disappointed by books where the killer comes totally out of the blue in the last chapter. I should at least have the sense there were things I might have picked up on.
(I got a note from a reviewer last week who gave Dead for the Money a "solid" four stars because he enjoyed the book but figured out who the killer was before the end. My contention is that those of us who read mysteries a lot will often have an idea who the killer is because we're "experienced investigators." This is especially true for writers, who see where the author is trying to take the story because we do the same thing ourselves.)
So what is my buchbrauchen?
I want a good mystery. Don't care about anyone's sex life. Don't want to know how they make Christmas cookies. The protagonist can have faults, but I don't want those faults to be disgusting, depressing, or dwelt upon to the point they drive me nuts.
Such books are hard to find these days, since the public taste seems to run just the opposite. I try to write what my buchbrauchen demands, as James Fenimore Cooper did. Unhappy with what was available in his day, he wrote the kind of books he wanted to read. It might have ended up that he was the only one interested, since he went against the trend, but it didn't turn out that way.

Aug 1, 2016

Stuck on Historicals

The Tilted World: A Novel by [Franklin, Tom, Fennelly, Beth Ann]









For some reason I ended up with a bunch of historicals at my last visit to the bookstore. It could be that there are a lot of them out there, and it could also be that I'm drawn to them. Here's what I've got:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman-I'd read good things about this one, and I did enjoy the gradual narrowing of the distance between the two protagonists. Lots of interesting stuff about the times, when it was perfectly okay to display "freaks" and pretend it was science--although I guess today we do the same thing through television and pretend it's altruism.

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger-This one isn't for the casual reader of historicals. Like Hilary Mantel's work, it's a book that immerses one in the time, with references to real people the reader is expected to recognize and words I wouldn't have known except for good old Dr. Calver's Chaucer class back at U of M many decades ago. I had to wade through dark passages and shifting points of view, both first person and third, for a while before I began to care about anyone in the slowly-emerging story. I also am not sure the premise of the mystery fits the machinations involved. Still, I'm far enough along that I'll stick with it and see where it all ends up. (After all, Chaucer himself is a character.) The author definitely has a gift for description, and he knows the period. This reader can almost feel the grit of medieval times beneath her fingernails.

My favorite of the bunch is The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. The book has it all: the disastrous flood of 1927 in the southern United States, a love story, characters I cared about, moonshine, revenuers, and lots of action. There was one suspend-your-disbelief moment, but it had to happen somehow to close the story arc, so I was okay with it. As I read, I kept imagining this book as a movie, and it would be a good one.

I still have Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist on the shelf; then it's on to Laurie King's The Murder of Mary Russell. I like her books, so it should be a good week!

Jul 25, 2016

In Defense of Cozies



Product Details
Upcoming Release of a Series I Enjoy
When authors get together, there's a tendency to disparage cozy mysteries, and many of my friends think of themselves as "just" cozy writers. To be honest, cozies can get pretty silly, with amateur sleuths bumbling through situations that no sane person would put herself into. Often they have only the faintest of reasons to do so, and most of us would have called the police, told them our suspicions, and gone back to canning green beans.

So why do zillions of people read zillions of cozies each year?

Possibly because we trust them.

We trust cozies to provide a few hours of entertainment that won't depress us, scare us, or force us to ponder the darker side of humanity. Cozy villains might be a little papery, but we don't imagine them showing up in our bedrooms with a butcher knife or shadowing us in a dark parking garage as we hurry to our cars.

It might be my age, or it might be TV's predilection for long-running segments on cop series where a single crazy-but-oh-so-clever killer menaces the hero and his/her family and friends for months, even years (think Red John), but I'm tired of psychopaths. It seems dishonest to me for an author to create a character whose psychosis allows him/her to do just about anything with only his own delusional thoughts for a road map. Traditional mysteries, including cozies, rely on logic: the killer has to have a reason for what he does, and the reader should be able to believe he was pushed to the point of murder by his situation, whether by greed or hate or whichever deadly sin it turns out to be.

I also hate blood, torture, and mental anguish in books (well, actually, anywhere). When a character is helpless and the killer is standing over him with a knife, things better get more positive pretty quickly, or I'm closing that book. Many times I've stopped reading when it felt to me like the author was just seeing how sick things could get (see last week's blog), and my tendency is to not return to that author again once she's done that.

Finally, cozies restore justice in the end. The killer is caught, life in the small town returns to normal (until Book 2 or Book 22!). With 24-hour news telling us about every abnormality they can dig up, it's nice to have that Shakespearean return to order in our fiction.

Do I read cozies all the time? No. I prefer straight traditional mystery, but I'm pretty careful about who I trust to write it for the reasons listed above. I completely understand why people stick to cozies, because if you like a little murder and a good puzzle, they're comforting and comfortable. 




Jul 18, 2016

Where Do You Stop Reading?

Last week I posted about the reader's delight: four great books I read all in a short time. Today I'd like to talk about the ones we don't finish.

My most recent "I'm not reading any more of this" book started on a weak note, but I stuck with it while the author rehashed the previous installment, figuring maybe I needed to know the stuff to get Book #2. Then the protagonist put himself in a situation where he was locked in without telling anyone or giving himself an emergency escape. I thought that was unwise, but as an author I know that we sometimes ignore what real people would do in order to make a story work. It's a story, after all.

The stopping point came in a scene that was clearly included only to shock the reader. The event had nothing to do with historical detail and didn't advance the plot an iota. It was simply degrading to the protagonist and uncomfortable for me to "watch." It was almost as if the author yelled from behind the page, "See how disgusting I can be? Now go tell your friends what a creative writer I am!"

Instead, I closed the book and put it in the discard pile.

Here's my question for you as readers? What does it take to make you close a book and decide you won't open it again?

Jul 11, 2016

Back to Books

The big summer holiday is over in our little town, so we go back to doing what we do. In my case that's reading and writing. The writing was in the final phases for several pieces over the last few months and the promotion that's ongoing when a book is newly released. First it was the last Dead Detective mystery, then the fourth Sleuth Sisters (by Maggie Pill, but I'm heavily involved). After that it was finalizing the audio books for MACBETH'S NIECE (after years and years it will finally be on Audible) and the second Dead Detective mystery, DEAD FOR THE MONEY. I had to listen to them to be sure they're correct, which takes hours and hours but made me pretty happy. JoBe Cerny reads Seamus very well, and both he and the narrator for MN, Caitlin O'Connor, are great readers, especially when it comes to presenting characters with different accents, which makes their readings interesting and easy to listen to.

While I was doing all that, I was still reading--I'm always reading. Last week I had four books going that were all very good. First was WILDE LAKE by Laura Lippmann. I expect great things from her, and she never disappoints. I also read a good historical, NO COMFORT FOR THE LOST, by Nancy Herriman, a woman I met at this year's Printers' Row in Chicago. Steve Hamilton's acclaimed new book, THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON, is a good read, though more to John's tastes than mine. The protag didn't engage sympathy or empathy in me, so it was in the "good story" category but failed to engage much concern for Nick's future. I'm about to finish DANGEROUS PASSAGE by Lisa Harris, which is a good police procedural if a little heavy on "Will God send a man to love me?" angst. I recently started Bruce Holsinger's A BURNABLE BOOK, which isn't for those not really into medieval detail. It took me a while to get into the story, but Geoffrey Chaucer is in there, so I stuck with it, and it's becoming clearer what's going on now.

So that's my life. I write, I read, I get books ready for other people to read. It keeps me out of trouble...most days.

Jun 13, 2016

What's a Printers' Row?


A long time ago, there was an area in Chicago where book publishers tended to locate. They started a book festival, and the rest is history. Though the book publishers are mostly gone, every year in June they take to the streets, closing them down to traffic so tents can be set up for blocks and blocks representing book sellers, book publishers, and everyone associated with that.

This year it was mid-90s all festival weekend, but since it was Chicago, there was a breeze off the lake that saved us all. I gathered with a group in a tent wrapped in crime scene tape: Midwest Mystery Writers of America and Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore. With me were well-known authors like Sara Paretsky and Marcia Clark as well as lots of writers like me, not so well known but just as hard-working.

It's always fun to get together with authors I've known for years and meet authors I've never met. Some I know online and others I've never heard of before. I confess to a desire to read all their books, but of course that's impossible. I keep trying, though!

 Since we were already in Chi-town, John and I visited the museums: Science & Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum, where we got to see the terra cotta warriors from China. I think I managed to impress my husband in all those places!

Jun 6, 2016

Too Many Good Books

Product DetailsI'm in the enviable position of having a surfeit of good books.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: about a third through it.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: halfway.
Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga: three-quarters done.
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver: just started but already loving it.

As you might guess, I have books in different rooms and read them in snatches. All but Sparrow Migrations are historical. Only Murder at the Brightwell is a mystery, though Morton's books have a discovery aspect that adds mystery to them. All are hard-to-put-down types, and it's rare that I have four at once that call to me when I'm not reading. (I also have a book on my phone, but it's only mildly interesting, so that reading progresses in spurts of boredom as I wait for John to take care of things I can't because of this silly foot (which is healing nicely).

Sadly, I have an edit to do on my own stuff, so all my reading for fun will have to wait a day or two. Still, it's nice to know I have lots of good stories waiting for me!

May 16, 2016

Sale! Books! Read!

I could give a long and not very interesting explanation of why I have an overload of print books in my office, but I won't bore you with that.

Let's get to the sale: I'm offering some of my older books at discounted prices. If you're interested in them for yourself or for gifts, this is a great time to get them. No booksellers between you and me, although I do have to charge an extra $5.00 for postage if you want them mailed to you. If you live in northern Lower Michigan, we can arrange to meet somewhere and save you a few bucks.

You can find out more about the books here or on Amazon (where they know everything!)

+

May 2, 2016

"How Are the Book Sales Going?"

It's a question I get quite often, and sadly, the most correct answer is, "I don't know."

With my first book, back in 2008, I really had no idea how well it was selling for almost two years, and even then the numbers I was given didn't mean much because I knew so little.

Publishers pay an advance on a book when they offer a contract. The author gets "paid" in that way, except then the publisher holds that much money back from royalties as the book sells. If an author gets $100,000 (don't I wish), the book has to earn that much back for the publisher before she gets more money (It's called "selling through"). Add to that the fact that bookstores stock books with the understanding they can return them if they don't sell within a given time. That means a publisher can't count a sale as a sale until they get the returned books and subtract them from what really sold. (Confused yet? That's the current state of publishing.)

Those two things add up to a long wait time for authors. Many books never sell through, so the author never sees a cent after that initial advance. Though I'm one of the lucky ones who receives regular royalty checks, I missed a whole year's worth when my main publisher went bankrupt a while back. That money just disappeared into the court system.

As you can see, the traditional publishing system makes it hard to tell which books are selling. When I'm asked about sales, all I can say is that once or twice a year, there's a check.

New tools make it a little easier to find good information in certain venues. Amazon and Audible are great about giving a daily update of how many of which books sold today. It's nice not to wait years to get paid, and there's even a chart that tells how many pages of my books have been read on Kindle each day. That can get to be too much information, but it is fun to see which books people are actually reading and how fast they're getting through them.

Something that's interested me lately is that all my books, even some of the older ones, are selling pretty steadily. That means (I think) that people are reading one book then seeking out more of what I've written. Since my topics are widely varied within the mystery genre, I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Someone who loves Simon & Elizabeth might not react well to Loser the Loser or Seamus the Dead Detective.  I like to think if a reader is only looking for a good story, she won't be disappointed.


How are the book sales going?

Honestly, it's fun to see sales climb. It's nice that money appears in my bank account regularly. But I'll never be an author who chases financial gain. I went into this field because I love writing books that make me and a certain set of readers happy. Sales are just one way to tell if I'm doing that.

Apr 18, 2016

The Gifts I Buy Myself

I buy myself presents all the time: they're called books.
Sometimes they're Kindle books, although I'm often irritated by the inflated cost of books by big-name authors. If mid-list authors' books can be produced for six dollars or less, why can't everyone's?
I know, supply and demand, but there isn't the cost in e-books that there is with print: no print cost, no warehousing, no shipping.
But I digress.
In addition to Kindle books, I also buy print books. Lots of them. No less than three, sometimes more, bookstores exist where the clerks smile when they see me coming. They know I'm buying.
Sometimes my purchases result in entertainment for few hours, and that's great. People gripe about "affording" books, but where else do you get eight hours of entertainment for under thirty bucks?
The best times are when my purchase results in absolute rapture. I got lucky last week with THE NIGHTINGALE on my Kindle, which was wonderful. On Thursday I picked up (at a nice young clerk at McLean and Eakin's suggestion) BE FRANK WITH ME.
Oh, the joy.
I can't tell you where it's going for sure yet, because I haven't finished. It concerns a young woman who's sent to smooth the way for a famous author so she can get a  book written. Smoothing the way involves dealing with Frank, a kid who's unique, hilarious, frustrating, and endearing. If you love unique characters cleverly presented, you will love Frank, and his mom's pretty interesting, too.
One of the blurbs mentions that the reader wants to
read the book again later, just to spend more time with Frank.
That's like double value for your money. How great is that?

Apr 4, 2016

Why Do I Read These Books?

I finished Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale on Saturday. It was amazing.
I wish I'd never opened to page one.
I do this all the time. Someone tells me a book is good, so I get it and read it and hate myself halfway through. You see, it makes me emotionally sick to read how awful people in groups can be to those they decide to hate. I had my fill of reading about it long ago, with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Mila 18 and all those beautifully horrible books that show what happens when a group is targeted for something like their religion.
I don't need to be reminded, I tell myself. I learned all that long ago, and I hate getting involved with characters who aren't going to find a happy ending. You can call me overly sensitive (my husband does), but for me it isn't just a story if things like that really happened--still happen.
It's a reminder that people can get together and decide one part of society is somehow not deserving of being treated with respect. Once they believe that, they allow the worst parts of themselves to have free rein, because "they" deserve it. Apparently it's fairly easy to convince large numbers of people of this, usually by repeating lies until those who won't think for themselves, those who are desperate to think they're "better" than someone else, believe them.
The other part of it is making those who might stand up for the targeted group afraid to do so, lest they, too, lose freedom, rights, and loved ones.
In principle, I hate reading books that describe this situation so clearly that I feel like I'm experiencing it myself. In The Nightingale, I identified with both sisters' struggle against the Nazis. I wanted a happy ending for them, but I knew happy couldn't possibly come out of it. When people are encouraged to hate, they become less and less human. The worst elements of society rise to the top, and the "good people" just try to stay out of their way.
When I see those same elements at work in the world right now, I know that we have to remind ourselves not to let hatred of any segment of society overcome our humanity. We have to see how helpless individuals become when government sanctions mistreatment of any group.
I hate it, but when it's done as well as Ms. Hannah does it, I
see that it isn't a story. It's our future if we don't remain vigilant.

Mar 21, 2016

Taking Criticism

E-book available on Amazon. Print soon
Writers have to learn to accept criticism. It starts with your editor, who takes out some of your favorite passages because they don't advance the plot.
"But it's a commentary on society!" you whine.
"You're not a philosopher. You're a mystery writer," is the reply.
Then you get the beta reader who wants the story to end differently. "Why didn't she hook up with the sheriff?"
"I preferred to suggest that she might and let the reader imagine it. I didn't want to start another whole thread in the last few pages."
(Pouty face) "I think you should say it."
Later come the readers, who go on Amazon and say things like, "The author speaks of a 'dollar' but there were no dollars in Tudor England."
Actually, the word was slang for a coin called a crown in the 1500s. But don't let my months of research top your assumption you know what you're talking about.
Of course, there is criticism that's justified. My favorite story is the person who wrote to inform me that though the first Simon & Elizabeth book was interesting and historically well done, I'd put in rhododendrons, which didn't exist in the 1500s.
Okay, I'll take the blame for that one. Who knew? And who'd have thought to include it in her research? (Well, I do now!)
Writers have to learn not only to take criticism, but to not take it as well. Tastes vary. Best-selling authors sometimes leave me cold, since they don't write things I like to read. I try not to conclude they're bad writers because of my tastes. It's hard when a reader assumes that because he/she felt a certain way about a book, that's the final truth of it. "I didn't feel connected to the characters because they were not well-developed" is hurtful. It helps, though, when the very next review says the exact opposite. "Great characters that felt like people I knew well. I was eager to know what they'd do next."


 

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that...