Spooky season approaches! Prepare with one of these atmospheric books

Guest post by Sydney from Bookpals (@bookpals)

It. Is. Spooky. Season. Raise your hand if Halloween is your absolute favourite holiday of all time? Yes. Yes spooky babies, I see you and I am here for you.

Why do we love Halloween? For me it’s a potent cocktail of pure nostalgia (grade school halloween parades yes please), inappropriate-for-my-age-horror-movie viewing (sure dad, let’s watch Alien 3, I’m only 8 years old) and an unabiding love of dressing up has been brewing and bubbling my whole life.

Young Sydney one hundred and ten percent believed in ghosts, goblins, witches and gremlins. Did I start a Ghostbusters society at my elementary school? Yes. Did I make a Witch Business at age nine with my best friend complete with business cards? Also yes. Did I borrow the same book on poltergeists over and over again from the library and bother my mother incessantly with “facts” about gremlins? Hard yes.

I was a spooky kid. I loved weird and wonderful things even though they absolutely scared the pants off of me. I don’t think I’ve grown into a particularly spooky adult, but my love of Halloween runs deep and true. Here’s some books to get you in the spooky mood (as if you would need help…)

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Vic McQueen is able to find lost things in a way even she doesn’t understand. One day she finds something she shouldn’t have and has a life-changing run in with terrifying Charles Manx. She manages to escape but Manx never forgets a face, especially one like Vic’s. Sure his dad is the kind of horror but Joe Hill wrote a book that genuinely creeped me right the heck out and was quite well written.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Girls have always disappeared from the island of Sawkill Rock, but nobody talks about it. New girl Marion crosses paths with Val and Zoey and between the three of them, they’re getting to the bottom of this (no matter how little each of them wants to be involved) This reads like a very enjoyable scary movie and gave me the shivers a few times

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
A New England girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with some dark magic to win their 1989 season. Not particularly scary but definitely spooky and absolutely worth a read (plus 10/10 for fall atmosphere)

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
You won’t find this short story collection in the horror section at your bookstore but trust me, some of the wild creations that come from Jemisin’s mind could easily wind up there. You meet monsters (human and non), dystopian futures and some truly scary witches.

The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James
Carly’s aunt Viv disappeared in the middle of the night in November 1982 after working the night shift at the Sundown Motel. Carly wants some answers about her aunt’s disappearance and in her search for the truth finds herself working at the Sundown, with the exact same shift as her aunt. Will Carly suffer the same fate as Viv? Fans of the supernatural and true crime will find things to like.

Sydney is one half of Bookpals, a Canadian bookstagram duo. She works full time as a midwife and loves Halloween, ’80s movies, bad dancing and her three cats.

Tips for Virtual Author Events

Want to feel terrible about yourself? Plan an event at a bookstore for your book, show up to the store in your fancy writer’s outfit, and quickly realize that nobody is there to see you except for the bookstore owner and a bored staff member the owner forces to watch your reading.

This has happened to every writer I know and, while it makes for a ruefully amusing story years later in your career, these lackluster events are terribly inconvenient for yourself and the bookstore – particularly if the store ordered copies of your book, and is dedicating an evening to you in place of someone who would have drawn a better crowd.

Of course, now that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, writers need ways to promote their books outside of in-person events. For years, I’ve run a reading series in D.C. called “Noir at the Bar,” an event where 8-9 crime fiction writers take turns reading stories at a bar (for more about the series, including its national origins, check out this article in CrimeReads). I was recently inspired by my friend Alex Segura, who runs the Queens NY Noirs at the Bar, to move my series online and re-name it. It’s now called “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” and we’ve had wonderful success since it debuted in April – media coverage, attendance in the hundreds, and the series has garnered a devoted following.

In the process, I’ve learned some important thing about putting together a virtual event:

Make It Bigger Than You

You might be tempted, particularly if you’re launching a new book this year, to have an event solely focused on your work. I get that. And it makes sense, particularly if you already have a following. If you don’t, then make sure you have a “draw” for your event. For example, ask a better-known author to join you in conversation. Or, if your book has a natural fit with an organization, reach out to them and ask if they have a virtual series you can be part of (you should already know this, to be honest, and really should be asking if you can take part in an existing series). Make sure there’s a reason people will tune in…people outside of your own circle of fans, friends, and family. 

Organizations and event planners have been scrambling these past few months for ways to keep their membership engaged. Make your event an enticing fit for them, and they’ll be excited to include and promote you.

Know the Software

Likely, everyone reading this has used Zoom for online meetings and gatherings, and it’s a terrific platform. But it’s not the only one. For “D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires,” I use Crowdcast, a site particularly suited for readings where one presenter after another takes the stage. And even though, like Zoom, the site is fairly intuitive, I still take pains to make sure that every writer’s microphone and web cam are working prior to an event.

There are always going to be glitches. Make sure you have a backup plan, and expect to be nimble. Viewers expect glitches, but there is a definite shortage of patience if these problems persist. It’s much easier, after all, to click off a site than it is to walk out of a reading.

Dare to Flair

There’s nothing more boring than an author reading their work. Most writers are famously introverted and not exactly gifted presenters. The last thing anyone wants is to go to a reading where someone is staring down at a book and muttering for an hour. BORING.

Add something fun to your event. For this D.C. series, I have musical interludes where a local jazz star (the fantastic Sara Jones) sings noir-themed songs. And a local mixologist, Chantal Tseng, puts together a custom cocktail for each event (based off one of the books) and gives a quick demonstration of how to make it. Sara and Chantal have become the stars of the series, and an added element viewers greatly look forward to. And both women have suffered the sudden halt of their livelihoods – cancelled live events and closed bars. It’s nice to do something where they have the chance to resume their craft.

Local Media Wants to Know

I mentioned that event organizers have been scrambling for content to share with their members; the same is true with your local media, especially reporters who cover local events. Nothing is happening anywhere and, if you have an interesting angle for your event, you have a wonderful chance to get some attention for it. The D.C. Virtual N@B series has received coverage from DCist, the Washington Post, and NPR – media that, traditionally, had been impossible for me to attract to the in-person events.

Work with a Bookstore

Even in good times, independent bookstores have it tough, and the current economy is leveling local businesses. Every event in my reading series is in support of a local DC/MD/VA bookstore, and the bookstores have responded warmly to this effort, with promotions and dedicated event pages. My region, in particular, is fortunate to have a strong bookstore presence, one that is enthusiastically supportive of its local writers, and this is an opportunity to do something for them.

And it doesn’t hurt, of course, for these local bookstores to be familiar with your name, and to consider you an instrumental part of the community.

You’re getting something out of this, to be sure, but you’re doing something for others at the same time. You’re bringing a sense of distraction and escape to people who desperately need it. Never forget that. It’ll give your event a sense of purpose and determination viewers will recognize and appreciate.

To learn more about D.C.’s Virtual Noir for Indie Bookstoires series, visit https://eaymarwrites.com/noirbar/. To learn more about E.A. Aymar and his upcoming novel, They’re Gone, written under his pseudonym E.A. Barres, visit https://eaymarwrites.com/novels/theyre-gone/.

Books Forward author Tori Eldridge uses Asian-Pacific pride to promote representation in literature

I can’t imagine a better place to grow up as an Asian-American, Pacific Islander than Hawaii. Our island community is predominantly Asian and mixed-race, so most of the kids I went to school with had dark hair and lovely shades of brown skin. I fit in perfectly.

My mother is Chinese-Hawaiian, my father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and they met and married in Tokyo, where my sisters were born. I came along over a decade later and was born and raised in Honolulu. There weren’t many full-blooded Hawaiians, even then, so being part Hawaiian was and is a source of pride. And with over 50 percent of the population identifying as Asian, being almost half-Chinese was common.

Things were quite different when I moved to Illinois to attend Northwestern University. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. In fact, less than 4 percent of the student population was mixed race and less than half a percent were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Fortunately, my self-image had been set in Hawaii, and I carried my Chinese, Hawaiian, Norwegian heritage proudly with me when I moved to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for 36 years. Rather than feeling isolated by my extreme minority, I’ve felt kinship to everyone because of my mixed race.

I was able to share my heritage and mixed-race experience while writing my debut novel, “The Ninja Daughter.”

The protagonist Lily Wong is a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja in Los Angeles with “Joy Luck Club” family issues. I drew heavily from my own Chinese-Norwegian culture and experience as a fifth-degree black belt in the Japanese art of the ninja to write her story. But I also drew from the experience of my Chinese-American friends and fellow ninja.

Although my character and I are undeniably close, Lily is definitely not me. She is her own powerful person, plagued by doubts and demons, defined by family, and fueled by purpose.

That said, family and heritage are also deeply important to me.

I can trace my Hawaiian roots to 1783, during the reign of King Kamehameha. The kānaka maoli — native Hawaiians — are generous, beautiful people with a culture, rich in song, dance, and storytelling. Hawaiians are our own race of people with native language, customs and ancestry. But modern Hawaii culture is an amalgamation of many, especially those from Asian countries.

My Chinese ancestors were early pioneers on the island of Maui and, along with all the other first-wave Chinese settlers, contributed to its modern culture, language and commerce. The people of modern Hawaii are a mixed plate. This is evident in our fusion of food, clothing and our Hawaiian Pigeon English. Unlike other forms of pigeon English, Hawaiian Pigeon is a legitimate creole language — fully developed and taught to many children as a primary language. Although it incorporates many words from the native Hawaiian language, they are not at all the same. Although both have their place, I am happy to see a resurgence of our beautiful aboriginal language.

In the midst of this deeply ethnic environment, my father infused me with stories and wisdom from his own North Dakota upbringing and Norwegian heritage. Naturally, I wanted to celebrate this with my protagonist, Lily Wong.

It meant the world to me that my parents lived long enough to know I was writing a novel — and now a series — that would celebrate their heritage.

Asian and Pacific Islander representation in literature and media matters. Not only is it vital to see ourselves and identify with positive role models, but it’s important for everyone of all ethnicities to expand our awareness of each other. This is how people learn to appreciate and connect with one another.

I love that Lily Wong’s mother is an immigrant from Hong Kong, that her father is Norwegian from North Dakota, and that her ninjutsu teacher was born and raised in Japan. I love that my son fell in love with a woman from Hong Kong — after I was well into writing the first draft of “The Ninja Daughter” — and has married this wonderful woman into our family. I love how my art has not only become an expression of my life but a means to delve even more deeply into my ancestry and identity. I am honored to celebrate all of this during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Tori Eldridge is the Lefty-nominated author of “The Ninja Daughter,” which was named one of the “Best Mystery Books of the Year” by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and awarded 2019 Thriller Book of the Year by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her short stories appear in several anthologies, and her screenplay “The Gift” earned a semifinalist spot in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer and dancer on Broadway, television and film. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised in Honolulu, where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the U.S. teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection.

Why Even Internet Addicts Need a Publicist

I confess– I spend more hours than I want to admit online.  Yet as a debut novelist, I needed a more extensive network of media contacts I could call upon when I released Things Unsaid a year ago.

Yes, all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their books. You will be a writer without a readership without good marketing and publicity. Reaching readers to make them aware of your book requires a team effort, and the publicist is part of the author’s team. You have to be realistic about what you can do on your own, and what requires a helping hand.  Publicists provide:

  • research on social media strategy
  • introductions to  brick-and-mortar bookstores with a cult following,
  • book award contests and book review opportunities.
  • chances to write columns for online magazines.

The competition is fierce for a small number of slots from traditional media. Coverage is a brutal blood sport and newspapers, radio, even television increasingly have limited outreach in a cyberworld. Furthermore, traditional media coverage may feel very good when it happens, but it doesn’t necessarily move the needle all on its own. The authors who work best with a publicist are those who understand what they’re up against, but feel positive about how much there is they can do.  It will take some time to see the effects of an effort and there are no overnight successes. Effective marketing yields increased momentum for your book.  In contrast, publicity is more about getting people to recognize who you are in a world of oversaturation and elevates you above the rest of the chatter.

“I don’t want to ask for reviews.” Yet that’s the job. You avoid reaching out to friends and family yet again to come to a bookstore event or write another review for another website. You have to constantly pitch. I hired my partner JKS Communications three months before launch date with a lengthy Excel spreadsheet of blog sites I had already contacted for possible reviews of Things Unsaid. I needed someone to help with the heavy lifting.

The first thirty days after publication can feel a bit surreal. You expect something to be different, affirmed, if not sanctified, by the rights and privileges of publication.   You should be happy and enjoy this major accomplishment. But when you visit your local indie bookstore, you notice there isn’t even a copy of your book on the local authors bookshelf.  Everyone starts to ask when your next book is coming out and you’re exhausted because there hasn’t been time to write while you’ve been promoting this book.

Book clubs may invite you to speak and plan to borrow copies from the library or buy used copies on Amazon. A year after the release of the book, your royalty check won’t even pay one month’s electric bill. Before you know it, they’ve remaindered the rest of your books they have in inventory.

Your publicist is there to support you through that period too, when post-partum-publication depression sets in.  Success will take longer than you think and your publicist is a touchstone to that reality and managing expectations.  She can also be a shoulder to lean on when you are just plain tired of the task at hand.

Marketing and publicity never really end—but with the right publicist you can start out of the gate prepared for what lies ahead and energized by a partner who knows what you are going through.   The timeframe for success stretches over years rather than months. It can be a slow burn, or even a simmer.

Thank you,  JKS Communication!  “Successful marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.”


 

DIANA Y. PAUL is a former professor at Stanford University. Her short stories have appeared in multiple literary journals, and she is the author of three nonfiction books, Women in Buddhism, Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China, and The Buddhist Feminine Ideal. She lives in Carmel, California with her husband and loves to create mixed media art. She is working on her second novel, tentatively titled A Perfect Match.  Visit her author website at: www.dianaypaul.com Twitter: @DianaPaul10

Villains: You Have to Love Them (at least a little) to Make Them Engrossing

We thriller writers are consumed with creating the perfect villain, but as we all know it is easier said than done. As former romance novelist and current literary agent Donald Maass states in The Fire in Fiction, villains, antagonists, bad guys, femme fatales, or whatever one wants to call them “are frequently cardboard. Most are presented as purely evil.” Which is not a good thing since most people find pure evil dull, unbelievable, and predictable and so, too, do fiction readers. So how do you do what very few authors seem to have the chops to do and create the perfect villain? An antagonist that your readers will remember long after you’re gone, or at least find captivating enough so that they don’t roll their eyes or, God forbid, actually put down your latest thriller?

In six words, you have to love the bastards. I don’t mean that you have to want to fall on your knees and propose to your villains or whisper sweet nothings in their ears, but you have to care deeply about them. More importantly, you have to empathize with them and feel their pain at every turn. Remember that Lucifer was an angel once. Hannibal Lecter was a promising young medical student from an aristocratic Lithuanian family long before he began his career as a gourmet cannibal. And as murderous stagecoach robber Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) said in 3:10 to Yuma, before shoving Peter Fonda’s lawman character Byron off the edge of a cliff to his death for bad-mouthing Wade’s mother: “Even bad men love their mommas.”

There are thousands of books and blog posts on how to create memorable and believable antagonists. These resources will tell you that you have to full flesh out your villains by making them well-rounded, complex characters. To do that, the usual gimmicks are to give your villains at least a few virtuous qualities, to make them point-of-view characters and reveal their inner desires and motives, to present them as equally formidable or even more powerful than the antagonist, or to humanize them by showing that they love and are loved by others or by making the characters around them even more morally reprehensible. All of these techniques are great, and I use them myself quite often, but there is a far simpler solution. I believe it is a matter of projecting your own personal, deeply held emotions into your villains—your most intimate hopes and dreams, fears and phobias. In the process, you cannot help but love the dangerous, lawless, corrupt, or immoral bastards you create (if only a little) because you have made them utterly authentic and credible from the very emotions that you yourself have experienced.

After all, we have all felt joy, happiness, and love just as we have experienced the sheer agony of defeat and feelings of raw jealousy or been subjected to the harsh reality of being invisible, passed over, or mistreated by others. With our villains, it is a matter of projecting these types of emotions into their actions and worldview. We have to truly see things through their eyes by tapping into the visceral feelings we have experienced firsthand in our lives.

In my standalone political thriller, The Coalition, my primary antagonist is a femme-fatale assassin code-named Skyler, who has been raped and abused by men and channels her lust for vengeance into increasingly dangerous male-only assassinations. To maintain her cover and continue to evade capture, she has cleverly convinced the world’s intelligence and law enforcement community that the sniper it seeks is actually an infamous Spanish male assassin named Gomez. At first glance, Skyler would seem to be an unsavory character, a treacherous and predatory professional assassin that would be hard to empathize with and thus provide a liability to the novel. And yet, James Patterson praised The Coalition for having “a lot of action and suspense and an unusual female assassin” and Foreword Reviews said that “Skyler is unique” as “the standout character in this taut and fast-paced political thriller.” Similarly, Donald Maass said of the novel and our female killer elite: “Reminiscent of The Day of the Jackal…with a high level of authentic detail. Skyler is a convincing sniper, and also a nicely conflicted one.” Ultimately, what makes Skyler an intriguing villain to Patterson, Maass, and others is not her cleverness, beauty, or professional expertise, but because readers connect with her on a gut level. This connection is due to the emotional damage she has undergone and the conflict she feels inside. Though I am not a professional assassin, a woman, or an Italian (at least not that I know of), in creating Skyler I projected deep and authentic emotions into her character based on my own feelings. In the process, I made Skyler the character that people remember and care most about in The Coalition.

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I took a similar approach to my villains in Blind Thrust: A Mass Murder Mystery and Cluster of Lies, Books 1 and 2 of my Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series. In Blind Thrust, the antagonists to Cheyenne environmental geologist Higheagle are the Quantrill brothers, owners of the largest hazardous waste disposal company in the U.S. As Forward Reviews states, “The nuanced portrayal of the Quantrill brothers in particular humanizes characters engaged in what some deem a field hazardous to the environment. The two men are jovial, sly, and eager to please. Marquis deftly injects nuances of shrewdness into all his characters, each portrayed as an intelligent person with whom it is easy to empathize.” Foreword Reviews honored the book by naming it a Foreword Reviews Book of the year (Honorable Mention) in the Thriller and Suspense category. In Cluster of Lies, the two antagonists thwarting Higheagle are a leading real-estate developer and an elderly businessman, and again reviewers recognized that I hadn’t short-thrifted my villains or my heroes. “Some characters ooze humanity, even when least expected, while others are rife with vile plans and entitlement. But each is written with a distinct voice and focus, making them credible even if they aren’t always likable.” I would argue that the antagonists in these books engage readers not because they are clever, formidable, powerful, or occasionally humane—but rather because I have instilled in them deep emotions that we can all connect to as human beings.

cluster-of-lies-ebook-cover-6-20-16-4

In other words, I loved the bastards. At least a little.

You should care deeply about your villains, too, and instill in them the powerful emotions you have felt in your own life. As Donald Maass says in Writing 21st Century Fiction, the key to writing great fiction is to make it highly personal and fill it with the conflict, emotion, and intensity that you yourself have experienced in the highs and lows of your own unique life. If you do that, then readers will remember your villains and your works for years to come.


 

Samuel Marquis is a bestselling, award-winning suspense author. He works by day as a VP–Principal Hydrogeologist with an environmental firm in Boulder, Colorado, and by night as the spinner of the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, the Nick Lassiter International Espionage Series, and a World War Two Trilogy. His thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, and Next Generation Indie), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). His website is www.samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Chelsea Apple at chelsea@jkscommunications.com.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone

Today, I’m discussing the cover of my latest Ellie Stone mystery, Heart of Stone (Seventh Street Books, June 16, 2016). Readers judge books by their covers. They may not choose the book after skimming it, but they certainly pick it up in the first place because of the cover.

Covers attract attention in a variety of ways. The artwork creates mood through images, colors, fonts, and other elements of design. These are the covers of the first three Ellie Stone novels. The amazing Jackie Nasso Cooke of Prometheus/Seventh Street Book designed them all.

What do we see? First of all, there is a consistency in the layout: a clean font, and similar placement of the text. There’s also the thematic repetition of women’s clothing: shoes and gloves. Jackie strives to maintain the same design basics for each cover to build a look, a branding that readers have come to associate with the Ellie Stone mysteries.

One of many advantages of being published by a press like Prometheus/Seventh Street is that they are willing to discuss cover ideas with their authors. That doesn’t happen at every publishing house. Since the Ellie Stone mysteries are set in 1960-61, the marketing folks told me they wanted a stronger nostalgic look for the Heart of Stone cover. They wanted readers to recognize the era instantly.

From the moment I plotted out Heart of Stone, I knew what kind of cover I would like to see. A summer lake with mountains in the background. Ideally, there would be a wooden dock and perhaps an Adirondack chair. And the item I wanted more than anything else was a discarded women’s one-piece bathing suit that matched the early sixties era. But the perfect image proved to be elusive. The art department considered thousands of photographs, looking for just the right one.

They found lots of docks with lakes, mountains, and Adirondack chairs. But they didn’t look anything like 1961. And there were no bathing suits, except those filled with women.

We tried other ideas. I liked this one, but it wasn’t quite right. No lake, mountains, or bathing suit. And no nostalgia.

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This one was perfect to illustrate the nude bathing that runs through the book, but the title would have been lost against the text in the image.

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Jackie explored several other themes that might fit, but no one was satisfied.

This one is beautiful, but it looks more like a young-adult novel cover. A little too wholesome.

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Here’s an idyllic Adirondack lake, and it has a nostalgic look. Nice, but still no bathing suit, no mystery, no fun. And the orientation is landscape, which in this case wouldn’t have worked for a cover.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

Time was running short. We were in danger of having to send out the reviewer copies with no cover art at all.

And then, eureka! I stumbled across the photo below on a stock photography site. It took some imagination to picture the final cover, but I knew Jackie could turn this into a gem. First, we’d need to cut it down to fit a portrait orientation. Then we had to get rid of the hat and flip-flops. They didn’t fit the period. But the rest of the photo ticked all the boxes: the dock, the lake, mountains, and bathing suit. The splash in the water was gravy.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

 

Using Photoshop, I made a crappy mock-up and e-mailed it to Jackie to get her thoughts. She responded almost immediately with the comment, “This one is a contender.” I was thrilled.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

But my version was far from acceptable. Jackie went to work, removing the hat and shoes, and correcting the color. We wanted a faded Kodachrome look to give it more of a retro mood. Here’s the concept she came up with.

I loved it. Everyone else seemed to be on board as well. But my brilliant agent, William Reiss of John Hawkins and Associates, thought the dock looked a little empty. He said he’d like to see something else there to set the period. He suggested a transistor radio. Jackie worked her magic, found the perfect radio, and slipped it in. It was a home run.

Cover Story: Heart of Stone / James W. Ziskin

 

And so the Heart of Stone cover was born. It’s sexy without being sexist. It’s fun and consistent in style with the covers of the previous books in the series. It even features an article of women’s clothing. And it evokes the appropriate time and suggests the nude bathing I wanted. If Heart of Stone fails to set the world on fire, it won’t be the fault of the cover.

Heart of Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery arrives in stores and online June 7, 2016. (Seventh Street Books)


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James W. Ziskin is the Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-nominated author of the Ellie Stone mysteries Styx & Stone, No Stone Unturned, Stone Cold Dead, and Heart of Stone. Look for Cast the First Stone in summer of 2017.

This post was originally published on Killer Nashville.

Publishing is Personal

I was recently at a conference where one of the other speakers, an author with her first book out, said she doesn’t blog. She said she put out a monthly newsletter, but she didn’t like blogging so she doesn’t do it.  OMG, radical rebellion – she doesn’t blog! What happened to the rules? One must blog, one must run Facebook ads, one must Tweet!

I am well into the process of launching my first legal thriller, and as any newly published author knows, there is more to do than can be done. No matter how large the staff or how many contract vendors one engages, every opportunity cannot be mined. There is also more available than most can pay for. How does a newbie in the publishing world decide which avenues to explore and which to leave for the next author or the next book? How does a writer new or experienced select the marketing items where they can wisely spend their time and money?

I went through my process by trial and error, at first slinging mud to see what would stick. Early on, I realized that I was going to drop from exhaustion and never have time to finish the next book. Two major things came to the fore that helped me to narrow my focus and discover my personal path to publishing.

First, I hired an expert who kept up with the latest trends, and second, I started paying attention to what I enjoyed in the process. This sounds simplistic, just hire an expert and do what you like – but it’s not that easy.

With regard to the expert, I began my pre-launch process with an enthusiastic, but inexperienced advisor who cost a third as much as my current advisors, but who thought that every idea was a great idea. I followed this enthusiasm for a time, ordering promotional items, buying advertising, and wasting time on things that sold no books, got me little exposure, and drained my energy and my bank account. When I began working with a new publicist, I found that just by nature of the contract process, we explored what was important to me, what would be emphasized, and the strengths that both the advisor and I had that supported my launch. When we executed the contract, we followed a plan we had laid out in advance, without adding new tasks every time we saw a shiny new distraction.

Ok, you may say, “I’m on a budget or I’ve decided to do everything myself.” Same here for part of my campaign. Next, I evaluated each of my virtual staff members and re-assessed my ability to monitor and manage them.  For the things I was keeping in house, I broke the plan into parts and looked at each one individually. I had a mental talk with the part of me that wears the publicist hat, then put on the social media hat, etc. until I went through each member of my internal and virtual team to assess what was working and what was not. I thought about what I or the consultant was good at in each department and set limits based on my honest response to that assessment.

Second, I looked at the tasks I hated doing and either delegated them to someone else or eliminated them from the publishing plan. My personal process brought me to a few conclusions. For example, I love to cook and have a recipe included as part of the story in each of the Texas Lady Lawyer novels, so I did a free Cookbook of Southern Recipes that I give to readers in exchange for subscribing to my mailing list. I also included wine in DOLLAR SIGNS as a part of the plot, so I partnered with wineries for book signings and paired books and wine in my newsletter to promote other authors. These items might be time consuming and feel like work to others, for me it’s play. Next, I looked at social media. I originally thought that Twitter was the place for me, but through the process, I realized I could make a more personal connection on Facebook and chose that method to interact. I designed memes of the best quotes about my book and put those up in a rotation so that I always had someone else praising my novel.

These realizations led me to the point of doing the things that fit my personality best. I began to make genuine connections with winery owners, other authors, and readers with similar interests. I found that when I signed books in another town, I found readers through these mutual interests in addition to reading.

I prepared a presentation entitled Legal Issues For Authors that I use to give a free talk to any writer’s groups that request it. (A similar talk could be given on lighthouses, childcare, ghosts, etc.) The presentation allows me to talk about a subject in which I specialize – law, and combine it with an area that I love – writing. It allows me to make a personal connection with other authors who are also readers, and allows me to feel I am giving something to my community.

All of these time consuming activities, and many others too numerous to mention here, feel less like chores and more like play because they suit my personality and allow me to show my strengths. They also eliminate the black box syndrome where all the information goes in mixes around and comes out the other end in a mysterious fashion. I can actually see the target with this new method and assess whether I hit the bullseye or fall short.

And, to answer your inevitable question, yes, I do blog.  But, I blog about things that interest me – travel, photography, cooking, what’s going on in my real life. Not only does it follow my internal compass, but it provides a more organic and satisfying way to move through the publishing day.


 

Manning Wolfe is an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas. She writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first book in her series featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is “Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King.” A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.

This post was originally published on Murder by 4.

From Revealing to Concealing

All through college and graduate school, my professors taught me to start with a strong thesis statement, get to the point, and development an argument. Over the years, as a philosophy professor, I’ve gained a reputation for my clear and concise writing style. In my nonfiction, I’m a pretty straight shooter with a talent for making complicated ideas seem simple.

The first thing I realized switching from nonfiction to fiction, especially mysteries, is that you ruin the suspense if you get right to the point. In side of going straight, you have to swerve, duck, evade, and meander. Building suspense is the opposite of building an argument, and in fiction the simple things become complicated. It’s boring to just blurt out the truth or describe a scene as if you were plodding through an argument. Instead, with mysteries, you have to hide the truth and dig into the dirt under your protagonist’s feet. You have to describe the gritty details of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Writing fiction forced me out of the senseless world of abstract ideas and into the sensuous world of bodies, especially bruised and bloodied bodies, hungry and tired bodies, and bodies struggling to survive. That’s not to say that philosophy is meaningless. Far from it. For me, philosophy is just as messy as sensation. And writing philosophy is very satisfying. But, these days fiction writing is a lot more fun.

Instead of writing about the ambiguities of life or the ethics of responding to others in need, I can show the complications of relationships through my character’s interactions. Rather than describing the world we actually live in, I can create a world, one where women are strong and work together to fight back against violence. I love to bring together a collection of quirky characters and spin out a good feminist revenge fantasy where sexist professors get murdered, rapist frat boys get their butts kicked, and human trafficking scumbags get a shotgun slug to the gut, and where every sleazy cat-call is answered by a clever comeback. In real life, corrupt businessmen may get away with exploiting the poor and vulnerable, but in fiction we can give them their just rewards and put them away in irons.

While I always inject some humor into my nonfiction, writing funny mysteries feeds the need for humor in my life. Even writing about murder, human trafficking, and rape, it’s important to keep a sense of humor. Without wit and comedy, life gets too depressing.


 

When she’s not writing Jessica James mystery novels, Kelly Oliver is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She earned her B.A. from Gonzaga University and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She is the author of thirteen scholarly books, ten anthologies, and over 100 articles, including work on campus rape, reproductive technologies, women and the media, film noir, and Alfred Hitchcock. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and she has published an op-ed on loving our pets in The New York Times. She has been interviewed on ABC television news, the Canadian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs.

Kelly lives in Nashville with her husband, Benigno Trigo, and her furry family, Hurricane, Yukiyu, and Mayhem.

G.I.V.E. — Four Questions to Define Your Social Media Presence

I go to a lot of author events, and both there and among aspiring authors, I hear the same question repeated often: Is social media worth the time involved? Personally, I think that depends on how you invest that time online.

I’ve done a lot of things wrong over the years when it comes to social media. In fact, the whole point of the three-hour workshop I teach on social media for writers is to teach people how not to do what I’ve done wrong. But the one thing I’ve done right is that I’ve never given up on it. Everything else is fixable. So whether you have five followers or five thousand, you don’t have to be a slave to what you’ve already accomplished. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the time you’re spending or underwhelmed by your results, take charge. You can do it!

Establishing a positive and sustainable social media presence for yourself comes down to four simple questions you have to ask yourself. It comes down to what can you G.I.V.E.

  • Goals: What do you want to achieve with social media?
  • Inspiration: What inspires you? What strengths and talents can you offer to others?
  • Viability: How much time and effort do you want to put in?
  • Enjoyment: Are you going to enjoy doing whatever you decide to do enough to continue doing it indefinitely?

Goals

One of the classic newbie mistakes of social networking is that we writers tend to start blogs about writing. Do you see me raising my hand? Yep. I have a writing blog. And a twitter feed for writers. Is that going to help me sell books? Probably not. I didn’t think through my goals before I started blogging. I went to a local Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators meeting with a friend and heard an agent tell us that all aspiring authors had to have a blog. My friend and I decided to begin a blog together. Since we were just starting down the road to publication, what interested us was writing, and ergo, that’s what we blogged about. I don’t regret that at all. I learn by writing, so writing *about* writing was my way to move up the learning curve. Eventually though, I hit the point where I wasn’t learning anything new by creating articles for beginning writers, but I didn’t feel comfortable offering writing advice that went beyond the basics. At the same time, my blog partner had personal issues that took her away from blogging, so for a year and a half, with the exception of the First Five Pages Workshop, I handled the blog on my own. I let myself get overwhelmed. Instead of being able to focus on reading other blogs or craft books or just interacting with other writers via social media, it was all I could do to keep up my “required online presence.”

The solution? I examined my goals. Over the course of my blogging journey, I have met fantastic writing friends and critique partners. I learned a lot, but there is much more I want and need to learn. I want more time to read blogs and craft books, to read everything. I want to encourage and support other writers and connect with readers so I can learn more about what they want to read. Most of all, I want more time to write.

Inspiration

There isn’t any one way to achieve your social networking goals. The most important thing is finding a vehicle that will connect you with a network of people in a way that meets your goals and inspires you as a writer.

Before investing time into any social medium, make sure it will work for you in the longterm. That includes matching the type of medium to your goals and inspiration; they all have different strengths and conventions. Research them and discover which one will help you connect to the audience that will buy your books, help you grow as a writer, or support your emotional needs on the journey.

Any social medium is subject to change. New social media pop up all the time, and they can fade just as quickly. Remember MySpace? Consider who you want to reach, how you want to reach them, and what kind of content you want to provide to find the vehicle that will help you achieve your goals and keep you inspired to continue, and always be open to new ideas.

Viability

Users of different formats of social media have different expectations. Blogging, for example, works best on a set schedule so that your readers know when to stop by to catch their favorite feature. Tweeting too frequently can clog your readers’ feeds and result in them “unfollowing” you, but if you don’t Tweet enough, you can’t build much of a following. Writing long diatribes on Facebook is a great way to get yourself “unfriended.”

Before you jump into a particular social network, take the time to investigate what works for other people on that network, how often you will need to provide original content, and what your “followers” will expect in reciprocity.

With any form of social medium, creating original content takes little time compared to how long it takes to read other people’s blogs. For most authors, it also yields the least success. Social networking is all about being social. Sharing. Giving back. Building up others. If you don’t have the time to do that, then you aren’t creating a network and having an online presence isn’t going to do you much good. If you’re not the kind of person who wants to engage with people, put up a static website and don’t worry about the rest. Really. Chances are, if you don’t like being social–on the Internet or in real life–you aren’t going to be good at it if you force yourself to try, so find a medium that lets you put out the level of social contact with which you feel comfortable. You also have to be careful not to take on so much that your writing time gets sucked away.

A joint blog may be a good solution for writers who may not have a ton of time, or those who are hesitant to jump into social media too deeply. I definitely prefer to have someone to share the responsibilities, the occasional aggravation, and the success. For me, assessing my goals, inspiration, and viability led to inviting new blog partners/mentors to join me at AdventuresInYAPublishing.com and the 1st5PagesWritingWorkshop.com. I also started a new blog for readers called YASeriesInsiders.com, where I have not only author friends helping out, but also a great group of readers who collaborate to collect and share content from all over the web.

If you are considering a joint blog, or any kind of shared media, be sure to leave yourself room for branding. I have had to slowly transition my Twitter feed back to my real name, because I made the mistake of setting it up as a blog-related feed. I have also only recently discovered that we can post on the blog under separate names. Branding is critical in building relationships with your readers and potential readers. Investigate the options available for whatever kind of media you are considering, and remind yourself that you can’t build relationships on anonymity.

Enjoyment

In case you missed that last sentence, let me restate: your online presence is all about relationships. You don’t have to do it, but if you choose to be online, make sure you participate in a way that doesn’t become a chore. Have fun and don’t make it all about you. Make it about the people you like and respect. Share information. Pay it forward.

Consider who you want to reach and what *they* want. Then G.I.V.E.


 

Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She’s the acclaimed author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island series, including Compulsion (Oct ’14), Persuasion (Oct ’15), and Illusion (Oct ’16), from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She’s on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

She lives with her husband, children, and a lopsided cat, she enjoys writing contemporary fantasy set in the kinds of magical places she’d love to visit. When she isn’t writing, she’s addicted to travel, horses, skiing, chocolate flavored tea, and anything with Nutella on it.

My Inspiration for Dare to Kiss

Baseball has always been a sport I’ve loved. I grew up collecting baseball cards, watching the Boston Red Sox whenever a game was on TV, and playing with the boys in the schoolyard. And still after many, many years, the love of the game is still imbedded me. So much so, that my home office is riddled with pictures and memorabilia of the game.

My inspiration for Dare to Kiss goes a bit deeper. As a little girl I fought hard to play baseball on a boys’ city league. But back in the late sixties and early seventies, girls weren’t allowed to play on boys’ team. It was then I came up with the plot for Dare to Kiss on how a high school girl breaks through barriers to play on an all boys’ baseball team.

It didn’t take me long once I started writing. The protagonist, Lacey Robinson is a girl, who is a lot like myself. She loves the energy of the ball field. She loves hearing the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. She loves striking a batter out, but most of all she loves the game, and no matter the consequences, and she’s faced with many in Dare to Kiss, she works hard to push through everyone of them to play the game.

In today’s society it isn’t far off that we could see females in the major leagues one day. More girls are stepping up and showing their talent and skills. Case in point is seventeen-year-old Chelsea Baker who was the youngest female to ever throw at batting practice for the Tampa Bay Rays two years ago, and the first female of Hillsborough County in Florida to make the varsity team. I was so over the moon when I read about her. I mean, wow! I’m envious of any girl playing boys’ baseball.

To compliment Dare to Kiss, JKS Communications had this brilliant idea of an adult coloring book. At first, I couldn’t get my mind around the concept. As an adult, I haven’t colored since an early age. But I doodle when I sit at corporate meetings and color what I draw on paper. So why not have something fun for fans to do. I polled my fan group, and just about everyone was excited. In fact, the fans helped to pick out the scenes depicted in the coloring book. I wanted them to be part of the process, and I can’t thank them enough for all their help. One fan, Jennifer Lowe, who loves the Maxwell Series, bought the coloring books as soon as it was released. She said, “For me, it was a way to connect with the Maxwell Series, but also to get the creative juices flowing.” Not only can fans color, they can read excerpts of the scenes their coloring, which are located in the back of the coloring book.


 

S.B. Alexander writes sexy, new adult and college, sports, paranormal and military romance. She’s a former navy veteran, loves baseball, especially the Boston Red Sox, white powdered donuts, and handbags. She is an avid reader and loves to transport herself into other worlds–ones where vampires and the fantastical exist. Where life is the playground for the impossible.

Her young adult series, Vampire Seals, includes three books, On the Edge of Humanity, On the Edge of Eternity, and On the Edge of Destiny, which have garnered high praise from readers. Her Maxwell series claimed the #1 bestseller’s spot on Amazon UK’s sport’s fiction category and includes three books: Dare to KissDare to Dream, and Dare to Love.

This post was originally published on Fresh Fiction.