Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts

18 September 2020

Steinbeck's Writing Tips


John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. The Nobel committee cited his "realistic and imaginative writings" noting his "sympathetic humor and keen social perception." This "giant of American letters" gave us six tips about writing which I list below (from multiple internet sources):

John Steinbeck

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it is finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person – a real person you know, or an imagined one and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a sections gets the better of you and you still think you want it – bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave you trouble is because it didn't belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
 Writers don't write the same way. I seem to follow many of these steps, especially #1, 2, 3 and 6.

I follow #2 but using a computer allows me to go back over what I wrote the day before and edit it. That jump starts me to write what follows.

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Themes in Steinbeck's fiction included fate and injustice, especially to the downtrodden or the everyman protagonist.

John Steinbeck receiving Nobel Prize
 Here is an excerpt from Steinbeck's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech –
"The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit – for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."
That's all for now. Y'all stay safe.

www.oneildenoux.com

25 August 2020

The Next Best Thing to Being There


We’re all hunkered down these days under house arrest. Some people are binging on Netflix, others catching up on all the cute cat videos they’ve missed. Others still are too anxious to do much of anything productive. I’m lucky in that my life hasn’t changed all that much on a day to day basis since I’ve worked at home for ages. I still walk the dog/s. Do my writing. Listen to music. Watch the old black and white movies that I love. Read. The one big change is that my wife’s been working at home since March. Luckily we seem to get along. Blame that on her more than me 😉.

But, as writers there have been some changes, most notably that in-person events have been cancelled. Most of the conventions and conferences that we enjoy have been zapped, Bouchercon, West Coast Crime (right in the middle of the actual convention), and others. In-store book events and launches have largely disappeared for now. But we live in an age of new-fangled thingies, an amazing age, an age of the internet, Zoom, Skype and other modern marvels.

My virtual acceptance speech for Ellery Queen Readers Award

So, the other day, as I was doing a Zoom panel for a writer’s conference, it dawned on me how cool it is to be able to do this. Not all that long ago it couldn’t have happened because the technology wasn’t there. With something like the Covid pandemic the event would just have disappeared. But with Zoom, Skype and others they just sort of morph into something virtual.

Since the lockdown began I’ve done several Zoom events. I haven’t yet hosted one though I’m thinking about doing that for the Coast to Coast: Noir anthology that I co-edited that’s coming out in September. That will be a new learning curve. But before that I had to learn how to Zoom as a guest. It’s not hard – and it’s really cool and fun. I also did a short (non-Zoom) video for Ellery Queen on coming in second in their readers poll since they, too, cancelled their in-person event in NYC. And I’ve done several panels and interviews and even virtual doctor appointments. As I write this a bit ahead of its posting date just a few days ago I did a Skype interview for a radio station in England. Could we have done that even twenty years ago? Maybe by phone, but with much more difficulty and expense.

E-flyer from Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles first House Arrest virtual reading
Remember long distance phone calls (and long distance could virtually be just across the street in some cases). They were ridiculously expensive. You’d call the operator before your call and request “time and charges,” then when the call was over the operator would call you back and tell you how long the call lasted and how much it cost. And you’d get sticker shock.

The "good old days".
In the near last minute my wife suggested doing a virtual launch for The Blues Don’t Care in June since there were no in person events happening. So we had to scramble to figure out how to do that. We weren’t sure if we should try Zoom or another service or stick to the old standby (yeah ‘old’ standby) of Facebook, which is what we ended up doing. And it turned out better than I had expected. We had a big group of people and questions flying back and forth. Plus I’d toss out tidbits of info on various things related to events that took place in the novel, like the gambling ships that lay off the SoCal coast back in the day. It was fun, if a little hectic, and I think people enjoyed it.

So we make do as best we can. And we don’t have to shower or drive to get to our meetings 😉. It’s also kind of cool to just see someone when you’re talking one to one with Zoom or Skype or other services. My wife’s family reunion was cancelled this year because of Covid but her and some of her cousins get together semi-regularly with each other via Zoom. Like they used to say, it’s the next best thing to being there.

So what’s next? Virtual reality meetings? Holograms? Mind-melding? Beam me up Scotty! There seem to be no limits to technology, but there is still something to be said for meeting people face to face. Standing close enough to whisper something, closer than 6 feet apart. Laughing, talking, sharing good food (and drink!) and good stories. So until we can do those things again, at least we have the virtual world, which is the next best thing.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

I want to thank Living My Best Book Life for this great review of The Blues Don’t Care. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full review:

"The Blues Don't Care by Paul D. Marks is a mysterious historical fiction set in the WWII time period. It tackles topics like corruption, racism, and many others that we are still facing today. I was taken aback by Paul D. Marks's talented writing style. This story is powerful and Paul did a wonderful job developing his main character, Bobby Saxon...

…I was captivated from the very start. This author tackled so many subjects that few care to bring up. The detail of the story gave me an insight on all the injustices in the 1940's. I appreciated the heart of the story; a person chasing their dream and never looking back. Bobby Saxon is a well-developed character that was able to learn, grow, and hone in on his craft. There is a main secret of Bobby's that I didn't see coming. This is such a fascinating historical fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed!”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CC3_3gxAZq6/
                           


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

16 August 2020

Professional Tips – The Deadwords


graphic of the word 'deadword'

Facts and Artifacts

Deadwords, like deadwood, take up space but offer little useful. In the negative space graphic above, your eye thinks it sees a word or two that aren’t there. Deadwords introduce noise, dim and distracting dreck that shouldn’t be there. Authors want to move from empty words to more powerful, robust, descriptive writing.

I find it useful to review deadwords and weak words, those bits that clutter writing and dull the senses. I manage to avoid the usual suspects, e.g, some, very, nice, etc, but not so well at others appearing on recent lists: as, like, then, and so on. My bad habits need reminders. Professional colleagues know these tips, but beginning writers might find some of the following useful.

As mentioned before, I know no other crime writers in Central Florida– most are too sensible to congregate in a coronavirus hotspot. Without fellow mystery enthusiasts, I exchange editing with local romance writers. (Hi, Haboob and Sharon.) Whew! I bet my instruction in anatomy is more fun than most mystery authors.

Romancing the Own

Haboob drew my attention to a word not in the list below, ‘own’, as in ‘my own writing’. I used it everywhere– his own, her own, their own instead of simple his, hers, and theirs. In ordinary conversation, I seem to use it as an intensive, an unnecessary one. While that guy Shakespeare got away with, “To thine own self be true,” ‘own’ sucks the lifeblood out of my sentences.

In turn, I found the words ‘breath’ and ‘breathe’ cropping up far too often in the ladies’ romance works. They have good reason– the thesaurus suffers from a paucity of alternative non-technical words. Consider:
She breathed in his scent. Her breath stopped when his fingertips traced her bare skin.
Other than the words ‘pant’ and ‘wheeze’ (Feel the romance!) what substitutes can they use?
She aspirated into her lungs the molecules of his scent. Her inhalation and exhalation respiration terminated when…
Nahh… What’s a girl writer to do? (Leave brilliant suggestions in the comments so I can look like a genius at the next editing session.)

In the following list, I’m not including verbal tics and the clichés in current conversations, such as store clerk acknowledgements, “Perfect,” instead of “Thank you.”

Deadwords
actually/basically/virtually
almost
as
awesome/amazing
awful/awfully
bad
be/is/are/was/were/will be
beautiful
big
down/up on/in
feel/think
fine
good/great
(have) got
happy
interesting
just
kinda/sorta
like
literally
little/small
look/see/saw
(a) lot
most/mostly/much
nearly
nice
of course
often
one of
quite
rather
really
seem
so
some/somewhat/somehow
start/begin to
that
then
totally/absolutely
used to
very
well

Notes:

Many words made the list because they’re weak or indefinite. Further to this…
Down/Up, on/in/into
This refers to extraneous coupling of prepositions. “She climbed up into the attic before descending down into the depths of the basement.” Simply: “She climbed into the attic before descending into the depths of the basement.”
Quite, rather
Victoria and Edwardian literature dominated our home library, so both ‘quite’ and ‘rather’ sound normal to my ears, but virtually no one else’s. *delete*
See, saw, look, think, feel
“When she began to look at some of his writing, she felt certain words could weaken sentences, but she couldn’s see how to find a solution.” Simply: “When she looked at his writing, certain words weakened sentences, but she couldn’s find a solution.”
It/there, is/was/were/will be
“There are many examples in literature,” can be reworded “Examples abound in literature.” Jane Austen came up with the cleverest opening line in romance literature: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” She pulled it off. Me, I should stick to basics.
Shakespeare, Jane Austen… who knew where this was headed! Colorful writing… did we achieve it?

graphic of the word 'word'



John Floyd would be proud of a SleuthSayer coining a compound— ‘deadword’.

14 July 2020

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer —Solitude vs. Loneliness—


There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,
In my room, in my room,
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,
In my room, in my room.
         “In My Room”—Brian Wilson, Gary Usher


Writers tend to work in isolation (unless you’re a TV writer, but that’s another story). We work in our homes, some maybe at a library or coffee shop or on the beach. But ours is a solitary profession. For most of us, when we’re writing we don’t want to be interrupted. We don’t want to be part of the real world, we want to be part of the world we’re creating. We seek solitude. As such it can be a lonely profession at times.

But solitude and loneliness are two different things. Being lonely can be depressing. Having solitude can be invigorating and restorative. Solitude gives us a chance to get in touch with the world, the real world, as well as the world of our characters. It helps us get in touch with ourselves and our creativity.

Nicola Tesla said: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”



Some people thrive on noise and activity. They can write anywhere: airplanes, libraries, beaches, coffee shops. Others of us need more quiet to get down into ourselves and hit that creative nerve. The older I get the less social I get. When I started writing I had romantic visions of Hemingway et al on the left bank in Paris. Writing and sipping absinthe.  So when I started out I tried drinking while writing. Yeah, that was a good idea. Or I’d go to Joe Allen’s (the L.A. one) and hang with other writers. That was also a great idea. Not much writing got done in either situation. One day, somewhere, somehow I learned that Hemingway didn’t drink while actually writing. Good idea. And these days we live off the beaten path, so alone-time is easy to find. And if I feel the need for human “contact” I can go on Facebook or even, God forbid, call someone on the phone. Or even more rarely actually venture out to meet them. But when I’m writing, I want quiet and alone time. But I’m never lonely in those moments.

Even aside from writing time, these days I like quiet moments. Moments of peace. Solitude. I lived a “wild and crazy” life when I was younger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe what I did and all that I did. But these days I’m happy for peace and quiet.



Some people can’t stand to be alone (England even has a Minister of Loneliness). But we can even feel lonely in a group of people because loneliness is a mindset, not a physical state. Some people hide behind distractions so they won’t have to think about things on a deeper level. Some people have never learned how to be alone and not be lonely at the same time. To keep their own counsel. But it’s good to learn to be alone, to enjoy your own company and your own counsel (whether or not you’re a writer). That doesn’t mean you can’t be social at other times. When I go out with my wife to meet with other people or just on my own to have lunch with a friend or something along those lines, I enjoy it. And I’m into the moment. But when it’s late at night and I’m writing, I’m glad to be alone again. Glad for the quiet of the night and the, dare I say it, solitude.

Pepper at the creek.

When I walk our dog/s (depending on how many we have at any given moment) I like walking them along the creek near our house. That’s often a time of solitude. Mostly we don’t come across other people, but on occasion we do. Often it’s the same people I’ve seen before. We say hi and chat for a few minutes and it’s a nice interlude. But if I don’t run across anyone I simply enjoy the solitude of the walk, stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak, watching the sun glitter on the creek, listening to it flowing, seeing the way the light hits a certain tree or outcropping and how on one day it’s a whole different look than the next. Seeing how much the dog/s enjoy the walk. Looking all around and seeing the world around me. Sometimes it’s not so nice, as when we saw a dead coyote once. It wasn’t pretty and we’ve seen other, smaller dead animals. We also saw a couple of live coyotes only a few feet from me and my dog Pepper. They didn’t bother us. But another time Pepper and I were semi-surrounded by a pack of (about 8) wild dogs. That was scary. They were aggressive, much more so than the coyotes. But Pepper knew how to behave and stayed calm, but not submissive, and we made it home without a physical encounter. We’ve also come across riderless horses (as well as those with riders) and people on ATVs tearing up the landscape, but mostly we’re alone. I feel like I’m digressing but my point here is that we’re never totally alone, unless we’re truly in the middle of nowhere. So it’s nice to have (some of) these encounters, little adventures, but then it’s nice to get back to the solitude of the canyon or return home to the quiet and solitude of the house.

One of the riderless horses we came across
Eventually we found the rider and reunited them.


There’s a place,
Where I can go,
When I feel low,
When I feel blue,
And it's my mind,
And there's no time when I'm alone.
        “There’s a Place”—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I once decided to take a driving trip up to Canada by myself (unfortunately those pix are not scanned and buried in a box somewhere so I can’t put them up here). I got in my car and started heading north. No itinerary. No particular place to go, as Chuck Berry might say. No motel reservations. I did stop and see some friends here and there along the way but most of the time I was by myself. Listening to music. Watching the scenery. I went rafting in Oregon and drove lonely trucking roads along the way. Stopped at the Log Cabin Motel in Morro Bay. And sometimes it was weird being alone, but mostly it was good.

The Log Cabin Motel, Morro Bay


I've never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by,
The moon just went behind the clouds,
To hide its face and cry.
          “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—Hank Williams

People complain of getting bored when they’re alone, but there’s so much to do. Obviously if one is a writer one can write. But if one isn’t you can read a book, listen to music, learn a language, play games, go on the internet—maybe learn something. Maybe just sit and contemplate the universe. I think it would be good if more people spent some quiet time doing that.

About the only time I’m ever really bored is when I’m trying to find something to watch on TV and nothing catches my interest, which is often. There’s always something to do, something to learn or I can play with the animals. You can also just be alone with your thoughts. Get to know yourself. See what you really think about things. Or maybe just try to quieten your thoughts and enjoy the silence.
And now that Amy’s been working from home since the quarantine, I have more time with her as well. But to be honest, sometimes I’m glad when she goes to bed and it’s quiet and still like it is as I write this. And I’m alone in my world, with my thoughts. It’s not a bad place to be, it just takes perspective.
Buster at the crik.

Solitude helps us unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. It can be like meditation in that sense. It helps us discover who we really are and what we really want. It can help us reduce stress unless, of course, being alone causes you stress, but then you can try to learn to love it.

As they say, everything in balance. We are social creatures, so you don’t want to be alone all the time and you don’t want that aloneness forced on you. But it’s not bad to be alone some of the time and to learn to enjoy that time. We don’t have to be doing something every minute of every day. Time to reflect is a good thing as long as we don’t get too deep into ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. You might even meet someone you like there—you.

And just like we need sleep to rejuvenate our bodies, we need solitude to rejuvenate our souls.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

19 May 2020

Where To Start?


"You're starting in the wrong place" is something I've told many an editing client. Sometimes authors start their books or short stories too early in a scene, trying to show too much of the normalcy of the world we're entering. It's a good goal, but you can't do too much of it or else you risk the reader becoming bored, waiting for something interesting to happen. So if you start your story too early, you might need to chop off the first few pages. Or chapters.

I recently told a client when I read her sample pages that I didn't know where her story started, but I suspected it wasn't in the first two chapters I had read, which were all backstory. I told another short story author a few years ago that the reader didn't need to see the main character growing up. Let us learn about the relevant parts of her life when they become necessary to the story, but start the tale where the action is. She lopped off the first seven pagesthe first seventeen years of the character's lifeand the story was all the better for it.

Starting in the wrong place is not a problem I usually have myself. I just looked at all my published stories, and in none of them did I ever have to cut off the beginning pages to start the story in the right place. So imagine my surprise when I realized that in the story I'm currently trying to writethe story I began a couple of weeks ago, but the opening scene just hasn't been workingI'd started in the wrong place. I hadn't begun too early in the scene or in the main character's life. I'd started in the wrong place literally. I had the wrong setting.

It was a lightbulb moment. The opening scene hadn't been working because I'd felt the need to show several aspects of one of the main character's personality because of where the action was happening. In that setting, he definitely would be reacting by thinking several thingstoo many thingsand that was causing the pace to be too slow. But now that I've figured out a better setting, I can trim away all those extraneous thoughts and allow the meat of the story to come so much sooner. By starting in the right place literally, I am allowing the story to start in the right place for storytelling purposes too.

As SleuthSayers columns go, I know this is pretty short, but I hope my insights will be helpful to you as you write. And I'd love to hear your thoughts about starting out your stories, both how you decide where in the storytelling to start as well as where to set that opening scene.

09 May 2020

You Know More Than You Think You Do


Beach, Relax, Chair, Umbrella, Ocean
Pixabay
I’m taking a break from the Coronavirus news and trying to write more than I usually do every day. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas, where there are lots and lots of sandy beaches. There’s more than one bay beach between the city and Port Aransas and North Padre Island. We’re near Oso Bay. We often drive on a causeway over the Laguna Madre to North Padre Island to get to Port Aransas and drive on the thirteen-mile beach and maybe stop for a meal.
Obviously we like to go to the beach. They were all open for Spring Break. Breakers come from San Antonio, Austin, and as far away as the Dallas/Fort Worth area and even from Minnesota and other states way up north. We don’t go to the beach when the kids are here. Traffic is horrific.

Then they closed all the beaches for a few weeks, and now they’re open again with restrictions. We’ve stayed home, and so I have more time and inclination to write.

We used to own an RV lot in Port Aransas and usually parked there for a good part of the winter. We loved to walk over a boardwalk to the beach.

Then we sold the lot and our motorhome and moved into a “stick” house again. I’m writing more than I did when we traveled everywhere, but not as much as I am now.

So, I came up with this, and hope you find it helpful:

There’s an old adage about writing that is often given as a rule to new writers. The quote states, “Write what you know.”

I’m not here to argue that that’s bad or incorrect advice. I’m here to argue that you know a lot more than you think you do.

It’s implied by that statement that you should only write about what you know firsthand. For example, if you’re going to write about New York City, you should have lived there, or at least visited it. If you’re going to write about sailing a ship, you should have done so many times. And if you’re going to write about a crabby old man, you’d better be one.

Wait. That can’t be right. No, it means that you know enough about NYC by hearsay and researching to do a credible job writing about it. That you know a veteran sailor and can ask him to review what you’ve written for accuracy. And your uncle on your mother’s side (not saying which uncle) was a walking, talking human crab, and you can mimic him extraordinarily well  in your written opus.

If the advice were taken literally, no one could write a story. Writing about a woman, but you’re a man—can’t do it. Writing about a murderer—can’t do it unless you’ve murdered someone. Writing about the War of 1812—not unless you lived there and have come back from the dead or are a time traveler. This also, of course, rules out writing about zombies. Right?

Writers really do write about what they know. They start with certain knowledge, and then they let their imagination take off and carry them to different places, to meet different people, and to make up different situations to create a story. That’s what stories are, after all. They’re made up.

I personally know several men who write brilliantly in women’s points of view. I know other writers who can describe places they’ve never been better than I can, and I’ve been there. Others can spin a yarn that takes your breath away, made out of nothing, it seems. But all these writers are expert at one thing. Observation. The ones who write terrific characters have a great empathy and understanding of human nature. Those who do so well with descriptions have an artist’s eye and can translate what they see, either in real life, in a photo or canvas, or in their own imagination, onto the page. And those who can plot have observed life as a story unfolding before then, have probably read extensively, and learned the mechanics of plotting.

This means if you are determined enough, you can write anything your imagination comes up with and do an excellent job of making it come alive on the page and so believable that your readers can’t put the story down until they’re finished.

This means you can write anything at all, from children’s stories, to young adult stories, to romances, to fantasy, to science fiction, to mysteries, to horror, to suspense, to thrillers, to literary, or any of their subgenres, or make up a genre all your own.

This means you can write for audiences who are younger than six to over one hundred and six years of age. It wouldn’t hurt to read a few books in the genre you want to write in, and to read books in the age range you’re interested in.

So, don’t let the phrase, “write what you know” stop you. Write about what interests you. If you’re unsure about anything you’re written, after some good research, ask someone who knows all about it to read that part of the story, or the whole thing. Read the children’s book to a six-year old. Ask your grandmother to read the one about the “old lady bridge club murders.” Ask a police officer to take a look at the murder scene you’ve written for accuracy. But first, you have to get it written down. Then you can get it vetted by those who know more than you do.

And sure, gloss over what you’re not positive about if it won’t hurt the story. The story is everything. The “known” details give it veracity. Start with something you know. Then let your imagination fly.

Just as I’d love to fly my kite again on the beach. Instead, for a while, it will be my fingers flying over the keyboard to keep me amused and out of trouble.

Stay safe everyone.

Green Coconut Trees Near Body of Water
Pixabay



Writer of short stories (over 70 published), mystery novels (11 published) and non-fiction. Passionate about time management, personal organization, and writing of any kind. Check out my website for more info: www.JanChristensen.com and sign up for my newsletter there.

27 January 2020

Music, Stories, and Books


author Jan Grape
author Jan Grape
They say that music soothes the savage beast. I believe it. Especially when the savage beast is human. Music can bring back wonderful memories. Music can make you laugh or make you cry.

I grew up in the 40s and 50s. My mother loved Big Band music but her absolutely favorite music was out of the Nashville from The Grand Old Opry. We listened on the radio every Saturday night. She loved Ernest Tubb and Eddy Arnold. She liked Hank Williams and Little Jimmy Dickins. She adored Patsy Cline and Dotty West and Loretta Lynn. When I happen to hear one of these singers on Country Gold I can be transported to our living room in Post, Texas listening to my mother singing along.

When my parents, Iva Ann and Tommy Barrow, were a young couple first married they lived in a small upstairs apartment in Fort Worth. This was right after I was born and before they divorced two years later. My dad played guitar and a couple of friends joined in including mother who could strum along, the guys all patted their feet to keep rhythm. To keep the downstairs neighbors from complaining, mother put pillows under their feet.

After my mom rremarried and we moved out to Post and I visited my dad in the summer in Fort Worth and he would play ukelate and he and I would sing. Now ukes are popular again. But those memories of my mom and dad are both very precious to me

When my husband, Elmer passed away in '05, I had major health problems. Breast cancer mastectomy and chemo '06, shingles '06, a broken humerus that required a steel plate and 10 screws to repair in '07, an abcess in my colon requiring surgery in '08 it was music that kept me sane. I began going to see live musicians twice a week at my favorite restaurant. It helped to heal my soul and body heal and kept me sane.

What does this all do with stories and books. To my mind when an author makes a mention of the music the characters plays or listens to, I think it makes that character stronger and more real in my mind.

A good example is Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. Harry loves jazz and has many albums of his favorites that he mentions in every story. I feel I know Harry, a now retired LAPD detective a little better than just his solving murders and maybe getting into physical trouble while doing so.

A successful writer told me many years ago that you should let the reader see, hear, smell, feel or touch on every page. I don't know if I ever do that. I do know I try to invoke reader's senses as much as possible. I do think your characters are stronger and more realistic if you can do this and that's one thing I find with Barb Goffman's short stories. Short stories are harder to give a reader a real sense of the major characer becaause you don't have 250 pages to develop them. Barb does it better than many others I've read.

Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Lee Child all have strong characters in their books. Sue Grafton and Tony Hillerman also. You can see, feel, smell, hear and touch what their characters are doing and you are right there along with them because you believe them.

I want to remember these points myself which is partly why I'm writing this down!

11 November 2019

Novellas, the New Frontier


Ten years ago, I won the Black Orchid Novella Award, sponsored by the Wolfe Pack, AKA the Rex Stout Appreciation Society. Stout, who passed away in 1975, was a master of the novella and often produced a combination of novellas and short stories to fill out a Nero Wolfe book. The form is rare now, partly because it's too long for most magazines and too short to publish as a stand-alone book. There are few markets for them. Black Cat Mystery Magazine will look at a 15K-word MS, but reluctantly. The few other markets I know skew very literary.

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine co-sponsors the Black Orchid Award (Nero Wolfe supposedly raised orchids, a trait he picked up from his creator) and publishes the winning entry every year. The contest rules define a novella as between 15 and 20 thousand words. Other sources give different counts, but the point is that it's enough longer than a short story to need more meat or the bones will show through.

I never considered writing a novella until 2009. By then I had accumulated scores of rejections for several novels and a handful of short stories. I had sold three or four stories, too. But "Stranglehold" clocked in at almost 7000 words, longer than most markets would even look at. I ran out of places to send it. One of my writing friends commented that many characters showed up quickly and it was hard to keep everyone straight. I tried cutting characters, but discovered I really needed all of them. I tried cutting words and made the story unintelligible. It sat on a floppy disc (Remember those?) for about three years, out of sight, and pretty much out of mind.

Then I saw a post about the Black Orchid Novella Award. Could I expand that short story and introduce those many characters more gradually?

Over the next three days (That's not a typo), I added 9000 words. I added one short transition scene, but nothing felt like padding. I sent it out and guess what? I'd written a novella that needed four years for me to recognize it.

Several years later, I won the contest again with only the second novella I've ever written. That novella had the opposite problem, though. About two years after "Stranglehold," I wanted to use the same characters in a novel, but it wasn't going anywhere.

My novels usually have two or three subplots that are variations on the main theme, and here everything except one minor variation felt forced and artificial. I struggled off and on for several years, then decided to lean on that subplot and try to cut the mess down to another novella. "Look What They've Done to my Song, Ma" won in 2016.

With that wealth of experience, I think I know how a novella works now. That's probably the kiss of death, isn't it?

Don't think of a novella as either a short story or a novel. Treat it as a distinct little creature. My ideal short story uses four or five named characters and no more than the same number of scenes, preferably in few, maybe even ONE, location. Novels are at least fifty scenes with more people or places, and several subplots.

A novella has one subplot and more scenes, a few of which might even be backstory, and more characters than a short story. Without going back to actually count, I'm going to guess that both the novellas above have about a dozen scenes and about the same number of characters. I try to keep the cast as small as possible, but let myself write big and messy because it's easy to cut scenes later. It's also easy to spot characters who serve the same function and combine two or three of them...if you even need them at all.

My current WIP, an early plan for another novella, has one subplot and a cast of 12. I'll probably eliminate some of those characters, either by cutting them or killing them, but I don't know which yet because we're still in the first date stage. I never kill someone until the second date.

That's another difference. When I begin outlining a novel, I think I know the ending (Sometimes that changes) and my main worry is how the PI will figure it out. I discover that by writing the scenes, and I often go back to change or add something so it all works at the end.

When I write a short story, I usually know the conflict, gut the rest of the story grows and develops while I write and rewrite as I go along. More often than not, the "real" ending shows up on the third or fourth draft.

I knew the ending of "Stranglehold" because it was a finished short story. According to my spread sheet, it was only the seventh short story I submitted anywhere, and I first sent it out in January, 2005, only about 18 months after I returned to writing after a long hiatus. Four years later, I expanded it into the novella.

"Song" didn't exist except as several pages of incoherent notes and a partial outline that made no effing sense. When I finally figured out the main plot, the subplot grew out of the characters and I pounded out a first draft in a week or so. I had a general idea of the ending, but didn't know how Woody Guthrie would solve the mess until I actually wrote that scene for the first time. It was like driving down a dark road at night and seeing a hitch hiker appear in your headlights.

That seems to happen to me more and more now. My WIP doesn't even have headlights yet. I don't even see the double line down the middle of the pavement. I have a general idea and I think I know the characters, but I don't quite know where I'm going. It's more interesting than worrisome.

I now allow myself to write quickly and worry about nothing except getting words on paper. A few years ago, I couldn't have worked this way, but now I know that if I write absolute junk on Monday, by Tuesday, something better will show up. Maybe I'll figure it out during the night or on a cardio machine at the health club, but something better will appear.

The way to solve a writing problem is by writing. You can fix anything you can put on paper. You can't do anything until then. Well, maybe if you're Mozart...

I'm beginning to look at novellas and short stories more closely because I've written myself into a dead end in both my series. That perception may change, but my mind is beginning to work in smaller units now. I suspect that in the next year or so I will move to publishing more short stories in digital formats, and a novella or two would flesh out collections. Rex Stout did it, and maybe what's old is new again.

We'll see.

09 November 2019

My Rules of Mystery


Many writers have drafted up a set of "rules" for how to write and, specifically, how to write mysteries. I thought now would be a nice time to toss in my five cents on the matter. And the following list can equally apply to short stories or novels.


1.   First rule of mystery writing: There MUST be a mystery.

Readers KEEP reading, page after page, because they want to know the answer/solution/explanation of that mystery.

2.   Does a mystery always need a dead body?

No. But the "crime" needs to be significant, e.g., a serious physical assault, the robbery of a valuable jewel, a threat to kill.

An empty chocolate wrapper (and Who ate the candy?) is a children's mystery. A severed head is an adult mystery.

3.   The mystery must be solved at the END of the story.

Ask a question very near the beginning, e.g., Who murdered Roger Ackroyd? Answer this question very near the end.

If you don't answer the question, and the mystery remains a mystery, the reader will throw your book at the wall.

You could answer the question in the middle, but you better have another good question to ask at that point to lead the reader through to the end; and there needs to be a good, justifiable reason for doing this.

4.   There is a difference between mystery and suspense.

A bomb that brings down an aircraft is a mystery. A passenger on a plane thinking the guy two rows ahead may have a bomb in his overhead luggage is suspense.

5.   Be aware that “Mystery” is a broad church.

There are many sub categories (or genres) to mysteries, e.g., noir, cozy, police procedural, private eye, locked room. And feel free to mix these up.

6.   Genres have rules.

If you’re writing in one of the genres (99% likely), be aware there are conventions and reader expectations for each.

Unless you truly are one of the masters of literature, mess with reader expectations at your peril.

7.   You are unlikely to be one of the masters of literature.


8.   Write what you know. If you don’t know, find out.

Don’t write a story about a private eye, or a kindergarten teacher, if you have no idea at all what is involved in those professions. Don't set a story in Latvia if you don't, at least, know the country's capitol or what language the people speak (Riga, Latvian/Russian). Don't write about Euclidean geometry, if you haven't any idea what that is. Don’t guess; research (libraries, Google, talk to people).

A good writer is a good researcher.

9.   Clichés

Avoid these like the plague.

There are countless websites that list clichés and common and overused tropes.

10.  Conflict is your friend.

Conflict, at its simplest, is the "disagreement" between a person and another (person, external force/creature). It's between protagonist and antagonist; or to put it another way:

Main Character vs. ________________

Every work of fiction (mystery, or other) that’s ever been sold to a publisher has had conflict in it (literary fiction excluded). Conflict invites drama; it is the fuel of a story. If your story has no conflict, there will be little to engage the reader.

A scene where a married couple eats dinner and discuss what color to paint their bathroom is not drama. If one of the diners suspects the other of sleeping around, you have conflict (and they can still be discussing what color to paint the bathroom (see next)).

11.  Subtext is your friend.

Subtext is not written, it is implied. It is the underneath; the feelings and intuition, the unspoken meaning.

Even a shopping list can have subtext.
  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Bag of quicklime
  • Bottle of champagne 
Subtext is one of the writer's tools of magic.

12.  Plants are your friends.

Don’t have the hero pull out a gun and shoot the bad guy on the last page, if there’s been no mention (or any kind of reasonable expectation) that the hero is carrying a gun. Plant it. Remember your Chekhov: Gun on wall in first act. Gun fired in third act.

And plants apply to everything, not just guns. Bad guy's sneeze gives away his position in the shadows; plant his allergy earlier. Hero must rescue cat from tree, but he can't; plant his fear of heights earlier.

Without planting, events and actions will appear implausible, and your book will meet the wall.

A good writer is a good gardener.

Note: Yes, I know I'm retooling Chekhov's meaning (he was more concerned with the relevance of things in a story, i.e., don't include something, if it isn't needed later).

13.  Red herrings vs. Playing fair

Feel free to mislead and misdirect your readers (let them reel in many red herrings), but always play fair. Give your readers some real "clues" as to what is going on; so, at the end of the story, they'll slap their heads and sigh, "Oh, but of course!" Give them enough clues so that they "almost" might be able to work out what is going on, before you yank the curtain back and startle the snot out of them.

Never try to "trick" your reader; your book will be thrown at the wall.

And if you end your story with: it was all just a dream, you'll hit the wall before your book does.

14.  MacGuffins are a thing.

Many mysteries make use of a MacGuffin. A microfilm that everyone wants, and will kill for, is a MacGuffin. The Maltese Falcon is a MacGuffin. The object of a quest: a diamond mine, an unknown Beethoven Symphony, the Holy Grail, can all be MacGuffins. MacGuffins give the characters something to do.

Wikipedia sums it up best: "In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself."

The shark in Jaws IS NOT a MacGuffin.

15.  Impose a deadline

Deadlines work well in suspense (We have to find the bomb, it explodes at midnight!!!), and they also work in mystery. A deadline focuses a story on its end/outcome and creates urgency. Think of a story as a tunnel. The deadline is the light at the end.

The detective on board the train must identify the killer before the train arrives at its destination and all the passengers disembark. An unknown man who smokes Gauloises has threatened to hijack a school bus, and it's two hours until school's out.

16.  Twists are good. (there be spoilers here)

A TWIST ENDING is not a prerequisite for a mystery, but if you can write an unexpected and satisfying twist into your story's end, it will certainly make it more memorable; it will add another layer of icing to the cake. A twist ending completely upends and rearranges the facts and events of what's come before it.

The Sixth Sense: The child psychologist IS one of the dead people the kid is seeing. Psycho: Norman Bates IS his mother.

Pro tip: Twist endings are never arbitrarily dreamed up at the end of writing a story. They are written in right from the very beginning. Robert Bloch knew on page one of Psycho that Norman Bates' mother was dead and that Norman was the killer, and Bloch carefully hid this in the fabric of the storytelling. He didn't let the reader in on the truth until the end.

PLOT TWISTS can appear anywhere in a story and are different to the "twist ending." Plot twists change something significant about the story and/or the characters, but don't rewrite the whole thing.

Star Wars: Luke, I am your father. The Shining: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

An excellent, legendary plot twist appears in Psycho, about one third of the way in. Mary Crane, the book's main character (the one we've been following and who we care about), is murdered. She's gone for good. Never comes back. Bloch was one of the masters of literature; he could get away with that kind of thing.

17.  Last rule of mystery writing: Ignore all the rules at your pleasure. Except for the first one.


So, do you have any "rules of mystery" that you live and write by?



stephenross.live/
Twitter: @_StephenRoss/

15 October 2019

Call Down the Thunder – with Deitrich Kalteis


Today I’d like to welcome Dietrich Kalteis to SleuthSayers. Dietrich is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), Zero Avenue and Poughkeepsie Shuffle. 50 of his short stories have been published internationally, and his next novel Call Down the Thunder will be released October 2019. He lives with his family on Canada’s west coast.

Take it away Dietrich.


Paul D. Marks: Call Down the Thunder is your seventh book by my count. It takes place in Kansas in the 1930s. You’re Canadian—what made you choose 1930s Kansas?

Dietrich Kalteis: Being a time of great hardship, the dust bowl of the thirties seemed the right setting for the story. The initial idea started off with a couple at odds with each other while trying to survive on their desolate farm, and the drought and dust storms added a layer to their desperation and struggle.


How did you do research for that long-gone era? And did you learn anything that surprised you or that you never knew before?

I went through years of archived newspapers, historical accounts, personal memoirs, and I viewed hundreds of images of the damage inflicted by the dusters and drought. The Kansas Historical Society along with several websites were great resources. I enjoyed the digging, learning about the people and how they survived and adapted to whatever came.

How did you come up with the characters of Sonny and Clara Meyers? Are they based on anyone you know or knew?

Sonny and Clara simply started as a young couple at odds with each other, and their characters and backstories just evolved through the first draft. And no, they weren’t based on anyone I’ve ever known.

What’s your method? Do you get the idea first, the characters, some neat plot twist? How does the story all come together?

It started with a single scene where Sonny is alone splitting firewood in his yard, and he gets to wonder about his supper, and why Clara isn’t home yet from the general store fixing it like she always does. And he gets a feeling that maybe she isn’t coming back. The story grew from that scene, and I switched back and forth from his and her POVs. One scene led to the next, and subplots and backstory just filled in as I kept writing that first draft. When I started I had a different outcome in mind, and a better one came along as I got into the second draft.

You don’t write a series character. Is there a reason for that? Any plans to do one in the future?

So far when I’ve finished a story, all the ends have gotten tied up. Sometimes key characters aren’t with us anymore, or they’ve achieved their goal, learned a life’s lesson, and there’s just no more story to tell.

By the time I’ve finished one story, I usually have ideas for the next one, and so far they’ve been unrelated to the ones before. Who knows, maybe the right character(s) will show up, and I’ll have them stick around for a while.

And your books are set in a variety of different places and deal with a variety of characters. Which I think is kind of cool in that you’re not limited to a certain set of characters or locales. Is there a reason you chose to go this way instead of writing a series or staying in one or two locations?

I come up with what I feel is the best setting for each story. Sometimes the setting is familiar to me, places I’ve lived, and sometimes I have to take a trip and do some research until I feel like I know the time and place.

Often the settings add a character-like feel. For instance, the fires in House of Blazes started to feel like an antagonist, and really drove the pace. And the dusters helped create the feeling of isolation in Call Down the Thunder. I don’t think either of these stories would have worked as well set anywhere else.

When I think up a scene for a story I just add the character(s) I’d like to see handle the situation, and they just take shape from there.


You’ve won several awards, which is really cool. Do you think it’s made a difference in the way you write, what you write, how your writing is received, etc.?

I don’t know if it’s made a difference in the way my writing is received, but I can tell you it’s encouraging and gives me the feeling I’m on the right track.

What’s your background? Do you have a day job? Or did you—what is/was it? And does it come to play in your writing?

For years I worked as a commercial artist, but not much of my former career has come into my writing.

You could say writing is my day job, except it never feels like a job. That would seem restrictive, too nine to five. I don’t have any set rules about it. Usually the mornings are the best time, so I write until around noon, then maybe again for an hour in the evening.

Does your Canadian background make your books different than books from American crime writers? If so, what do you think the difference is and why?

I don’t think my background really comes into it. If I’m writing a story set in Canada, then I have to play to regional customs, dialects, that sort of thing. The same goes for a story set somewhere in the States. All that matters is that the story is convincing to the reader.

Who do you like reading? And who’s inspired you?

In the crime genre I like reading George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Carl Hiaasen, S.J. Rozan, Don Winslow, James Lee Burke and James Ellroy. And I’ve been inspired and have read just about everything by past-masters like Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, James Crumley, and Charles Willeford.

Do you read outside of your genre?

Outside of the genre I enjoy reading Patti Smith, Margaret Atwood, Hunter S. Thompson, J. K. Rowling, Charles Bukowski, and from time to time I like to revisit the classics by Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger—some books I can’t read too often.

Is it hard for you to write characters who aren’t like yourself. Women, for instance, like Clara in Call Down the Thunder. Or Frankie del Rey in Zero Avenue. How do you get inside a character’s head when they’re completely different from yourself?

I think if a character were hard to write, I’d have to abandon that one. As each individual’s personality and backstory takes shape through the early stages, that character becomes real and believable. Gender or how different they are from me doesn’t matter. I write from their perspective and just turn them loose on the page and follow their actions, letting them stay true to their own nature.

Do you edit your own work? Hire a professional? Writing group? Friend?

I write three or four drafts without anybody looking at it. I want each story as polished as I can make it before I send it off to my publisher. From there, it’s in the hands of the professionals. I’ve been fortunate to be teamed with a great editor ( and a wonderful author) Emily Schultz. She’s edited all seven books with ECW Press, and she’s always spot-on and just amazing to work with.

What’s next?

The next two novels are in queue with my publisher. The first one is set in present-day Vancouver and involves a cheating couple being pursued by a gangster husband who’ll stop at nothing to catch them. It takes readers through northern BC and up into Alaska. The one after that is based on a pair of lesser-known, real-life bank robbers who were at large in the central States in the late 1930s. I don’t have release dates for either story yet.

Currently, I’m working on one set in present-day Vancouver involving a retiree, a runaway, a couple of casino crooks and one killer motor home.

Where can people find you and your books?

My website is http://www.dietrichkalteis.com/, and my publisher’s site is www.ecwpress.com.

My blog is Off the Cuff: http://www.dietrichkalteis.blogspot.ca/

And I regularly contribute at 7 Criminal Minds: http://www.7criminalminds.blogspot.ca/

You can also find me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dietrich.kalteis/

and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dietrichkalteis/

And I’d like to thank you Paul for having me as a guest on SleuthSayers. It’s been a real pleasure.

It’s my pleasure, Dietrich.
~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my Duke Rogers Series:





Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

03 September 2019

Negotiating Writing Contracts


by Paul D. Marks and Jacqueline Seewald

A couple of months ago I read a blog post by Jacqueline Seewald that I really liked and thought contained a lot of good advice. So I asked Jacqueline if I could re-post it here at SleuthSayers as I thought our readers would also find it interesting and useful. She updated it a bit and gave me permission to share it.

A little about Jacqueline:


picture of author, Jacqueline Seewald
Jacqueline Seewald
Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Nineteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her most recent novels are Death Promise and Witch Wish. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: The Writer, L.A. Times, Reader’s Digest, Pedestal, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body!, Gumshoe Review, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

Take it away, Jacqueline:


How to Negotiate Writing Contracts

Recently I signed contracts with two different publishers for two separate novels, one a mystery novel in the continuing Kim Reynolds series, the other a stand-alone historical romance set during the American Revolution. Each contract involved negotiations resulting in compromises from both myself and the publishers. I was reminded that I might have some ideas that could be helpful to other authors who also don’t work with agent representation. I hope what I share with you will prove helpful.

Let us say you have written and rewritten until you’ve finally completed the best work of which you are capable. At last, you find a publisher who appears to recognize your accomplishment and achievement. And now you are offered a contract. There are perhaps a few things that you should understand about contracts.

First of all, publishers use contracts to protect their own interests. Writers need to be savvy enough to do the same. Even if you have the benefit of being represented by a literary agent, you should not be ignorant in this regard. Let's say you've been offered a contract for a work of writing you've created. What should you expect to be included?

If you can afford it, I would recommend that you have an attorney look over your contract. But let's assume that the publication is a small one and the amount of money offered is less than impressive. Obviously, it will cost you more than you would earn to have an attorney examine your contract. Also, it’s not likely that an agent will want to bother with it either.

When you need to act as your own attorney and agent, the best thing to do is read up on contracts for writers before you sign. Here's where books like Writer's Market can be helpful. Writer's magazines often carry helpful articles. Writer's organizations like: The Author's Guild (www.authorsguild.org), National Writer's Union (www.nwu.org), American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (http://www.sfwa.org/contracts/) all carry valuable information.

In regard to newspapers and magazines, there are a wide variety of agreements. Some editors work by verbal agreement (the proverbial handshake) while others insist on detailed written contracts. I’ve had both types of contracts work out well--but sometimes not so well. It all depends on the integrity of the publisher.

Writers are usually asked to sell first serial rights or one time rights. This is preferred by authors. If you sell "all rights" to a specific work then you will be unable to sell reprint rights later. And many smaller publications are quite happy to purchase reprints. At times I’ve sold reprint rights to short fiction and novels for more money than I received for selling first rights. So avoid selling “all rights” if at all possible. Of course, you can request that reprint rights are returned to you at a later date, but be aware that the publisher is not obligated to return them. My suggestion: always negotiate. I have turned down several well-paying publications for both nonfiction and fiction because I refused to sell all rights. I don’t regret it.

Payment should be specified and agreed upon. It shouldn’t be left vague. Request payment on acceptance. You might not get it, but it's best to ask. Getting paid upon publication can lead to all sorts of problems. Not every publisher is honest or has integrity. Remember that contracts are negotiable. There's nothing wrong with asking for changes that benefit you.

Ideally, a kill fee should be specified. This means that if the publication does not use your work, it still has to pay you a percentage of the original fee.

If you do have a written contract—and that’s always best—request that a specific date for publication be included. Some publishers will hold your work indefinitely otherwise. And yes, this has happened to me as well.

Book contracts are much more complicated to negotiate. If possible, once you are offered a book contract, obtain the services of an agent or attorney. True you will be giving away a percentage of your earnings on a contract you have gotten for yourself. However, if a good agent will now agree to represent your future work, then you are doing quite well. An agent can often get concessions from a publisher that you cannot. Here are a few examples: a higher advance, higher percentage of royalties, more free advance review copies and/or final copies of your book. Also, a good agent can deal with the publicity department of the publishing house on your behalf. Well-connected agents can get your work seen by top editors at the major publishing houses. They network and know what particular editors are buying at a given time.

 Assuming you are offered too little of a payment to make this practical and interest a first-rate agent, then you should read up on contracts for authors before you make a decision to sign on the dotted line.

What should you insist be included in your book contract? You ought to insist on an advance. The advance is based on a formula that projects the book's first year profits. Many small or independent publishers claim they do not and cannot offer authors advances against royalties. However, the publisher hopefully can be made to see that an advance, even a small one, is viewed as "good faith" money by the author. If no advance whatever is offered, this is a sign that the publisher does not expect the book to sell well or doesn't plan to put much or any money in marketing and publicizing your work once the book is published. A nonrefundable advance is what the author should be requesting. As to royalties, request that they be based on the retail price or gross and not the net proceeds which often turn out to be quite small. Publishers generally want only to give you a net percentage which ends up as very little, especially when they claim that there are “returns” of your book. Creative accounting by publishers is quite a common practice and hard to prove. Hiring a forensic accountant simply isn’t practical for a majority of writers.

Publishers generally ask for every kind of rights possible. You may want, for instance, to insist that movie and theatrical rights be removed. Publishers often include option clauses in their contracts insisting that they be offered first rights to your next book. This can be a problem if your work is successful but you are still offered the payment terms of the previous contract. Worse still is the publisher's right to last refusal.

A time range for publication should also be included in the contract. Two years is acceptable; past that, all rights should revert to the author.

Another matter of importance: find out in advance if the publisher will be sending your book out for reviews. If possible, have this specified in the contract. Without reviews from major publications the majority of readers will not know your book exists. Your sales will be highly limited.

Above all else, accept no contract in which you are expected to pay for anything. I cannot emphasize this enough! Any request for fees is a clear indication of a disreputable publisher. Alarm bells should go off. Run, don't walk away! Be suspicious, because there are plenty of scam artists around. Check out writing scams via the internet. There are lists of so-called agents and publishers to avoid on many of the legitimate writer's sites. Check out, for instance, SFWA's Writer Beware: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware. This website offers valuable information.

My advice is to be patient. Take your time and consider your options carefully. Respect yourself and the integrity of your hard work. And don’t settle for less from a publisher.

If you disagree on some of what I’ve written or can offer your own helpful advice and information, please do so. Your comments most welcome to be shared!

***

Thanks for joining us at SleuthSayers and for the great advice, Jacqueline.


~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."


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