Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Critique Groups, a guest post by Stephen Brayton

Please join me in a warm welcome for Stephen Brayton, whose first novel has just been released through Echelon Press. During our preliminary discussions, Stephen has been nothing less than uber-polite. I kind of like being referred to as "Ms. Brantley."

When I asked Stephen to include a photo of his work area, he loved the idea. Here's what he had to say about it:

Let me give you a guided tour. Of course you can see a little bit of the computer with the drink nearby. The popcorn container at the far end holds years and years worth of monitor background pictures. I have a small alligator head. In the foreground there is a candle creation I keep reforming. To the right is a jackalope head I picked up in South Dakota. I keep a Christmas stocking hung on one of the antlers. Too bad my cat wouldn’t stick around for the picture, but that’s just his way sometimes.

I've written stories for many years, but started seriously while working at a radio station in Kewanee, Illinois. After I moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, I started attending a writers' group in Des Moines. So much knowledge about writing and critique came out of that group and the others I've enjoyed.

I attended my first conference in 2007, Love Is Murder, In Chicago. Mike Manno introduced me to 'pitches' and we discussed writing and history and law while sharing the drive.

In 2009, while attending the Killer Nashville conference I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Welk of Echelon Press. Subsequent to the conference I submitted two novels to Echelon and in October, they BOTH were accepted for E-publication in 2011.

I'm a reader; a writer; an instructor; a graphic designer; a lover of books, movies, wine, women, music, fine food, good humor, sunny summer days spent hiking or fishing; and I'm a catnip drug dealer to my fifteen pound cat, Thomas.

On Critique Groups

A little over ten years ago I learned about a writers’ group that met every Tuesday from 7-9 at a large book store. Since I had been writing mysteries and short stories, I thought this would be an interesting place to learn more about writing and to share material. The group, as I understand it, had once been so large not everybody had a chance to read every week. During the time I attended the attendance numbers ebbed and flowed but ultimately dropped to a core of about ten. Because of my martial arts schedule, I was unable to attend for a few years, but finally I was able to rearrange things where I could once again share my work. Unfortunately, the dynamics of the group had changed and I soon stopped going. I’ve been a member of two other groups that have since dissolved and am currently looking for another group.

Let me discuss some of the experiences I’ve had with critique groups because there are benefits to be gained and pitfalls to be avoided. First, I love critique groups. The friendships built, the connections made, the insights given and received. You may think your story is the next War and Peace, but when you read it to others, their perspectives may relegate it to the bottom of the bird cage. You need that critique, though. You need the fresh ears to hear your mistakes, to catch errors. You’ll enjoy the praise of a chapter well done, but you also want the ‘clunks’ mentioned. Critique groups also push you to keep writing. I attended only a few times when I didn’t have something to present, and I felt guilty. I WANTED to write. I WANTED to share and learn. Critique groups led me to writers’ conferences and ultimately to getting published.

However, the road hasn’t been easy. Critique groups have to be about critiquing the writing, not the writer. Yes, I’ve run into a jerk or two who would rather insult either the person or the material being presented instead of offering a helpful suggestion. Another thing: ideas are fine, but the written word is key. Anybody can have ideas, but you need to get busy and write. One of the reasons I stopped attending my first group was because, as I said, attendance had dropped to a core, but out of that core of ten, maybe three or four read every week. Three things about this. One: I can accept a few excuses for not writing. Busy, sick, travel. Fine, but when the excuses keep coming, I have to conclude you aren’t serious about writing and you’re not keeping up with the practice of writing. Two: If you’re not serious, why are you in the group? To socialize? Socializing is okay, but after business is completed. Three: If you haven’t written anything in months, but keep attending the group, I stop listening to your critiques because I don’t feel you’re justified in commenting about my stuff if you aren’t presenting yours. I’m not talking about a quid pro quo type of deal, but you have to stay with it.

Another trap writers fall into when attending a group is they continue writing the rest of the story. If you present chapter one and get a critique, don’t tinker with chapter one and present it again, then tinker with it again, and so on. Where’s chapter 2? You aren’t going to perfect your story by attending weekly meetings. You have to finish the story. I’ve seen so many fall into this rut, get frustrated, and either stop writing or start another story and continue to have the same problems.

The critique group needs to stay focused. Draw up some guidelines for members to follow. Set goals. Don’t worry about perfection, worry about completion. Then go back and polish. Keep your eyes on the prize. Seek out other authors for advice. Schedule time to attend writers’ conferences. Killer Nashville is a great one for whatever stage you’re at in your story. Stay impersonal in the critiques. Keep in mind the old saying, “If you have nothing good to say, keep your mouth shut.” Critique is about perpetuating strengths and overcoming weaknesses through support.

Ultimately, a critique group has to be beneficial to the members, otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people meeting on a regular basis with no purpose.

Des Moines Homicide detective Harry Reznik and F.B.I. agent, Lori Campisi, have their hands more than a little full when they team up to investigate a series of gruesome murders.

With life throwing them one obstacle after another, the unlikely pair has no choice but to put their personal issues aside as they battle malevolent creatures from another dimension. With everything to lose, they have no one but each other to count on in a wicked game of survival.

Night Shadows is available through OmniLit, the bookstore on the corner of your digital neighborhood.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Agatha Nominees

Congratulations to every author on this list. You are amazing!

2010 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Novel:
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mira)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

Best First Novel:
The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames (Berkley)
Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden (Signet)
Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower (Five Star/Gale)
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill (Wildside Press)
Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff (Midnight Ink)

Best Non-fiction:
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin)
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: 50 Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (Harper)
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Stephen Doyle & David A. Crowder (For Dummies)
Have Faith in Your Kitchen by Katherine Hall Page (Orchises Press)
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Best Short Story:
"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight (Berkley)
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice (Level Best Books)
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin' (Wildside Press)
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2010

Best Children's/Young Adult:
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham (Dutton Children's)
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (Candlewick)
Virals by Kathy Reichs (Razorbill)
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith (Atheneum)

CR: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Forensic Pathology

I spent yesterday trying to pin down a few details and plot points for my manuscript involving Human Remains Detection dogs, a mountain meadow that's a dump site for bodies, and a megalomaniac intent on meeting his own needs.

Today's quandary revolved around autopsies and toxicology tests and well . . . stuff I don't know very much about.

(OT: This is kind of funny. I was talking to a woman awhile ago about my completed manuscript about black market body parts with a tagline of "Money may not be able to buy love, but enough can buy a new heart", and my current manuscript with a tagline of "Sometimes the dead shouldn't stay buried." She asked me if I had to do a lot of research. After the silent "Duh!" in my head, I told her I relied on personal experience. Was that mean?)

Last September, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend Writers' Police Academy. If you're a crime writer who is interested in the detail, the feel, the smell, the attitude, then you can't not go to this conference. Put it on your "A" list.

One of the presenters was Dr. Jonathan Hayes, the Senior Medical Examiner for New York City. Late this afternoon I had an 'aha' moment, and dug out my notes from his all-too-short presentation. Here are some tidbits just for you. Hopefully, you'll be able to tell what I've added from my own brain cells:

Television, and many novels, play into what Dr. Hayes calls "the distraction of the dramatic." Kind of like the old axiom, "If it bleeds, it leads", I think.

Pathologists perform:
-Autopsies - sudden death issues
-Evaluations of injuries
-Occasional live patient evaluations

Be careful not to confuse a coroner with a medical examiner.

-In the UK, a coroner must hold both MD and JD qualifications.

-In the US, a coroner is simply an elected official.

-In rural areas of the US, a coroner may have minimal training. He/she may be the person who has a truck and can transport bodies.

-Medical examiners are MDs who are pathologists with forensic training. This, thankfully, is the trend.

A good ME's office wants to keep a low profile. Jonathan's boss, the Chief Medical Examiner is especially proud that his (her?) name is not widely known.

More women than men are MEs. "Gore Hounds" is a common term. I'm thinking "Gore Whores."

CR: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Possessive Problem - A Guest Post by Peg Herring

Thanks, Peg for letting another Peg visit your blog!

Yesterday’s post, “Portmanteau Words”, is up at

The Possessive Problem

How did The Possessive Problem arise? Probably, the Congress, Parliament, or Whatever of Language got together to make decisions on the English language. I imagine that it went something like this.

His Honor, Lord Pedant: (After much clearing of the throat and bowing) Gentlemen, we are here to decide on a better way of showing ownership. This phrasing, “The pants of Peter” is too cumbersome.

Sir Sycophant: Hear, hear! Just so!

The Earl of Reason: I have heard in the general populace that they simply put the owner’s name before the item, Your Worship: Peter pants.

Baron Bore: (Pounding the table) Ridiculous! Who ever heard of such a thing? The people know NOTHING! Peter pants? Bah! It sounds like a fairy boy, flitting in some land where one never grows up.

Sycophant: Hear, hear! Ridiculous!

Reason: I suppose an additional sound might be added to indicate that the noun has become a modifier.

Lord Confused: (Waking from a short nap) What? What did he say? What, pray, is a modifier?

Reason: A modifier is a word that—

Pedant: Don’t try to explain, Reason. It will only make him worse. (Shouting) We’ll fix it, Connie!

Confused: All right, then. (Drifts back to sleep.)

Pedant: So we put something on the word to show that it indicates possession. I suggest an “s”.

Reason: Oh, Your Worship. I don’t think that is a good idea. We’ve already used the “s” for plurals.

Pedant: All the more reason to use it again. Get some value out of it, what?

Sycophant: Hear, hear! Put it to work, I say.

Reason: But people won’t know a plural from a possessive!

Bore: Then we’ll add something to it. How about an apostrophe?

Sycophant: Just so! An apostrophe!

Reason: But we’ve got apostrophes in contractions already. How will they know the difference?

Bore: Let ’em work it out. Lazy buggers need something to do.

Sycophant: Brilliant! Give the lazy buggers a real test, eh, what?

Pedant: (Making notes on his parchment scroll) Here’s how I envision it. If a word is singular, we’ll add an apostrophe and an “s”
to show ownership. If it’s plural, we’ll put the apostrophe after the “s”.

Confused: (Waking with a snort) What if the word already ends in “s”?

Pedant: (A little cranky) They’ll have to work it out for themselves, won’t they?

Reason: I must say, this system is unworkable, but let’s make it as simple as possible. (Considers) Take our original example, “the pants of Peter”. There is no “s” on the last word, so one would add an apostrophe and an “s” to make it “Peter’s pants”. If it were “the pants of the soldiers”, the “s” is already there, so when we move the modifier, we would add only an apostrophe: “the soldiers’ pants”. By taking the possessive word and putting it behind the word it modifies, one can tell where the apostrophe goes.

Confused: And if the word already ends in “s”?

Reason: Follow the rule. It is simple and effective.

Pedant: It doesn’t work! What about “the soldiers ran” or “the rats nibbled”?

Sycophant: There, you see? It doesn’t work. I said it wouldn’t.

Reason: If one cannot make the phrase reverse, then there is no possessive and we need no apostrophe. “The ran of the soldiers” makes no sense, so it is not possessive. But “the time of two hours” or “the cry of the babies”—you see? (Sighs) That’s as simple as I can make it, given what the committee proposes.

Bore: Simplicity is not our goal, Reason! Rules must perplex people so that we can be their guides and advisers. Your proposals make things too easy, and Sir, you disgust me. A man of the people! Bah!

Reason: That would be “the people’s man”, Your Lordship, using our new system. And thank you. I consider it a compliment.

The Poser: Name a series/novel where the sleuth is a senior citizen.

The Prizes:Weekly prizes (your choice of THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY in e- or print format) drawn from the names of those who comment on the blogs as we go. Comment once/day, but the first commenter each day gets entered twice in Saturday’s drawing!

The Pitch: THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY, First in The Dead Detective Mysteries, paranormal mystery. Tori Van Camp wakes in a stateroom on a cruise ship with no memory of booking a cruise, but she does have a vivid recollection of being shot in the chest. Determined to find out what happened and why, Tori enlists the help of an odd detective named Seamus. Together they embark on an investigation like nothing she’s ever experienced. Death is all around her, and unless they act quickly, two people she cares about are prime candidates for murder. Read more about this book and the author at or buy the book at

The Perpetrator: Peg Herring writes historical and contemporary mysteries. She loves everything about publishing, even editing (most days). Peg’s historical series, The Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries, debuted in 2010 to great reviews. The second in the series will be available in November from Five Star.

The Pathway: The next entry , “Read It Aloud” and the answers/comments to the Poser will be up at

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Playlist

Thanks to Jane Bishop and 4MA's Moldy Cockroach.

Happy Valentine's Day.

It's all better with friends.


Need to get jazzed?

With a little help from The Brothers Winn (you can check them out here) my week is off to a good start.

Be sure and watch it to the very end.

CR: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan, available on Kindle (and other e-readers) for $2.99.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Author's Decision to E-Publish

Please welcome Geraldine Evans as my guest today at Suspense Novelist. When Geraldine sent me the photo of her work area, she explained that it's downstairs in the living room as it's warmer and nearer the kettle for tea.

Geraldine Evans has been writing since her twenties, though only began to get novels published halfway through her thirties. As well as her popular Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series, she has a second crime series, Casey & Catt and has also had published an historical, a romance and articles on a variety of subjects, including, Historical Biography, Writing, Astrology, Palmistry and other New Age subjects. She has also written a dramatization of Dead Before Morning, the first book in her Rafferty series.

She is a Londoner, but now lives in Norfolk England where she moved, with her husband George, in 2000.

Deadly Reunion is her eighteenth novel and fourteenth in the humorous Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series. She is currently working on the next in the series.

My epublishing Experiences
Geraldine Evans, author of the Rafferty & Llewellyn and Casey & Catt crime series

It’s not so long (latter quarter of 2010) since I had my first ebook publishing experience, so it’s still fresh in my mind. It took a while to bring me round to the idea, but it was the members of Yahoo Group MurderMustAdvertise whose emails about it that convinced me I could do it. And they were right. So far, I’ve published two ebooks, both crime novels, my out-of-print debut Dead Before Morning and its follow-up, Down Among the Dead Men, both part of my humorous, fourteen-strong, Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series. I’m no longer a technological virgin when it comes to ebooks. Is it time to lose your techie cherry? Go on. You’ll be glad you did. The MMA group will hold your hand every step of the way. Ask whatever questions you like on the list. No one will think you’re stupid if there’s something (everything, in my case!) that you don’t understand.

The first thing to do is to make sure you have got back your rights from your publisher if it’s a book that has already been published once. This shouldn’t be too difficult if it was published some years ago, as you’ll want to be able to offer it to the widest readership possible. But this can sometimes take a little while so start a few months before you intend to go the epublishing route. That done, it’s all systems go!

You might have your backlist on old Amstrad or other out dated discs. Don’t worry as these can be converted and put on CD or the converted docs sent to you via email. I used a firm called Luxsoft in Cornwall in the UK for the conversion. Each disc conversion cost me £5 plus post and packing (sorry, I don’t know how much that is in Dollars, but it’s not much), but if you go online, you’ll soon find firms who offer a similar service in your country. And even if you don’t, the old floppies aren’t going to cost you that much to post to the UK. You don’t even have to pay for the postage for their return if you prefer not to as the conversions can be sent to you by email. Once you have your converted files you’ll have a little bit of work to do to tidy them up as the conversion can alter formats and so on. In my experience, the conversion is very good and there isn’t a lot of cleaning up to do so don’t worry about that side of things.

Next, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to go the epublishing route on your own or employ a specialist. If you think you’re brave enough or know enough, go to this Amazon address (wouldn’t you know it – they’ve changed the name. It’s now called KDP for Kindle Direct Publishing, but the DTP address will get you there just the same) and follow the instructions on the site. For the rest of you, feel free to find your own expert to get your work ready for kindle, iPad, nook, sobo, etc, but I’m more than happy to recommend Kimberly Hitchens (hitch at Q dot com), who made the experience painless for me. She’s a hard taskmaster, don’t get me wrong; she wanted me to proofread three times! Hell, my hardback publisher only expects one proofread. We compromised on two. To be honest, by this time, what with proofing the Amstrad conversion as well, I was getting sick of the sight of my blasted book. But do take great care when you proofread. The book is representing you and if you’re slapdash with your paragraphing, line-spacing, etc, readers might be put off and less inclined to read your next. Just because it’s ‘only’ an ebook is no reason to lower your standards. I have to say that I’ve read a few ebooks where the author hadn’t taken the required amount of trouble and it really put me off. And these were authors I had previously respected as being total professionals.

Anyway, before you start with Kimberly or some other expert, you’ll need to download Mozilla Firefox, plus their epub software, which is what your expert will use both to work with you and to prepare your work for epublishing. Don’t worry, they’re both free.

Your expert will not only prepare your work for publishing to kindle, they should also prepare it for publishing to other ebook publishing formats, Mine was prepared for kindle, iPad, iPhone, nook, sobo, iBookstore, android and several others whose names escape me. Kimberly also has a deal with an American firm called InGrooves, whereby they will not only put your book up on an amazing number of ebook sites, they will also supply you with an ISBN. And all for $50 or thereabouts.

To finish your book off and give it that professional polish, you’ll want to choose a cover. Admittedly, this part is not essential, but I think it’s worth the extra time and money. This is the fun part. You can go for a more expensive graphic artist or you can go the cheap route. I did the latter. Kimberly Hitchens knew a student who liked to eat occasionally and he designed both my covers. Take a look at them and see what you think. I’m pleased with my covers. I think they’re quite striking. But it’s up to you. Each cover cost me $75 and I paid for everything via Paypal. It’s easy enough to set up an account; just go to Paypal and follow the instructions.

Once you have your proofreading done and your cover chosen, you’ll need to upload the book to kindle and decide on a price. Most people on the MMA list seem to agree that $2.99 is the most effective price: not too low to make potential buyers think your product is going to be low quality, but not expensive enough to make people put their credit card back in their wallet. Its reasonably simple to complete amazon’s form on their DTP site, but if you have problems, don’t hesitate to ask your expert’s advice. When it comes to uploading to sites other than kindle, I chickened out and got Kimberly to do it for me. Hey, who says you’ve got to be brave all the time?! It’s not as if it cost me any more money to have Kimberly do it. When you’re uploading to amazon, make sure you opt for the 70% royalty option. From what I’ve read about this, there seems no reason to opt for the lower percentage and every reason not to. But don’t forget, whatever you decide on, be it the price or the royalty percentage, you can always go back in and change things at a later date.

Altogether, taking the original disc conversion into account, I suppose it took me around three or four weeks to get my first ebook up on kindle et al. And Kimberly’s services cost me $100. Altogether, including the artwork, disc conversion and InGrooves’ work and provision of the ISBN, it cost me less than $230. Pretty good value, I thought. I’m not selling in huge numbers, but they’re steady and require no more work from me, so I regard them as a bonus. I’m waiting to see if my sales figures rise during and after this blog tour. I’ll post on my blog either way.

Don’t forget, once your book’s up, to check out your ebook’s sales position. Just type 'novelrank' into the search bar and click on Sales Rank Tracking for Author Sales on Amazon. But before you do this, you need to get your book’s amazon URL. So go to amazon, get on your book’s page on the site and copy the URL at the top, this can then be pasted into amazon’s Sales Rank site which will bring up your book. Click on this and your sales and ranking will come up on screen.

As for me, would I epub again? You bet. I found epublishing a blast. Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose? Your backlist’s probably earning you nothing if you’re a midlister like me. Your out-of-print books could be bringing you in an income again and they’ll be given a new lease of life. Maybe you will be, too.


Deadly Reunion
A Rafferty & Llewellyn crime novel by Geraldine Evans
Publication: 24 February 2011 (UK) 1 June 2011 (US)

Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty is barely back from his honeymoon before he has two unpleasant surprises. Not only has he another murder investigation - a poisoning courtesy of a school reunion, he also has four new lodgers, courtesy of his Ma, Kitty Rafferty. Ma is organising her own reunion and since getting on the Internet, the number of Rafferty and Kelly family attendees has grown, like Topsy. In his murder investigation, Rafferty has to go back in time to learn of all the likely motives of the victim's fellow reunees. But it is only when he is reconciled to his unwanted lodgers, that Rafferty finds the answers to his most important questions.


ebooks on

Geraldine Evans’s website

Geraldine Evans’s blog


The draw of all the comments throughout the Tour will take place at the end of the Tour (end-Feb). There will only be three winners, each of whom wins one signed copy of Deadly Reunion, my latest hardback (fourteenth in my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series), one copy of each of two ebooks that are the first and second novels in my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series, that is, one of Dead Before Morning and one of Down Among the Dead Men. They will also receive a subscription to my blog (which they can let lapse when it runs out).

CR: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

It's all better with friends.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Robert Crais talks about CHASING DARKNESS

"When you look at the book, it actually is not a completed piece of art. The art isn't completed until the reader reads it." - Robert Crais

If you're looking for some motivation, this might just do the trick.

CR: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

It's all better with friends.