Christmas Sale

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Paperback copies of my three Community of Faith mysteries are now only $9.95!






A lonely grave in the Arizona desert. An innocent man convicted of murder. A young woman on a quest for truth.









When Faith Andersen agrees to go on a church retreat for a weekend of horseback riding, barbecues, and fellowship, she thinks her biggest problem will be rekindling her romance with the handsome pastor—until the ranch foreman is found murdered, and the primary suspect is her best friend’s husband.






Mira Levinson dared to challenge the local gamer club’s male brotherhood of geekdom. She wrote a game about feelings. A good game. For that she had to die.







And don't forget to pick up my romantic Christmas short story for Kindle! Only 99 cents!



Christmas can be lonely if you’re new in town—unless a lost kitten makes your wishes come true.
0

Going Forward

Saturday, December 05, 2015
A little more on what I started talking about last week.

Recently, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post entitled Some Days. In it, he said this:
Kris and I sort of have four basic messages to writers.
— We tell writers to write what they love.
— We tell writers to have fun with their writing.
— We tell writers that learning this business and craft takes time.
— We tell writers to not put all their eggs in one basket, let all readers find their work.
This might seem familiar because it says a lot of what I wrote about last week, and, yes, this was one of the posts I read that made me come to a decision about how to approach 2016.

My focus in 2015 was all about the money.



Everyone said that you started making good sales numbers when you had three books in a series, so my major goal was to finish the third book in my Community of Faith series. Even when I hated writing it.

Everyone said that KDP Select was the best choice because of the advantages Amazon gave you by being in it. You got an extra boost in the rankings because you were in Select. People not willing to pay for your books could borrow them and you’d get paid for that. You had the ability to offer Free days and discounted days via the Countdown program. So I committed to having all my books in Select.

Everyone said you needed to be on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram and whatever other social media sites came along. So I’ve worked at posting to my author Facebook page and advertising in reader groups and tweeting those obnoxious “buy my book” things.

Everyone said you needed to build your mailing list above all else as a marketing tool, with little practical advice as to how to do that other than to give away fiction. Preferably an entire novel. One marketing guru gives away three novels for mailing list signups. If you don’t have three novels, it’s suggested you come up with something else to give away. If you don’t have that, it was suggested you give away deleted scenes or character sketches or something. My thought on that was always those scenes were deleted for a reason. And character sketches are like a musician playing scales before starting the performance piece. They’re warm-up exercises for the writer, not something for the reader. I have a collection of short stories I give away for list signups.

Everyone said you needed to do Facebook ads and BookBub ads. I tried that. The Community of Faith series is too niche market for Facebook ads to work well. In attempting to target an audience, Facebook didn’t even recognize the authors who write books most like mine. BookBub rejected me, but I did run two paid ads with EReader News Today.

I spent innumerable hours listening to marketing podcasts and going to the free webinars on various promotional topics. I didn’t enroll in any of the paid classes they were selling because the prices on those were too high for my budget. But you will remember I signed up for James Patterson’s MasterClass. Because I wanted sales like James Patterson.

Not to write like James Patterson. Just to have his sales. Or something resembling them.

In addition to indie authors moaning about falling sales, there are been several blog posts which essentially have said The Future Looks Bleak.

Last month as I was totaling up my sales and looking at how the year had gone, I saw that despite all this focus on making more sales, overall I was still in the red. As you might imagine, that was incredibly depressing. All of that effort, all of that change in focus, and I was only marginally closer to earning money from my writing.

Then, as I was writing my NaNo novel, I realized that had become as much of a chore as the marketing was. NaNo is supposed to be fun. For me, it’s all about recapturing the joy of the creative flow. Only this book wasn’t. I was too focused on it being the third book of the new series, and mentally trying to figure out my release dates for the three novels, and how I would accomplish those as quickly as I would need to in order to ride the 30-60-90 day cliff wave.

It appears as if the indie world has set its own set of publishing rules. You don’t dare publish a book without a professional editor, a professional cover, a professional website, a mailing list, a free offer, a Facebook author page, paid advertising, etc. or you’re doomed to failure. In each case, read “professional” as “costs a lot.” And, if you only took so-and-so’s six hundred dollar marketing course, you’d learn the secrets of how they sold a gazillion books. And their course, which seems to be where most of them are making the bulk of their income.

Despite all of my efforts, I hadn’t achieved my goal. In fact, it looked like I was going to have to start spending my retirement money to (perhaps) be a successful author. Because a technique that works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. So, not only was I not going to earn extra money, I was going to have to spend more and enjoy writing less. Which was when I realized there was something wrong with this picture. In other words, I had reached the “What’s the Point?” phase.

2015 was The Year of Being a Professional. I set publishing deadlines and word count quotas and learned how to market books.

I’m declaring 2016 The Year of Being a Writer. I’m going to follow Dean and Kris’s advice and write what I love and have fun doing it. I’m going to release my books on Nook and Kobo and iBooks. And I’m going to take some writing classes from Dean and Kris, who actually grade assignments and seem to be able to teach that next level of writing.

Oh, and it’s also the year of being a creative entrepreneur. Instead of scrabbling for money to pay for all those “professional” services, I’m going to craft my own covers and create books with nicer interior designs and play with picturing my imaginary worlds. And if all of this means I miss a thirty day cliff or seven, I’m not going to worry about it.
3

Why Am I Writing?

Sunday, November 29, 2015
First the good news:


The book isn’t done, but I can finish the first draft at a more leisurely pace during December.

Like most people who participate in NaNoWriMo, by the end of November the constant push-push-push to reach 50,000 new words written in a month has made me exhausted. If you remember, NaNo for me started in October, when I was focused on creating an outline for this book so I wouldn’t run out of scenes to write too early in the month. Or the word count.

In reality, I’d been thinking about the plot of this book long before that. I know that’s true because as I was taking the James Patterson class, I stopped reading his sample outline of Honeymoon because it sounded too much like the plot I had in mind. (As it turned out, my story was nothing like Patterson’s, but I didn’t know that because I hadn’t developed it yet.)

While I was focused on writing, a number of other things happened. I was too tired to think about promoting my novels, and sales became almost non-existent. There is some cause and effect there, but many authors have been reporting that book sales have faded as the holidays approach. Pages read for Kindle Unlimited also decreased. As did the payout per page read.

Amazon announced that because the KU subscription rate for India was so much lower than everywhere else (due to competition), they will be changing the payout rate on an individual country basis. I assure you it will not be higher in India than in the United States.

Sales of books have become dependent on the book being on sale. Or free. With paid advertising. Facebook began throttling author book promotion posts, even to groups that exist solely for authors to promote books. As a matter of fact, several authors have been prohibited from posting anything for two weeks because Facebook thought they were doing too much promotion. They will, however, let you pay them for the privilege of advertising your books to a targeted audience.

Amazon cracked down on reviews, removing those written by “friends” or by paid reviewers. They even sued 1000 reviewers who wrote reviews for payment. Back to those friends: no one is quite sure how Amazon defines a friend, but it appears as if Facebook “friends” are in that category. Since authors have been encouraged to friend readers on Facebook for years, most of us have reviews by “friends” if they’re defined that way.

Traditional publishing has discovered indie tactics, including discounting and promoting on mailing lists like BookBub and EReader News Today. Not only does that leave fewer slots for indie authors, the law of supply and demand has caused the price of advertising to rise for these venues. A thousand dollars for an ad is nothing to a major publisher. It’s impossible for most indies.

Of course, that means less money for the author.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this on my blog or not, but my intention when I retired early was to supplement my retirement income with money from book sales. Based on history, it didn’t seem impossible to earn an extra thousand dollars a month as an indie author. Not right away, maybe, but certainly in three or four years. Many indie authors were doing this and more.

In 2012. Or, possibly, 2013. The gold rush year appears to have been 2011. The Kindle was new then and new owners wanted more content. Indie authors who could write fast or traditionally published authors who had gotten their rights back on backlist titles could put them up on Amazon and pretty much be guaranteed good sales and a good income.

My problem was I made my plans in 2012, and started my indie publishing career in 2013. The gold rush was over. By the time I published my third book a couple of months ago, the supposedly magic number where an author started to have enough visibility and a fan base to start earning money, all of that stuff I wrote about before this paragraph happened.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that indies have to be nimble to be successful. They have to be creative about new ways of doing things as the old ways no longer work. They have to be willing to work long hours and take risks. Most have to write quickly and publish often. The life of an independent author is a never-ending NaNoWriMo.

And you know what? I don’t want to live that way. I missed seeing two movies I wanted to see in November because I didn’t want to take time away from my writing. There were a couple of ancillary activities around this new series that I wanted to do, but I had to make my daily word count first. Afterwards, I had no creative energy left to do those things. I haven’t been getting enough exercise and I miss my daily walks. And I’m nowhere near that thousand dollars a month.

I’ve been reading a number of blog posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith lately. Dean in particular has written about a whole different perspective on writing as a career. One of his blogs was titled “What’s the Point?” As you might guess, it was the discouragement felt by writers who aren’t earning enough money, who haven’t made a bestseller list, who haven’t gotten the recognition they think they should. He admitted to having felt that way himself at one point in his career. He quit writing because of it.

I’ve also been thinking “What’s the point?” I had a day job before. I don’t want that kind of job again. But I’m not going to quit writing. I’ve tried to quit before, but I’m addicted to it. I need my writing fix every few days or I start to go crazy.

But I’m going to approach writing in 2016 in a different way. I’m going to do it for the fun of it, not because I have to get another book in a series written or I’ll lose my audience. I’m going to break the rules again. I’m going to design my own covers rather than paying for them, even though “everybody knows” you need a professional cover now to sell books. Dean Wesley Smith and Hugh Howey both did all their own covers at the beginning of their indie careers. Hugh even admits his were pretty terrible. But they managed to sell books. And they didn’t go broke doing it.

I’m also going to take time to do those other things. I’m going to draw a fantasy map of my fictional town of Rainbow Ranch. I’m going to write a text adventure game to go along with “A Game of Murder.” I’m going to start working on the historical research for that time travel romantic adventure book I want to write. I’m not going to worry about my book sales or my Amazon ranking. I’m going to have fun writing stories.

In other words, I’m going to stop worrying about being a professional and call myself a hobbyist. I’m going to write for me. For fun. Because crafting good stories is fun. Worrying about sales isn’t.
0

Why Am I Writing?

First the good news:


The book isn’t done, but I can finish the first draft at a more leisurely pace during December.

Like most people who participate in NaNoWriMo, by the end of November the constant push-push-push to reach 50,000 new words written in a month has made me exhausted. If you remember, NaNo for me started in October, when I was focused on creating an outline for this book so I wouldn’t run out of scenes to write too early in the month. Or the word count.

In reality, I’d been thinking about the plot of this book long before that. I know that’s true because as I was taking the James Patterson class, I stopped reading his sample outline of Honeymoon because it sounded too much like the plot I had in mind. (As it turned out, my story was nothing like Patterson’s, but I didn’t know that because I hadn’t developed it yet.)

While I was focused on writing, a number of other things happened. I was too tired to think about promoting my novels, and sales became almost non-existent. There is some cause and effect there, but many authors have been reporting that book sales have faded as the holidays approach. Pages read for Kindle Unlimited also decreased. As did the payout per page read.

Amazon announced that because the KU subscription rate for India was so much lower than everywhere else (due to competition), they will be changing the payout rate on an individual country basis. I assure you it will not be higher in India than in the United States.

Sales of books have become dependent on the book being on sale. Or free. With paid advertising. Facebook began throttling author book promotion posts, even to groups that exist solely for authors to promote books. As a matter of fact, several authors have been prohibited from posting anything for two weeks because Facebook thought they were doing too much promotion. They will, however, let you pay them for the privilege of advertising your books to a targeted audience.

Amazon cracked down on reviews, removing those written by “friends” or by paid reviewers. They even sued 1000 reviewers who wrote reviews for payment. Back to those friends: no one is quite sure how Amazon defines a friend, but it appears as if Facebook “friends” are in that category. Since authors have been encouraged to friend readers on Facebook for years, most of us have reviews by “friends” if they’re defined that way.

Traditional publishing has discovered indie tactics, including discounting and promoting on mailing lists like BookBub and EReader News Today. Not only does that leave fewer slots for indie authors, the law of supply and demand has caused the price of advertising to rise for these venues. A thousand dollars for an ad is nothing to a major publisher. It’s impossible for most indies.

Of course, that means less money for the author.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this on my blog or not, but my intention when I retired early was to supplement my retirement income with money from book sales. Based on history, it didn’t seem impossible to earn an extra thousand dollars a month as an indie author. Not right away, maybe, but certainly in three or four years. Many indie authors were doing this and more.

In 2012. Or, possibly, 2013. The gold rush year appears to have been 2011. The Kindle was new then and new owners wanted more content. Indie authors who could write fast or traditionally published authors who had gotten their rights back on backlist titles could put them up on Amazon and pretty much be guaranteed good sales and a good income.

My problem was I made my plans in 2012, and started my indie publishing career in 2013. The gold rush was over. By the time I published my third book a couple of months ago, the supposedly magic number where an author started to have enough visibility and a fan base to start earning money, all of that stuff I wrote about before this paragraph happened.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s that indies have to be nimble to be successful. They have to be creative about new ways of doing things as the old ways no longer work. They have to be willing to work long hours and take risks. Most have to write quickly and publish often. The life of an independent author is a never-ending NaNoWriMo.

And you know what? I don’t want to live that way. I missed seeing two movies I wanted to see in November because I didn’t want to take time away from my writing. There were a couple of ancillary activities around this new series that I wanted to do, but I had to make my daily word count first. Afterwards, I had no creative energy left to do those things. I haven’t been getting enough exercise and I miss my daily walks. And I’m nowhere near that thousand dollars a month.

I’ve been reading a number of blog posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith lately. Dean in particular has written about a whole different perspective on writing as a career. One of his blogs was titled “What’s the Point?” As you might guess, it was the discouragement felt by writers who aren’t earning enough money, who haven’t made a bestseller list, who haven’t gotten the recognition they think they should. He admitted to having felt that way himself at one point in his career. He quit writing because of it.

I’ve also been thinking “What’s the point?” I had a day job before. I don’t want that kind of job again. But I’m not going to quit writing. I’ve tried to quit before, but I’m addicted to it. I need my writing fix every few days or I start to go crazy.

But I’m going to approach writing in 2016 in a different way. I’m going to do it for the fun of it, not because I have to get another book in a series written or I’ll lose my audience. I’m going to break the rules again. I’m going to design my own covers rather than paying for them, even though “everybody knows” you need a professional cover now to sell books. Dean Wesley Smith and Hugh Howey both did all their own covers at the beginning of their indie careers. Hugh even admits his were pretty terrible. But they managed to sell books. And they didn’t go broke doing it.

I’m also going to take time to do those other things. I’m going to draw a fantasy map of my fictional town of Rainbow Ranch. I’m going to write a text adventure game to go along with “A Game of Murder.” I’m going to start working on the historical research for that time travel romantic adventure book I want to write. I’m not going to worry about my book sales or my Amazon ranking. I’m going to have fun writing stories.

In other words, I’m going to stop worrying about being a professional and call myself a hobbyist. I’m going to write for me. For fun. Because crafting good stories is fun. Worrying about sales isn’t.
0

NaNoWriMo Week Three

Saturday, November 21, 2015
Just a quick update this morning.

I've learned I can NOT write in a group. I'm always open to meeting other writers, so last Sunday I went to a NaNo write in at the library. The group was small, and they weren't very noisy. But just the presence of other people, not to mention the whispered conversations of two of them who were collaborating on a novel, was enough disruption to keep me from being immersed in my own story. I'm probably going to have to trash--or at least seriously rewrite--every single word I typed there.

I also learned that writing more equals writing better. Of course, I've learned that before, but it's easy to forget. With writing regularly, exercising my writer brain if you will, I go from writing flat words to having poetic little phrases just pop into my head. I love when this happens.

I've learned there's a limit to how many words I can write in a day. For me, this lies somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Writing is very hard work for an activity that consists primarily of sitting in a chair and typing, with brief periods of staring out the window. It's as if my brain has a reservoir of words and once I empty that reservoir in a writing session, it needs a day (or, most likely, a night) to recharge. As a result, when there are interruptions to my writing schedule--and there are always interruptions!--I struggle to catch up.

However, I am happy to report that I am on target to meet 50,000 words by the end of November.
1

NaNoWriMo Week Three

Just a quick update this morning.

I've learned I can NOT write in a group. I'm always open to meeting other writers, so last Sunday I went to a NaNo write in at the library. The group was small, and they weren't very noisy. But just the presence of other people, not to mention the whispered conversations of two of them who were collaborating on a novel, was enough disruption to keep me from being immersed in my own story. I'm probably going to have to trash--or at least seriously rewrite--every single word I typed there.

I also learned that writing more equals writing better. Of course, I've learned that before, but it's easy to forget. With writing regularly, exercising my writer brain if you will, I go from writing flat words to having poetic little phrases just pop into my head. I love when this happens.

I've learned there's a limit to how many words I can write in a day. For me, this lies somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Writing is very hard work for an activity that consists primarily of sitting in a chair and typing, with brief periods of staring out the window. It's as if my brain has a reservoir of words and once I empty that reservoir in a writing session, it needs a day (or, most likely, a night) to recharge. As a result, when there are interruptions to my writing schedule--and there are always interruptions!--I struggle to catch up.

However, I am happy to report that I am on target to meet 50,000 words by the end of November.
1

Prayers for Paris

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I am so saddened by the attacks in Paris last night. I have no words.
0

NaNoWriMo Week Two

I know, I know. I was supposed to post more frequently during NaNoWriMo and keep you updated on my progress. I got off to a slow start. It was the same as I start my walks around the neighborhood, only with my brain instead of my muscles. I felt sluggish. It was hard getting in gear. I thought I’d lost my NaNo mojo.

And, just like my muscles loosen up once I get a few blocks from home, my writing muscle has loosened up in Week 2. When I sit down to write (setting a timer first), I pick up where I left off and just type. I’m not worrying about whether this story is any good or that the words aren’t beautiful or that there are bits missing. I’m just typing the story as it comes.

As usual, I’ve got lots of dialogue and little description. Yesterday I was writing a scene that takes place on the Fourth of July. My characters were having a conversation and I was just listening and typing the words they said. Then I remembered, Fourth of July. Right. There must be fireworks. So I typed in some descriptions of what kind of fireworks they were watching while they were talking.

I always add descriptive stuff on the second pass. That’s when I use Margie Lawson’s EDITS system to highlight my first draft with colors designating which kind of writing each of the words is. I use up a lot of blue marker (for dialogue) doing that. And yellow marker (for narrative). I can go a few pages without using green (description) and whole chapters without using pink (emotion). But it’s all good. By the time I’m done, there’s a better balance.

But that’s for later, probably April or May for this novel. Right now I don’t care if the whole thing is blue. I’m on target for winning on November 30th.

How is everyone else doing?
0

NaNoWriMo 2015

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Let the insanity begin!

I am a big fan of National Novel Writing Month. If I had not discovered NaNo back in 2004, I never would have completed a novel. I would never have published a novel. I would never have retired with the goal of writing novels full time.

I’m a perfectionist. I aimed for straight As in school. When I was taking music lessons, I had to play a piece perfectly. (Not easy, since I wasn’t motivated to practice.) When I was writing computer code for a living, my programs had to be error free. Not only that, I expected users to think they were the best computer programs they’d ever used.

So when I decided it was time to write a novel, I expected it to be perfect from the get-go. The only writer I knew who had written about writing was Isaac Asimov. He famously said that writing wasn’t work because all he had to do was type very fast. I thought books came out perfect just by typing very fast.

But when I typed my stories, they’d start out okay, but it didn’t take very long for me to get frustrated because they weren’t perfect. My deathless prose was deader than a doornail. I’d get thirty or forty pages in and, because what I was writing was such dreck, I’d quit.

During National Novel Writing Month, you’re supposed to write dreck. You have one goal: write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ideally, word number 49,999 should be “The” and word number 50,000 should be “End,” but it doesn’t have to be.

All you have to do is write 1667 words for each of the thirty days in November and you’ll “win.” Now, if you don’t write on a regular basis, writing 1667 words a day is daunting. It takes hours. If you have a day job, you’ll be getting up early or staying up late to have enough time to type them. If you fall behind, you start to panic, because now you’ll have to write 2,000 or 3,000 words a day for some of those days.

You watch your word count progress and that of other participants on a thermometer bar under your name in the forums (like the one on the left side of this post), and don’t want yours to be shorter than everyone else’s.

Toward the end of the month, you may resort to desperate measures. Word wars and sprints where you type as many words as you can in short bursts along with other participants. Random elements thrown out by municipal leaders at group write-ins that have nothing to do with your story, but which you have to somehow make a part of it. Going down rabbit trails with a visit to the zoo or Mount Olympus or anything that will give you more words.

And a magical thing happens somewhere along the way. Because you’re totally focused on quantity rather than quality, because you’ve locked your inner editor in a closet for the duration, your muse takes over and starts giving you ideas that your editor would never let you think about, much less use, under normal circumstances. Your writing takes on a life of its own.

There’s nothing better than being able to upload your “masterpiece” at the end of the month and get that “Winner” badge. Okay, maybe publishing and actually having someone other than your mother read your novel is better, but that comes later.

NaNoWriMo took away all my frustration at never being able to complete a novel. I may not have written a great novel, but I’d done the impossible by finishing one. I can’t tell you how much that confidence meant to me.

So here I am, eleven years later, maybe more, ready to start another novel for NaNoWriMo. In 2013, worn out by writing my “real” novels, I decided NaNo and a fun novel, a nonsense novel, a novel that didn’t need to be perfect, was just what I needed. My muse surprised me again. What I got was something new and wonderful.

But, in order to be a successful indie author, I needed to write more books in my existing series first. So, after NaNo, I went back to my Christian mystery series.

In 2014, I again gave myself a month off and wrote a sequel to the 2013 mystery. It’s not quite as good as the first one, but it’s only a first draft. I know now I can fix those.

This year, I’ll be writing book three in this series. I spent October setting up a new Scrivener project, developing some new characters, and adding index cards for the scenes in it. I experimented with creating book covers and gathering photos on Pinterest. For the past three days, I’ve been champing at the bit to start writing. Finally, it’s November 1st!

I’m going to try to keep my word count updated so you can watch that thermometer bar grow longer. I’ll also try to make briefer posts more often on my progress. Most of all, I’m going to have fun!
0

My New Look

Saturday, October 31, 2015
Before I talk about NaNoWriMo, I suppose I should comment on my website's new look. A couple of years ago--heck, it might have been three or four years ago--I decided I wanted a more "mysterious" look here. Something darker, edgier, something in line with the kind of mysteries I was writing. In looking through the Blogger templates (yes, this is a Blogger site), I found the one that I'd used up until this week: dark red with light text. At the time, the red "popped" at me compared to all the other sites I'd been looking at.

Recently, I'd been thinking the website needed some clean-up. Over the years, I'd added more widgets, many of the links to blogs I follow pointed to now-dormant sites, and I'm changing the focus of the mysteries I write from edgy Christian fiction to... something else. And, ironically, I've always hated light text on a dark background. It's hard to read and somehow my posts were all in a small font, making reading even more difficult.

I've spent a lot of hours over the past couple of months reviewing my options. Everyone said a self-hosted Wordpress site was the way to go. There are reasons for this, most of which I won't go into. Since my experience with Wordpress was minimal, I looked at tutorials and books and YouTube videos trying to learn what I needed to learn to change over. I posted questions in writers' groups. I mocked up a free Wordpress site and fiddled with changing themes and customizing them until my brain hurt.

Fortunately, I set myself a deadline to finish the redesign of my website. I knew I wanted it done before NaNoWriMo started. Once NaNo starts, my writing day is pretty much filled up. So two days ago, I looked at what hosting would cost me. It's not a ton of money, but it is an additional expense. In my fiddling, I discovered that, while some customization of Wordpress themes is possible, to do a lot of it, including getting the colors to be something I didn't hate, requires paying more money for Premium.

So I came back to Blogger and started looking at theme alternatives. I picked a few that I thought would work and tried them out. I discovered that Blogger offered me more options--for free--to customize the look of a theme. Besides, I already know my way around Blogger quite well. I weighed the supposed advantages of Wordpress--most of which I am not ready to use--against the cost in both time and money to convert my site and decided to stick with Blogger.

I've gotten rid of the dead wood, picked lighter colors and black text on a white background, and updated my fiction page to multiple pages. I hope you like it as much as I do.

0

James Patterson MasterClass Week 6

Saturday, October 17, 2015
As I said last week, the final week of this class isn’t exactly about writing.

In the lesson titled Marketing the Patterson Way, Patterson talks about branding, which he defines as a relationship between a product and customers. Authors usually aren’t very good at branding themselves. Most get that deer-in-the-headlights look if you ask them about their brand.

One author who has focused on branding is Brandilyn Collins, who even trademarked “Seatbelt Suspense,” her brand. With branding like that, readers know immediately what to expect from one of her books.

Patterson’s brand is “The pages turn themselves.” You’ll notice that, while Collins tells you up front she writes suspense, Patterson doesn’t have as narrow a definition of his brand. This allows him to write in different genres; except I’m pretty sure readers generally expect to find a thriller when they pick up a Patterson book.



I’ve heard other writers talk about movie deals, so the Hollywood lesson didn’t tell me anything new. That might differ for most people taking this class.

Newbie surprise number 1: An option on your book doesn’t mean it will become a movie. In fact, a huge percentage of options expire before getting close to being filmed. Smart writers don’t really mind this, because they can get a second or third or fourth option—all of which pay money to the author.

Newbie surprise number 2: The author of the book usually has absolutely no say in whether the movie bears any resemblance to the book or not.

I went to a couple of Robert B. Parker signings when I lived in Boston (and he was alive), and inevitably he’d be asked about the Spenser: For Hire television series or one of the movies made from his books. People wanted to know what he thought about the (not great) casting or the deviations from the novels. Parker would say when you sign an option, you turn over control to the filmmaker. Then he’d add with a shrug of his shoulders, “I take the check and give it to Joan.” (Joan was his wife.) He had a very practical attitude toward the whole process.

Note: His attitude about the Jesse Stone television movies was different. Tom Selleck was a fan of the books and worked hard to remain faithful to the spirit of them. That should be “works.” There’s a new Jesse Stone movie on Hallmark Channel tomorrow, the first since Parker died.

The next-to-last lesson is titled Personal Story. As you might expect, this about how Patterson grew up poor, spent time in marketing, and became a writer. It’s interesting background on the world’s bestselling author.

Closing is a brief video where Patterson gives a wrap-up. He says he’s doing this course because he likes helping people, and I believe him.

I’ve modified my opinion of this class slightly from last week. Most of that is because of reading the comments on the weekly lesson discussion forums.

I started my writing career a dozen years ago and have spent a lot of that time researching, taking classes, and practicing writing. I’ve belonged to Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. When I lived in Boston, I was fortunate enough to hear many top selling authors speak. I’ve attended the New England CrimeBake and Malice Domestic. In Tucson we have the annual Tucson Festival of Books, which brings in over 100 authors each year, many of whom give presentations, all for free.

I have two shelves of writing craft books, a third one with grammar books, dictionaries, thesauri, and books on copywriting. I have another shelf of crime reference books, many of them oriented toward writers. So it’s not surprising that I’ve heard most of what’s discussed in the class many times before.

But in reading the comments, I realize that most of the students in this class are where I was ten or twelve years ago. They don’t have the resources or experience I have now. And we all have to start our journey somewhere. So, if you’re relatively new to writing and you’re looking for an introduction to how this whole writing and publishing gig works, this MasterClass isn’t a bad place to start.
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James Patterson MasterClass Week 5

Saturday, October 10, 2015
We have now, for the most part, moved past the lessons on writing. In this week’s lessons, it sounds as if even Patterson has gotten tired of the class. There’s no enthusiasm, which he did have in the beginning lessons. Fortunately, there’s only one more week after this.

The first lesson is Editing, which, for Patterson, appears to consist mostly of cutting words out. Since his genre is thriller and his primary goal is to keep a high level of action and the pages turning quickly, this works for him. I write traditional mysteries, which are more character based than thrillers as a rule. I also tend to write rather spare drafts, perfect to do during NaNoWriMo. For me, editing is both taking words out and putting words in.

Some of my scenes are mostly dialogue in the first draft, with maybe a little bit of emotional reaction or body language. But they could take place in an empty white room. So I have to add in the ambience, the sights, sounds, and smells of the location, so the reader experiences being there with the characters. And, while I know what my characters look like, I have to make sure my readers do, so I’ll add in little details about their clothing or hair or mention they have to put sunscreen on their fair skin before going out.



What most surprised me about this lesson was how many rewrites Patterson does. I think he said something like eight or ten. It’s surprising because, according to the earlier lessons, he spends months on his outlines and rewrites them four or five times. I’d think that after doing all that groundwork, the first draft would be pretty close to final.

The sixteenth lesson is Working With Co-Authors. A lot of this sounded defensive to me, reaction to the criticism that Patterson just puts his name on these books so he can collect more money. He explains how it is actually a joint process, and has a couple of his co-authors talk about it in the video as well.

While I’ve come to understand co-authorship a little better than I used to, my primary reaction to this lesson was that it was a bit premature for a beginning writer. If you haven’t got the skills yourself to write good books, chances are teaming up with another author at the same level isn’t going to help your writing.

Next up is Getting Published. Well, sure, we’ve been watching these videos for five weeks now, so certainly it’s time to think about getting published. Yes, that was sarcasm.

A lot of this lesson is on writing query letters and finding an agent. It’s all about traditional publishing, so at this point, if you haven’t already, you need to start networking, making those connections so your work won’t get lost in the slush pile. Go to conferences, approach successful published authors, etc.

There’s absolutely nothing about self-publishing, not even a reference to it as an option or not to do it at all. If you’re contemplating going that route, this won’t help you.

And the last lesson for this week is Book Titles and Covers. I’m not sure why this is in the class since, as a traditionally published author, you won’t have much—if any—say in either one of these. Yes, you submit your book with a working title, but this is frequently changed by the publisher. As far as covers go, you’ll probably get to see what your cover looks like, but you’ll rarely have any input on how it should look.

This week’s lessons brought home to me how distant from a beginning writer James Patterson is. He reached the point where having co-authors made sense years ago. He had the money right from the start (from his day job) to attend lots of conferences and hang out in the bar. He worked in marketing, so he had the skills to do the kind of networking necessary to leverage into contacts with agents and editors. He gets to pick his titles and approve his covers. When you have sales like he does, you probably will, too.

From the titles of the last week’s lessons, there won’t be much on actual writing in them, so I think I’m ready to offer an overall opinion on this class.

It might have been interesting to me ten years ago, when I knew little about writing and traditional publishing was all there was. Now, not so much.

I figured out that Patterson talks a lot about the “what” and hardly at all about the “how.” Write down your ideas. Create conflict in your plot. Do research. Write an outline. Have a great first line. When you’re starting out, these may be new concepts, so you’ll overlook the fact that the lessons are thin on details.

There’s nothing about the business of writing. He doesn’t cover copyright or contracts or rights reversion or budgeting or legal considerations or anything else in that vein. He comes from the generation where agents took care of all of that. But, in today’s world (and probably even back when Patterson started), it’s imperative you understand the business side.

Was it worth the money? Perhaps. Like I said at the start of this series, I got a discount coupon which reduced the price by a third. I did pick up a few tips and usually that’s enough for me to consider a class worthwhile. If I knew then what I know now, would I have paid full price for it? No.

I’ve been holding this back for a few weeks, but it’s time now. Shortly after I registered for the Patterson class, the guys from the Self Publishing Podcast released a series of podcasts titled Story Shop - Write Better Stories Faster. This series includes most of the same topics as Patterson’s, but each of the videos is at least twice as long as Patterson’s and much more interesting. And, best of all, it’s FREE.

Yes, the podcasts are free because they’re marketing a new app to do story planning. But the series itself is excellent.

You can find it at www.sterlingandstone.net/fm . Note that this will open up in iTunes, so if you don’t have that app, you’ll have to download iTunes first. But you probably should have that anyway.
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James Patterson MasterClass Week 4

Saturday, October 03, 2015
As I was listening to the first lesson for this week—Dialogue—I realized another problem with the way these lessons are presented. I mentioned in my blog on the first week of this class that each lesson was obviously put together from several separate interviews.

Except they’re not interviews. It’s really Patterson chatting informally about writing, a mix of advice, his own process, how he learned something, etc. And it’s presented in a talking-head style. That’s why I said “listening” in the first sentence. I found myself clicking on other tabs in my browser as he spoke because the video wasn’t visually interesting.

So, on to the lesson itself. A character’s dialogue reveals who they are. I have no argument with that. After a few examples, we cut to a different interview where Patterson starts talking about an author (I only know the guy is an author because I Googled the name) and a scene which Patterson believes has great dialogue. But he never states that this is the name of an author or gives us the name of the book it comes from. That part must have been left on the cutting room floor. He then proceeds to quote the dialogue and ends by saying it’s wonderful. He also says it’s comedic, but his delivery was so dry I didn’t laugh once.



A lot of what he says about dialogue you can pick up from any basic writing text. Dialogue isn’t conversation because no one wants all the boring bits that make up most of what people say. Don’t fall into writing “As you know, Bob” dialogue. If Bob knows it, there’s no need to tell him.

As with many of these lessons, it ends abruptly. Again, this is because it’s not one coherent taping session. It would be nice if there were even a brief sentence which said something like, “I hope you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned and apply it to this week’s assignment.”

The second lesson this week is Building A Chapter. He starts with a concept that, in the movies or television, is referred to as the establishing shot. You’d recognize this anywhere. It shows a familiar city skyline, like New York, or the St. Louis arch, or infinite outer space. In other words, let the reader know where they are visually, and with sound and, because you’re writing a novel, you can also include smells and emotions.

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff by beginning writers lately and it’s amazing how many of them forget to include this. Just because you know your characters are talking in a restaurant in Denver doesn’t mean it will be obvious to the reader. The reader, because she lives in Miami, assumes the book takes place in Florida and will be totally pulled out of the story if, several pages in, there aren’t palm trees, but cowboys.

He also discusses point of view here, which is natural because before you can write anything, you have to decide on how to tell it. You have to decide who is telling the story and how intimate the narrative should be.

The section where he describes the first chapter of the first book in The Women’s Murder Club series was another one where I drifted off. This happens, and then this happens, then this other thing happens, etc. just isn’t very interesting. I think it’s supposed to be an example of how to write a chapter, but it’s got none of the “juice” of the actual book. He would have been better off reading the original.

The end of this lesson can be summarized by a quote from Steven James I have hanging on my wall: “Stories are driven by tension, not events.”

Writing Suspense. I’d start salivating here if I hadn’t watched the first twelve lessons, because this is what Patterson does extremely well. But I went into it being very skeptical.

It’s very difficult to talk about Lesson 13 without giving too much away. In some ways, it’s like the others in that there’s a lot of advice I’ve heard before. However, he does say a few things that I think I’m going to find useful. I’ll have to re-watch this video later on and think about it.

And, with two weeks left to go, the next lesson is on Ending the Book. Most of this lesson does not talk about specifics of how to end a book. There’s a lot of generalities about twists (and he gives away not one, but TWO twists in the plots of his own books) and making an ending satisfying. He’s not quite clear on how to do this, summing up with you should analyze the endings of books and movies you like.

And then there’s the very last section, titled The Secret to Great Endings. He opens by saying this is worth the price of admission to the class.

Is it? I’m not sure. The first idea is not new. I learned it from Orson Scott Card years ago. (Hint: It’s called the What If? Game.) The second Patterson just drops on you without any explanation. The video ends. I really would have liked him to give examples here of how he used this technique in a book or two, because it’s hard to know whether his premise makes sense or not without examples or explanation a little deeper than the music ending.

This “Master Class” is starting to remind me of those “in conversation” interviews with authors that have become popular. They give the illusion of a cozy chat with a friend, while not conveying a whole lot of information. I know there are students who are raving about the lessons, both in the forum and the private Facebook group, but I’m not raving. We’ll see if Patterson wins me over next week.
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James Patterson MasterClass Week 3

Saturday, September 26, 2015
I’m starting to see why my friend didn’t continue with the lessons. When I started—and I suppose this was true of my friend as well—I was eager to get to the “good stuff.” I figured all the introductory material would soon be expanded with details and pithy secrets and methodology. With Week 3 completed, it’s becoming obvious that there aren’t going to be any details or secrets revealed.

The first Week 3 lesson is Writer’s Block. According to Robert B. Parker, it was Elmore Leonard who said, “Writer’s block is just another word for lazy.” I heard him say this at a book signing in Massachusetts and, having heard it and the explanation, I’ve thoroughly believed it to be true ever since.

I’ve hung out with writers for a long time, and I’ve heard several complain about having writer’s block as if it was mononucleosis or some other physical disease that takes a long time to recover from. One person told me they’d had writer’s block for three years. And they were serious. They were looking for sympathy. My thought (which I didn’t say out loud) was if they hadn’t written anything in three years, they weren’t a writer. They were a wannabe.

Because writers write.



If you’re stuck on a story, the best way to get over it is to write something. Anything. Or take a walk and then write something. Or color in your coloring book and then write something.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with planning my next novel. I was faced, not with a blank piece of paper, but a brand new Scrivener project, because that’s the way I write. I put in three index cards—the beginning of my outline—and realized I had no idea what else happened. I did not call it writer’s block. I called it “resistance.” That’s what Steven Pressfield calls it in “The War of Art.” It appears that all writers, including very successful ones, face this resistance.

It wasn’t until I discovered NaNoWriMo that I learned to overcome resistance and just write. During NaNo, the object is to write 50,000 in thirty days. Not good words. Not even words that necessarily make sense. Just 50,000 words. That’s 1667 words every day. When the pressure to write The Great American Novel is taken off and the object is to have fun, it’s easy to write 50,000 words in a month.

James Patterson says something similar. (Remember, I’m not going to quote his lessons because he owns them, not me.) This lesson also includes a lot about his writing practice: how he writes, when he writes, etc. It’s interesting and, if you think you have or have had writer’s block, it’s probably useful. I had Elmore Leonard via Robert B. Parker.

Oh. And the logjam broke this week after I went for a walk and realized what my problem was. A series of ideas came to me, which I wrote down when I got home. I woke up this morning and couldn’t wait to get back to my new novel.

The second lesson, Lesson 9 in the course, is on creating characters. This is the best lesson so far because it includes details and lots of examples from Patterson’s own work. He talks about making characters interesting and, anticipating your question of what makes them interesting, asks what makes people interesting in real life. He does segments on the hero, the villain, and secondary characters. He also talks about creating characters who are real not only to the readers, but to you as the author. It reminded me of a story J.K. Rowling told about leaving her writing room in tears one day. When her husband asked what was wrong, she replied it was because she’d just killed off a character she loved. My opinion is, if you don’t cry at least once while writing your book, you’re not invested enough in your characters.

The third lesson of this week is entitled “First Lines.” I tend to tune out on discussions about first lines because I think much too much emphasis has been put on them. Are they important? Yes. Are they as important as some people think they are? I don’t think so.

I think part of this depends on genre. If you’re writing thrillers, like Patterson, yes, your readers are expecting a first line that sucks them right into the conflict of the novel. If you’re writing historical fiction or women’s fiction, not so much. Those readers are more patient. They’ll give you a page or two to catch their interest. Cozy mysteries, which I write, tend to be in the middle somewhere.

The rest of the lesson is more about drawing the reader in and how much effort he puts into first lines and the first chapter. Again, I have a problem with this. It goes back to entering contests where you usually submit just the first chapter or first three chapters. Writers spend months—years—polishing and rewriting those so the judges will give them high scores. But so many novels peter out after that because the author doesn’t put the same level of effort into the middle and the ending that they did toward polishing that first line. I’d rather have a bang-up ending than the perfect first line.

Now, that’s not to say you should bore the reader. I have a quote hanging on the wall of my office that says, “Stories are driven by tension, not events.” Steven James said that. It’s much too easy to get into the “This happened, then this happened, and then this happened” mode of storytelling. Those are events. If they don’t have tension, if they don’t have emotion, if there aren’t some kind of stakes involved, no one cares what happens.

And so ends week three. Week four has four lessons. I’m curious as to what they will bring.
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James Patterson MasterClass Week 2

Saturday, September 19, 2015
The second week starts with a lesson on Research. Again, nothing terribly new in this video. One part is about interviewing people for their expertise in an area. He doesn’t talk about how to locate these people or approach them, probably because all he has to do is send off an email or pick up the phone—or, more likely at this point, have his assistant do this.

The second topic is locations. He recommends actually walking the locations you’ll use in your books, making notes about what strikes you. I concur, if at all possible. Years ago, a writer friend asked me if I could answer questions about Tucson for her because she couldn’t come here to see it herself. Of course I said yes. I was relatively new to the area, so I had to ask other people I knew for help. After I read one of her books, I realized the limitation of this technique. You don’t know what you don’t know, so you don’t ask about it. She had a glaring inaccuracy, describing something as if it were like the area where she lives. She assumed it would be like that, so didn’t know she should verify her assumption.



Of course, if you’re writing about first century Jerusalem, there’s not much chance of walking that location. Or twenty-fifth century Ganymede. But, as Patterson says, there is the Internet.

One of the bonuses of doing research, whether it be by interviewing people or walking around a city or clicking through the Internet, or, as in my case this morning, picking up one of the reference books you’ve collected, is that things you learn will give you ideas for your story. It goes back to that you-don’t-know-what-you-don’t-know thing. Chances are if you discover an interesting, new fact, your readers will find that interesting, too.

If it advances the story.

Beware the dreaded infodump, which is what it’s called when the author puts in all this stuff she learned doing research that has nothing to do with deepening character or advancing the plot.

That’s the end of the lesson on research.

And now a whole mass of writers will desert this blog (and probably never sign up for Patterson’s class) because he spends the next two lessons on Outlines. No other topic in this course gets two lessons. If you’re a pantser, you’re going to throw up your hands at this point.

I’m a plotter. Because I think a writer should take the time to figure out which method works better for them, I think you should try both ways. If you never try it, how do you know it won’t work?

So I’ve tried writing into the mist, a.k.a. pantsing, a few times. I’ve found that success is 50-50 for me when I write without an outline. Sometimes absolutely amazing stuff happens, unexpected stuff, fun stuff, that I doubt I would have come up with had I written an outline in advance. And sometimes I get several thousand words in and have no freakin’ idea where to go from there.

There’s something comforting about having a plan. You sit at your desk in the morning, look at your outline, and know exactly where to begin writing. You can set word count goals because you won’t have to spend time staring out the window trying to figure out what happens next or what clue to plant in this scene or why your sleuth suspects a certain character of being the murderer.

That doesn’t mean nothing unexpected happens as you write. The muse doesn’t work that way. Especially if you’re doing NaNoWriMo and freewheeling it a bit to get your 1667 words that day because you realize you’re going to come up short of 50,000 and there’s no time to sit back and rework your outline. But I think you have to beware the rabbit trails. It’s too easy to wander off the path you’ve set for yourself with no way to get back.

I had one of those muse bombs pop up two years ago, and I went with it, because it didn’t actually change the story I was telling. It happened way at the end, and I figured I could edit it out during revision if necessary. But I decided I liked it, and it became an important part of the plot of the next year’s NaNo novel.

Obviously, Patterson believes in outlining. In fact, for him writing the outline is the most creative part of the writing process. He writes multiple drafts, over a period of weeks, of his outline, in more detail than I’ve ever considered doing. I imagine this makes writing with co-writers a whole lot easier.

One thing I have to bring up this week because it’s important to know: Patterson does not go into details in these videos. I suppose that’s part of them being a “Master Class.” They’re more a discussion of how he works than how to do things.

For example, in discussing Plot in Week One, he never mentions the different plot structures such as the three-act structure, the four-act structure, the hero’s journey, the W Plot, or any of the other various ways of plotting a novel. He either assumes you’ve learned about this somewhere else or doesn’t think it’s necessary to know about it.

His lessons on the Outline are similar. He talks about scenes and twists and arcs, but he doesn’t talk about ways to develop them. The workbook for the class includes the entire outline for one of his novels, so you can read through that and analyze the structure, but it would be helpful if he explained how to weave in subplots and similar techniques.

Which leaves me in a quandary. I was starting to think of this as a beginner’s class, but the assumptions and/or omissions in each lesson make me think beginners wouldn’t quite fit either. I suppose I’ll have to wait a few more weeks before deciding.
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James Patterson MasterClass Week 1

Saturday, September 12, 2015
I’m the first to admit that I’m a writing book junkie. I have two shelves of craft books, ranging from Lawrence Block’s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” to McKee’s “Story” to the Writers Digest “Elements of Fiction” series. I have another shelf of more technical references where I put my dictionaries and grammar books and thesauri. I’m not even going to count the half shelf of crime reference books or the assorted “this sounds interesting, I wonder if I could work it into a novel someday” books I’ve collected.

I’m also a writing class junkie. I’ve attended multiple classes on how to plot. I’ve taken three of Margie Lawson’s classes on emotion and editing. I’ve taken two of Holly Lisle’s Big Classes.

Last year, when I noticed my expenditures for books and classes far outpaced my income from actual writing, I declared a moratorium on buying any more books or taking any more classes. I realized that I had reached the point where I already knew what was going to be in them, even if the author or teacher had some new, clever term for the basics of how to write. I told myself that I didn’t need more classes or more books. I needed to write more.

And then this ad popped up on Facebook.



The junkie who had thought she’d given up her habit clicked. After all, it was JAMES PATTERSON. Surely if he was giving a class, there must be something worthwhile in it. But he would probably be charging $500 for it, an amount way out of my price range. Five hundred dollars seems to be the new course price for the secret of how to sell a gazillion books, so I figured Patterson’s class would be at least that much.

Imagine my surprise when it was only $90.

Not cheap, and certainly more than the price of another class I’d been eying for several months now. I was wrapping up “A Game of Murder” and told myself I’d reevaluate once the book was published.

Then I went to a Sisters in Crime meeting and one of the members was raving about the Patterson class. She’d just started it, but it was wonderful. Hmmm…

Book published, I took another look at the class. I contacted the member and asked her if she still liked the class as much as she had in the beginning. She admitted she’d not kept up with it, other things had distracted her, but she was going to get back to it. I looked for reviews of the class, but all I could find were a couple by published authors who had gotten to take the class for free in return for a review. Not necessarily impartial sources.

Then my friend hit me with an offer I couldn’t refuse. She had a discount code that, for a limited time, put the price of the class closer to the other class I was considering. I bought it.

Since I had so much trouble finding information about this class, and since I want to try to do a fair evaluation of it for myself—if nothing more than as a reminder to stop taking classes—I’ve decided to do a weekly blog on the lessons and if I’ve learned anything from them. No, I will not be posting the content of the course. That belongs to Mr. Patterson and the owners of the website. But I will speak in generalities about how useful I’m finding the lessons.

Confession: I’m not sure I ever read a James Patterson book before I started considering whether or not to take this class. I pretty much labeled Patterson a hack, someone who was primarily an advertising agency success and used what he knew about advertising to sell a lot of sub-par books.

Reevaluation: The most surprising thing so far has been Patterson talking about how he wanted to be a writer, and that was the focus of his college days. He worked for an advertising agency because he had to eat. As he says in one of the videos, “I’ve been clean now for twenty years.” My opinion of him rose considerably after learning this. I’ve also read two of his books and, while not great literature, I finished them. Heck, I’m ready to read another one.

So, after all of that, finally on to the lessons of Week 1:

The lessons are a series of short videos with James Patterson talking informally to you about writing. From the cutting and changes of wardrobe, it’s obvious these were done in multiple sessions over a period of time and then organized into lessons. They’re not bad, but I did notice a couple of times how something was abruptly cut. There’s also a Workbook which gives a little more information about the topic and an assignment. This is supplemented by a forum on the class website and a private Facebook group.

The first lesson is an introduction, under three minutes, in which Patterson discusses what you can expect from the class. He’s building enthusiasm in this one.

The second lesson is titled “Passion + Habit.” And that’s what it’s about. Patterson tells several anecdotes about his own career, and they show us that he’s really no different than most writers. On habit, I’ll relate my own story. Almost three years ago, I really wanted to retire and write mystery novels. I’d been writing off and on for a while and felt that if only I had enough time, I could be a successful writer. But I knew how easy it was to spend hours thinking about writing and reading about writing and talking about writing instead of, you know, actually writing. So I made a deal with myself. I agreed that I could retire early if I completed and published my first book.

I knew if I was ever to reach my goal, I’d have to write on a regular basis. I’m not the kind who can scribble on my lunch hour. I tried writing at night after a full day at work, but I was too worn out to keep that up. After having dinner and watching the news, I’d find myself dozing in front of the television instead of going to my computer and writing. Even if I forced myself to the computer, I didn’t make a whole lot of progress.

So I did the unthinkable. I set my alarm for 5:00 AM so I could write before work. Now, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a morning person. Getting up early went totally against my natural biorhythms. But I’d already failed at alternative times. If I really wanted to be a writer, I’d have to get up and write. And, for six months, that’s what I did. I formed the habit.

Lesson three is Raw Ideas. Every working writer jokes about being asked where they get their ideas. It’s a joke because most writers have more ideas than they’ll ever have time to put in books. The trick is in recognizing them. (No, Patterson doesn’t say this in the video.) Orson Scott Card taught me to play the “What If?” game. You take a fact or a concept and start asking “What if?” Simple examples: What if faster than light travel were really possible? What if your cat really was out to get you? What if there really were a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? What if it was fool’s gold?

Betty Webb gave a talk at a Sisters in Crime meeting a few years back. She handed out pages from the newspaper at random. Some people got news articles. I got a page full of advertising. You were supposed to come up with a story idea based on something on the page you got. My first reaction was it wasn’t fair that other people got actual stories to work with. Then I stopped whining and came up with an idea. Because, if you’re a writer, you come up with ideas.

The homework is to come up with three ideas.

Plot is the fourth lesson. Patterson talks about turning your idea into a plot. No new concepts here as far as I can see.

The homework is to take one of the three ideas you came up with and develop it into a plot. The difference between an idea and a plot is the way the idea affects a character or characters. My plots are always about how a person is affected by a change in circumstances. In a murder mystery, that’s usually because someone is killed. But that raises a bunch of questions, the biggest of which is why were they killed? Or, if the main character is the primary suspect, why are they the suspect, and how can they prove they didn’t do it? This makes the homework difficult to complete, since Creating Characters is the ninth lesson.

So, what do I think so far? For a minor course—minor being defined by minimal dollar amount spent, not content—I think that if I learn one thing from it, the course was worth it. I’d put the Patterson course a notch above this, and, counting the realization that Patterson always wanted to be a writer, I’ve learned two things. Neither of them is earthshaking, so the jury’s still out. I’ll let you know how I’m doing next week.
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Play Time!

Saturday, September 05, 2015
I’m sure I’ve talked about how severely left-brained I am, but in case you didn’t read those posts, or have forgotten what I said, I’ll do a short recap here. The left side of the brain is primarily responsible for thinking and logic; the right side is the creative side, the part of the brain where dreams come from. I was employed as a computer programmer before I retired. A very left-brained occupation. Writing requires using more of the right brain.

My left brain has been very happy for the past two months as I edited and formatted and set up “A Game of Murder” on Amazon. I’ve created Facebook posts and tweeted and participated in a Facebook event to promote this latest book. Even as I did this, my right brain was crying, “What about me?”

So, throughout this process, I promised my right brain that once I was done with launching the book, I’d give her a new toy.



In case you hadn’t heard, adult coloring books are all the rage. Mostly Books, the local independent book store that carries my mysteries, even has a monthly coloring night. You bring—or buy—your own coloring book, and they supply the colored pencils, gel pens, and markers, as well as a space and company to do this activity. I decided the new toy would be a coloring book and colored pencils.

In my left-brained fashioned, I spent a lot of time browsing the coloring books on Amazon, reading reviews, looking at photos of the pictures inside. Of course, I wound up with one called Creative Cats. There was no avoiding it. Just as, given a choice between two articles of clothing or two book covers or two coffee mugs, it’s a fair bet I’ll choose the blue one, choosing which kind of pictures I wanted to color inevitably led to the one with cats.


Then I had to decide what to color the pictures with. More research. In this case, I had to balance cost against utility. It was very tempting to buy both colored pencils and gel pens. Even after I decided to only buy pencils this time, there were 36 packs, 48 packs, even an assortment of 150 colors! Reminding myself that I often start projects like this but don’t keep them up, and that eight Crayola crayons had been sufficient for my eight-year-old self, I decided on the 24 pack of Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils.


Now that I’ve started coloring for an hour in the morning, I’ve been surprised by what stands out most to me: the colors!

I’ve realized that I spend most of of my time in a colorless world. I type in black letters on a white screen. I read on my Kindle PaperWhite or on a sepia-toned screen on my iPad Mini. Or a book, which again is black letters on cream-colored paper.

Although greener now than usual, the view outside my window has limited color. It’s a desert. It’s mostly brown, except for when the cactus bloom in the spring. I get very excited when an Arizona cardinal perches in one of the trees, even though Arizona cardinals are a duller red than the Eastern kind.

There’s a section in the right side of my brain that’s sucking in the colors through my eyes and lighting up with glee. I’m trying out the different pencils, seeing how the colors look on the page, experimenting with which ones go together and which ones clash. It’s creativity of a different sort than the kind I use for writing stories. It’s helping me transition from all those left-brained tasks to the very right-brained task of creating a new story.

Doing this over the past few days has brought back memories of sitting on the stoop on hot summer afternoons, sharing a coloring book and crayons with a girlfriend. She’d color the picture on the left-hand page while I colored the one on the right. Or vice versa. I vaguely remember intense discussions on who would color which picture before we started. Then we’d work on our “masterpieces” side-by-side, in silence, until we finished those and had to decide what pictures to color next.

This kind of play is necessary for me. Creativity is a messy activity. You have to be free to think of the most outrageous things in order to come up with something new. So, while I organize my notes and take another class and put together a project plan, I’m also coloring in my coloring book. It’s play time.
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Cover Reveal!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The third in my Community of Faith mysteries now has a cover! And a description! And is live on Amazon!


For the third time in less than six months, Faith Andersen, self-professed computer nerd and skeptical Christian, must solve a murder.

Mira Levinson dared to challenge the local gamer club’s male brotherhood of geekdom. She wrote a game about feelings. A good game. For that she had to die.

The police are focused on the wrong suspect. The police are focused on one of Faith’s friends.

The future of more than one of her friends is in jeopardy. Driven by her desire for justice, Faith must find out who killed Mira. Without dying in the process.

Or losing the love of her life.

If you like traditional mysteries with a touch of romance, you are sure to love A Game of Murder.
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The Excitement is Building!

Saturday, August 22, 2015
Very soon now, “A Game of Murder,” the third in my Community of Faith mystery series, will be available for sale. I should get edits back from my editor any day now, my cover designer is working on another fantastic cover, and I’ve started setting the book up on Amazon.

You wouldn’t want to miss the publication announcement, would you?

To make sure you know when you can buy “A Game of Murder,” all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. It’s not hard to do. Just look at the sidebar to the right of this post. Fill in your name and email address, and you’re in!

Just for signing up, you’ll receive a collection of stories that will tell you how it all began. How my four core characters came together to form the Community of Faith.

But wait. There’s more! (Yes, I am channeling late night infomercials.) Everyone who is on my mailing list by August 31, 2015 will be eligible to win a gift box of Arizona treasures. (Sorry, U.S. Residents only. Because of the weight of the items, foreign shipping would be prohibitive.)


As you can see, this includes my first two novels, a box of Cheri’s Mesquite Apple Muffin Mix, Cheri’s Prickly Pear Jelly, a mug portraying the iconic saguaro cactus (from Mostly Books), and a cactus pin.

Don’t miss out! Sign up today!
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Oh Dear!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I think I should have been more consistent about posting about my project plants. For the past month, I have been buried in my soon-to-be-released third book in the Community of Faith mystery series. (More on that in my next post.) My existing African violets are all in Oyama pots or double pots made of clay and are well-established, so they can tolerate a few days of neglect.

Not the project plants. Since it takes time for new plants to adapt to a new environment, I left the project plants in their original plastic pots. I added a plastic “saucer” underneath and started out by using the bottom watering technique. Sometimes, when I stuck my finger in the soil, it felt dry, despite water remaining in the saucer. Then I added water from the top.

One plant seemed to do okay. The second one, not so much. I put it under a plastic baggie, trying to create a mini-greenhouse where it might be happier. I kept thinking I should have done that earlier.

The plants continued to deteriorate. I couldn’t decide whether they had too little water or too much, so one day I’d give them water when they probably didn’t need it, another I’d let them go longer and possibly dried them out.

Panic set in.

Before I knew anything about letting plants adapt or tenting them in plastic, I’d take newly arrived plants and repot them immediately. They all did fine. So I decided I should try repotting the project plants, my last ditch effort to have them survive.

I did that this past weekend, putting them into small Oyama pots. I discovered that the soil, although dry around the edges, was wet around the roots. So I was probably over-watering them, not under-watering. The soil was much denser than I use. Another problem. African violets need air around the roots to breathe. I doubt my project plants were getting any air.

I am hoping for a miracle. While one plant has at least one semi-healthy leaf left, you have to look very carefully to see the two tiny leaves remaining on the other. I think I waited too long for my intervention.

At least I know it’s not totally my fault. At the last meeting of the Tucson chapter of the African Violet Society, I was talking to an experienced grower, a woman who has grown hundreds of plants. She told me she didn’t even take the project plants this year because minis and semi-minis are so hard to grow.

Just because I don’t want you to think I’m totally inept, I’m including a picture of my trailer. If nothing else, seeing all the flowers cheers me up.


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The Silly Season

Saturday, August 01, 2015
According to Merriam-Webster, the silly season is:

1:  a period (as late summer) when the mass media often focus on trivial or frivolous matters for lack of major news stories
2:  a period marked by frivolous, outlandish, or illogical activity or behavior

It also refers to the period leading up to an election. Alas, here we are almost a year and a half before the next presidential election, and the Silly Season is in full swing. As of today, there are 16 Republican candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring. On the Democrat side, in addition to Hillary and Bernie Sanders, three others have announced their intention to run for the office. (Source: NY Times.) You can't turn on the news without hearing a story about what one or the other of these candidates has said or done today. Usually that's followed by a group of talking heads--all with a political agenda of their own--discussing the item ad naseum. They don't add any new facts. They merely reinforce their own political bias.



A few months back, I wrote a post titled Twitter is My News Channel. In it, I decried the lack of reporting by traditional news outlets and pointed out that Twitter and Facebook often had the news ahead of radio and television. Unfortunately, social media is not immune to the Silly Season. In fact, Facebook makes the phenomenon I wrote about in April look like reporting by Edward R. Murrow.

Lately I've noticed people posting and commenting on links without ever reading the original source material. Unfortunately, the links are headlines which are merely clickbait, something outrageous to make the reader of said headline click on it to go to a web page where, hopefully, the purveyor will be able to sell you something. Reading the article is secondary. Why are the headlines clickbait? Because they often do not represent the actual body of the story. In fact, often, buried somewhere half-way down in the column, the story will contradict the headline.

A clickbait headline will read something like "Candidate John Doe Says I Drowned Kittens!" When you finally get to the original quote, it says something like: Candidate John Doe said today, "If I drowned kittens, I'd never be able to live with myself." But on Facebook everyone will be decrying the cruelty of John Doe, setting up petitions to have him banned from the election, and sharing this clickbait with everyone they know.

I'm one of those rare people who believes she should know what she's talking about before she opens her mouth, so I do read the original articles. If that article doesn't make sense, I use Google to try to find additional information. I want to know the truth.

I also want other people to know the truth, so, if and when I post a comment, I'll add links to the information I've found, assuming others will want to read that as well.

Silly me.

I forgot the part about them not reading the original article to begin with.

I try to avoid getting embroiled in political discussions on Facebook. I'm a registered Independent and have no particular loyalty to either party. My loyalty is to the truth and to the candidates I believe will represent me best.

Unfortunately, this past week I fell victim to clickbait. I couldn't help myself from trying to counter the vitriol being spread on one thread. The response was immediate and harsh. I forgot for a moment that people are more interested in reinforcing their own beliefs than challenging them.

There's a reason writers are encourage not to advocate a particular stance, whether that be in politics or religion or social issues like gay marriage. Usually, this is because a publisher doesn't want their writer losing sales because some readers have the opposite opinion. In my case, it's because it takes too much time and energy to try to prove my point. I'm not Don Quixote.

I'm going to redouble my efforts not to get involved in political arguments this Silly Season. Most of the candidates will fall by the wayside. I'll make my choice in November of next year. Quietly. I'll resist the temptation to read every bit of clickbait. I have books to write.



Credits:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/silly%20season
fuzzy-mascot.jpg Copyright Piotr Siedlecki via http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=109069&picture=fuzzy-mascot
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How's the Book Coming?

Saturday, July 11, 2015
I knew you'd be asking!

Okay, maybe you weren't. "A Game of Murder," the third in my Community of Faith Mysteries, is getting closer to publication. I'd hoped to be able to offer it for sale a month ago, but it's taking longer than I thought to revise. It always takes longer than I think it will.

An author and her book go through stages in their relationship. With me, out of the bleakness of the I'll-never-be-able-to-write-another-book-again phase, I'll read a newspaper article or see a television show or overhear a snippet of conversation and get an idea. I'm sure it is the best idea ever!

For a few days or weeks or months (it all depends on what else is going on in my life, where I'm at with the current or last book, etc.), other pieces come to me. At this stage, I start writing things down, either in a new notebook or a new section of one I've already started for the series. I poke around the Internet, doing "research." I bookmark web pages, save photos of people who look like they could be my characters, follow lots of rabbit trails from interesting things I find. It's forming a mental, physical, and electronic collage of what this new story might be. I'm in love with the story.

As I get closer to writing, I set up a Scrivener project, start creating virtual index cards for each scene, move the research into the project. The index cards form my outline for the story. I'll usually sit down with my story notebook and interview my main characters, write sketches that reveal to me what makes them tick.



I'll cycle around research, plotting, and developing characters for a while until I can't wait any longer to start writing. This is the fun part--when it's going well. This is the part where my muse gets to really play. I read the first index card, then envision what's happening in that scene and type fast. I can write thousands of words a day now when I'm in this phase.

Until I read the next index card and the words on it say something like "things get worse" or "there's another murder." Or, worse, I realize there's a big hole between what I've already written and the next card. Sometimes my muse is cooperative and supplies me with the missing pieces on the fly. Sometimes I have to go back to the research-plotting-character phase to find out what happens next. So, while I can easily type 50,000 words in a month, I can't necessarily write 50,000 words in a month. I'm having my doubts about the story.

With "A Game of Murder," those holes got limited treatment. Some got skipped over entirely. Some I didn't see until I was done writing the first draft. At times I had the proverbial round hole with nothing but a square peg to put in it. It takes time to make a round peg, which was what I was working on last month. I'm sure this is the worst novel I've ever written.

Finally, with round pegs in hand (or mind), I started a total read-through of the rough draft a couple of weeks ago. I read my novel like a book, as quickly as I can, making notes with a pen on inconsistencies, repetitions, omissions of things I thought I put in but can't find, etc. I'm not sure this story is going to work at all. I'm tempted to give up, but I've got so much time invested in it, it's so close to being finished, I keep plugging.

Once that's done, solutions discovered for the problems--at least in part--I use Margie Lawson's EDITS system to analyze the writing. As I've written before, this consists of marking different parts of the writing in different colors so I can see where I have big blocks of description or narrative or dialogue and break them up. It's also where I discover that my characters are always smiling or nodding or chewing on their lips. And where I've written a cliche that needs to be revised to something new and fresh. That's where I am now. I'm starting to see the potential in this story again.

But, from experience, I know there's a lot of time-consuming work ahead. Finding just the right verb to replace the weak verb with the adverb means spending time with the thesaurus and trying different combinations. Most of those cliches take time to replace. I have to come up with several alternatives before hitting on the one that resonates. I have to re-envision what my settings and characters look like, often going back to earlier books to check on what color a character's car is or whether I've described the furniture in a room before so I don't replace a sectional with a loveseat.

I plan to start that phase on Monday.

After that will be beta readers and proofreading and formatting and adding another gorgeous Karen Phillips cover. I'm assuming it will be gorgeous because her covers always are. I've contacted her, but she hasn't started designing it yet. She's waiting for me.

So, instead of having the next book in my Community of Faith Mysteries published by the end of April, my new goal is August 29th. If what happened with "Shadow of Death" is any indication, by that time "A Game of Murder" will once again be my best book ever!
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Project Plant Update

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
I almost forgot to do this today since I've been so busy with critiques for my critique group meeting tonight. Not much change so far, but it takes time for new plants to acclimate themselves. I am a little concerned about one having some browning along the edges of a couple of leaves. I'm not sure whether this is too much or too little water.



This one has the browning leaves:

And, just because it's so pretty, here's Cajun's Code Blue, a plant I bought from another member at the spring sale. It's just so lovely. I think it's thriving because, unlike the project plants, it was grown locally, so has already adapted to Tucson's dry, hot climate.


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