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On Writing

Dinner with Authors

If you could invite three favorite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with?

I’d invite Frank Tuttle, Mark Twain and Patricia Briggs. Twain was an interesting fellow while he was alive; I think he’d make a fabulous ghost! Can you imagine the conversation? I wouldn’t expect him to bring a dish though. Egads. I don’t know what ghosts eat, but given where they come from, I just think it would be better for all involved if he left the samples…at home.

We’d need Frank Tuttle (kobobooks)in the mix because he’s used to dealing with ghosts. He’s written a number of ghost stories and a fabulous one about a banshee too. (I’m not inviting the banshee, Frank, no matter how well behaved she is. The neighbors already think I’m weird; I don’t need to add to the rumor mill.)

Patricia Briggs
(Kobobooks) has been a favorite author ever since I discovered “When Demons Walk” all those years ago when I was just out of college. The woman can *write.* I swear I’d read her grocery lists and possibly plagiarize them for the meal. Let’s hope if that happens that she can cook as well as write.

I know the question said I could only invite three authors, but I’d really like to invite Elizabeth Peters (kobobooks) if she’s free. She’s my favorite cozy mystery writer, has traveled all over the world and is an Egyptologist. I suspect that she and Twain could go on for hours entertaining the rest of us. Plus, she might bring an Egyptian dish and that would be very fun. She’s not very tall, so she won’t take up much room, although in the one picture of her that I’ve seen, she did have rather voluminous skirts. Do you think she hides weapons in the folds?

I’ve never based characters on people I know, except for maybe that one neighbor, you know the one. Who in their right mind goes out to get the newspaper in their underwear??? But after a dinner with the four writers above, I am POSITIVE that Twain the Ghost would make an appearance in a future book of mine. He’s dead, so he can’t sue. If he decided to haunt me in punishment, imagine what I could learn from him! I’d tease out all kinds of interesting facts–history, philosophy and since he’s a writer, I know he’d have thoughts on the afterlife. He must still travel about by train when he gets the chance. I know he could help make me a better writer.

I love writing ghost stories and paranormal creatures, but at heart, I’m a mystery writer. There will probably always be a crime or three to be solved and a touch of romance in every story I write. Love and mystery make the world go around.

So there you have it, a dinner party at my house. Who would you invite to yours?

Posted: September 22, 2012
Filed in On Writing, Reviews of my books

Favorite Writing Websites


  1. Science Fiction Writers Association Scam Check Good site to check for info on agent backgrounds.
    • Related scam check blog Just a lot of common sense posts and commentary on things going on in the publishing world.

  3. Fantasy and Paranomal author Holly Lisle: Archives have excellent writing tips and useful info from this published author.

  5. Thriller and mystery author J.A. Konrath: writer tips; marketing your book tips, very informative author blog. Here’s a link to a download that is basically an e-book of his publishing experiences, tips, advice, etc: Konrath Ebook

  7. great website that lists most of the short story speculative fiction markets

  9. Writing tips–bad writing, bad habits, do’s and don’ts

  11. Kirsch’s Guide to the Book Contract by Jonathan Kirsch.This should be required reading for any author. Even if you have an agent, this book will really help you understand how contracts work, how much you can expect to be paid and how “rights” work. A must read.

Posted: July 25, 2006
Filed in On Writing, Writing Links

In the Name of Writing

writingWe writers do a lot of research. Sometimes when researching one question (like how to get graveyard dirt out of a shirt) we find other interesting tidbits.

This past month, I came across a number of articles about people who don’t use shampoo to wash their hair. Some of them don’t seem to wash their hair at all, but I believe the general consensus is that shampoo has some rather harsh chemicals so there is a set of people trying for a more natural product. Being a writer of great curiosity, I decided some experiments were needed. First, I tried washing my hair with my home crafted bar soap. That was okay, but it’s rather hard to get the bar to give you an even amount of soap. Plus, my bars are super moisturizing. They also have a pH that is good for your skin, but a tad alkaline for hair. My hair was so soft and silky it was flat and clumpy (in a clean, moisturized clumpy way, of course.) The next week, I tried my liquid soap. That was better and infinitely easier to use. But it’s a thin liquid because I don’t add all the extra chemicals of the regular soap from the store. It has a lower pH, but after a few days of use, I still think it’s too moisturizing. The moisturizers build up on my long hair, leaving a dull, flat hairdo.

I gave up on experiments for a while until I came across another article that discussed using vinegar or baking soda. Hmm. My mom used to give me a vinegar rinse now and then when I was small. I’ll try it! I decided. I used apple cider and warm water. Hmm. Hair felt very clean and…silky. As in very silky. I could tell that if I tried it a second day we’d be right back to super-moisturized. I like silky as much as the next girl and we ALL know that heroines in romance novels have the silkiest of silky hair, which pretty much ensures that the guy in the novel puts the heroine on a pedestal treating her like a goddess forever…so while the concept was quite tempting, I reminded myself that romance novels are fiction and it was MINUTELY possible that husband:

1. Wouldn’t Even Notice or
2. Might not put me on a pedestal so much as put me out to pasture because my hair had taken on the properties of something best left outside.

Next I read about lemon juice or baking soda! Aha! More things to try. I didn’t want to do lemon juice because my hair is highlighted. I didn’t want to end up with blonder streaks. In the past, my curiosity has accidentally turned my hair into “calico cat” colors…so I went with the baking soda. Nice! Silky but with LOTS of body. We are talking, “this could be bedhead sticking up if I keep blow-drying it” body. It was still easy to comb and manage, and my head felt nice and clean with the baking soda wash/rinse.

I think the baking soda would work nicely as an in between day cleanser. You can still have a clean head, but cut back on shampoo chemicals. I am not ready to go “all baking soda every day.” I’m also not ready to go without washing my hair every day.

I thought I’d mention it because I hear that if you have dry, damaged hair and can’t or don’t want to shampoo every day, there are alternatives. Baking soda or vinegar make work well for you. Which one works best probably depends on the water in your area and your hair. These make nice rinses. The baking soda adds more body, but less shine. The vinegar shines things right up, but I’d say there’s less body. I really like chamomile tea as a rinse. It takes the tangles out and doesn’t add any heavy moisturizers. It can lighten the hair some if you leave it on rather than rinsing it out. I haven’t tried combining the baking soda with chamomile, but it might be worth a shot.

Rest assured, I am out there, experimenting. You never know when I might need the information for a book.

Posted: March 15, 2014
Filed in On Writing

Marked with the Scarlet Letter

library_signI was pretty excited the other day to learn that Smashwords, an ebook distributor, would be distributing books to Overdrive. Overdrive supplies libraries with ebooks. I made sure my books were all signed up. Yesterday I saw they had shipped and were available for libraries to order!

I immediately contacted my librarian friend to make sure they could be seen in the overdrive library system. I’ve had several requests from fans who want their library to order my series. I wanted to make sure the books showed up in the system before I shared the news.

Well. Smashwords does ship the books to Overdrive. HOWEVER, in order for the librarian to even FIND the books in the list, she had to spend a lot of time researching. None of the usual methods worked: Title, nope. Author name, nope. OH. Turns out there is a box on overdrive underneath some other menu…labeled “Self-published.” Once she FOUND that menu and clicked that box and did a search, well THEN the titles would show up. The button was not obvious and had she not known me personally and asked someone else about it…they would never have found my titles at all.

I am self-published. I get that there are books out there that are self-published that haven’t been edited. I get that some libraries may not want to order those books. But what happened to the idea that librarians actually spend time researching whether a book fits the needs of a library? Is it a popular genre with readers? Does it have good reviews? I don’t expect librarians to read every book or sample every book, but they research traditional titles now and do a great job of it. Why should self-published books be any different? I’m not advocating blindly buying bundles of them just because they are cheap, but who came up with this idea and thought it was a good one?

Put behind a “wall” like that, the books are branded as “We won’t even show you these because they aren’t worth it.” So I’ll ask again. Whose idea was it? The publishers because they don’t want to compete on price with us? The librarians (I doubt they were even asked)? Overdrive? The distributors and overdrive make money from authors, including self-published ones. So why should our books be treated any differently than trad books? And if you are going to create such a wall, you should tell the self-published authors. That way I can decide whether to spend time on the project.

Look, we self-published authors aren’t trying to fool anyone. We aren’t labeling our stuff “Penguin” or “Random House.” We just want equal opportunity, something that Amazon was willing to provide. Amazon decided there might very well be a market for self-published books right alongside traditionally published books. They let the reader decide. They let the reader sample and they allowed returns. It turns out Amazon must have done something right because other retailers now happily accept self-published books. Kobobooks has a tremendous program for small publishers and self-published authors. B&N has a program. SCRIBD is another site. I get emails a few times a month with offers to list my books.

Libraries are a great place to explore and try books that you might not otherwise try. The real kicker here is that there are services that will upload self-published books to Overdrive WITHOUT putting them behind that negative wall. These services take a cut of the sale also, but so far as I understand, the book won’t be “hidden” from most librarians (who don’t even know there is such a button/box to click).

I know there will never be a level playing field, but self-publishing is good for authors and readers. It has brought the price of books down. It has enabled the share an author earns to go UP for the first time in decades. It means there are more books, at a lower price, than in decades. Like any new industry, self-publishing is not all good news because there are sloppy and boring books out there, but that’s pretty much as it ever was.

There have always been roadblocks to self-publishing. This is just one more. But perhaps Overdrive doesn’t realize that Pandora’s box has been opened. We aren’t going to go away. And more and more traditional authors are joining our ranks. The pay is better. The publishing road is easier on the author (cover control, ability to publish more than one book a year, ability to work on multiple series, etc).

Why did I write this post? Because I get asked often by authors whether they should try the traditional route or the self-published one. Well, there are pros and cons to both. This setback is one piece of the puzzle.

Posted: June 18, 2014
Filed in On Writing

Miscellaneous Info on Free

I get asked a lot why I don’t have my books set to free more often (or permanently). The truth is, like most authors, I need to make money from my writing or I can’t keep writing. I’ve heard lots of people say, “Well, I’ll buy the next if I like the first.” But here’s the problem: Lots of people download free and never even read the first PAGE. Stats from various places show that less than one percent of free books get read. So the odds are against free right from the start.

Here’s another stat from one of my own experiments. I joined 10 authors and gave away a copy of Sage in exchange for the readers to be added to my email list. This was a limited time offer. During the offer, 1002 people downloaded the set of free books and remained on the mail list even after being offered a chance to leave the list. I’ve now used that mailing list once: I shared bargains, a great book review, and a link to 99 cent books. I don’t use a fancy mail program like mailchimp because it costs money (about 10 dollars a month). I can’t tell you how many emails went directly into a spam bucket or how many emails were opened, looked at or read. These would be useful stats, but it’s crazy to pay for data if your sales are too low.

At any rate, out of those thousand people 18 asked to unsubscribe immediately. Not a terrible rate of unsubscribe. Of those thousand people 243 people clicked on the featured book (Under Witch Moon) priced at 99 cents. Five people bought it. That is not a great ROI rate and is one of the worst for various experiments I’ve run. There was another featured book in the newsletter. There were 150 clicks on that book and 4 books sold for the first in the series and one sale each of the other books in the series. That’s a better buy rate, because the other book featured was $3.99. By featuring two books in the newsletter (mine and one that I recommended) it gives me extra data and helps me eliminate possible problems such as “cover issues” or “blurb issues” and so on.

My analysis:

The people who signed up for the list are almost exclusively doing so for free books. Very few bought books, even when priced at 99 cents. For that matter, very few even CLICKED on the books. In the case of the book that was not mine, I didn’t even mention a price in the newsletter. I showed covers for both books. I sent some of the emails with book blurbs and some without. I also tracked visitors to the blog. That number was very low–about 10 people. I’d probably get a higher rate of visitors if I put a sign in my front yard!

I’m not going to draw any hard and fast conclusions. I’m throwing the data out there for other authors who might be interested in seeing the data. Some readers may find it interesting data as well. I know I download quite a few free books–and very few of them get read. I sample a lot of books too and most don’t make it to the buy list. I’m a very particular reader with limited reading time. I think most of us are. Free books get thirty pages or less before I make up my mind about reading them. If I pay for a book, I tend to give it at least thirty pages (unless something obvious stands out.)

Feel free to comment with your thoughts on free books or signing up/giving your email to a list in order to receive free books!

Posted: September 20, 2017
Filed in On Writing, Writing Links

Money Matters

Anyone that knows me or that reads my blog now and then may figure out that I don’t make my living from writing. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in money matters or how much writers make or even money management; in fact quite the opposite.

When I started writing, hanging out at the occasional conference and talking to other writers, I noticed pretty quickly that very few writers had a business plan. Money management? Taxes? Not high on the conversation list.

Today I ran across a couple of posts that discuss money and what writers get paid. One such article is on Jim Hines blog–he’s a successful writer–three books published with a major publisher, many published short stories, and more books on the way–but Jim Hines doesn’t make his living writing. Another is John Scalzi–an even more successful writer, at least by writing income standards. And do note that he makes money writing fiction and non-fiction. He’s been freelancing for a lot of years. He has a plan; he’s a professional.

Hines’ article is very interesting because you’ll learn what a lot of authors may make when they have three books out. John Scalzi’s article covers not only basic finance, but has some info that is specific to writers. It should be required reading–and not just for writers.

Here’s a small sample of Scalzi at the top of one rant:

But you want that 42-inch 1080p TV! I understand; I want it too. What you do is save for it. When you save for something, it’s like you’re making a payment on it, except that you don’t have an evil credit card company charging you 19% for the privilege. I realize it’s condescending to put it that way, but, look: If people actually knew this, they wouldn’t have thousands in credit card debt, now, would they? And yes, it’s true that while you’re saving for that HDTV (or whatever), you don’t have it, and we as a nation are no longer used to the idea of not having what we want now now now now now. Well, get used to it, you insolvent jackass. Otherwise some bank owns your ass well into the next life. Really, that’s all I have to say about that.

Here’s another article from two writers discussing earnings. Just a note: I could live on 2k a month.

Speaking of keeping production costs low, I get a lot of questions about where to buy artwork or hire an artist at a reasonable cost. I do all my own artwork and I usually buy a subscription for a month at despositphotos. They have the best prices. For 70 dollars a month, you get 5 pieces of artwork EVERY day. Just remember to cancel after you have bought what you need. It is a rolling subscription unless you cancel. You can, of course, buy just one or two photos–Their prices are almost always better than any of the other photo sites.

If you are looking for an artist, I have worked with a few and can recommend one or two. However, hiring an artist usually means the cost of a book cover will run 200 to 400 dollars. I know a few who will provide backgrounds at a low cost (you’d be on your own for the text/titles.) Feel free to email me via the link on the sidebar if you have questions.

Posted: February 13, 2008
Filed in On Writing, Writing Links

More on Money

I posted last year about writers/authors and how little they make (okay, the very successful ones make quite a bit, but most writers have a day job for real income.)   Several published authors are doing the favor again of putting out information on the topic.  Jim Hines started the thread, and he linked to others that are offering info on the subject of how much writers make:

Jim Hines’ Post on Money and Writing

Keep in mind that Jim Hines is a fairly successful writer (4 books out) and you’ll want to see his original post where he talks about some of the previous years.  You’ll also note if you follow some of the other links that some authors spend more of their earnings on websites, cons or other promotion.   It also seems that the more successful an author is, the less promo they have to do themselves.  There appears to be a snowball effect that helps them keep growing with less input from the author.  I found Jennifer Estep’s post interesting–and the comment’s trail has a comment from another author concerning his earnings.  Paul S. Kemp’s original post on the subject last year is also worth reading.

I suppose in fairness, since I had two short stories come out this year, I could post about my “earnings” but until I start making more than 150 dollars a year on my writing, I’m guessing that info doesn’t need to be broken down too much…

Posted: January 23, 2009
Filed in On Writing, Writing Links

Music is Writing

I know not everyone who reads this blog is into music, but I love the stuff. The creation of a song is similar to writing a book in many ways. There’s layers, nuances, varying skills, lots of editing and lots of hard work. Husband sent me this article written by musician John Bohlinger. He was trying to learn an important song for the Country Music Television Awards. What struck me most is how he wasn’t really able to learn the part as perfectly as he wanted. He had to fall back to “Do what you know.” The arts involve a LOT of this type of “failure.” Sometimes we aren’t skilled enough to pull off a certain type of story. Maybe we fail a secondary character because we don’t develop the character enough. Maybe we fail the reader because we aren’t quite funny enough or don’t take the plot line where the readers want to go. We writers are always learning. We go back to the basics, we study technique, we try again.

The thing is, we have to write what we CAN. We can’t always find the perfect nuance. We have a performance to pull off. Most of us have deadlines, whether they are self imposed for financial reasons or just to keep our sanity. You can only work on a book, a song or a piece of artwork for so long. At some point, you have exhausted your skill level, your patience and your ideas. That is not the same thing as lazy writing, which is a whole different topic. As an editor, I know what lazy writing is. It’s when the author whines and says, “I could add that, but isn’t it really okay the way it is?” Not usually, no. Or worse, the writer says, “Just change it. I don’t care how you fix it.” Uh, no. YOU are the writer in this case. I am the editor. I don’t write FOR you. Yes, I’ve had clients actually ask me for a price quote to “finish the story. It’s all there except the ending, but if you finish it and edit it, we can put your name on it too.” Doesn’t work that way. I have my own projects. I don’t want to write your story. (After that kind of offer, I don’t even want to edit for that writer and will not edit for that writer.)

When people ask me how I turn my ideas into a book, I don’t have a good answer because it isn’t a pretty answer. Writing a book involves an enormous amount of failure. There are so many imperfections–some that I see, but choose to live with and many that I don’t. You put the book out there hoping the reader is satisfied and doesn’t see that extra word that isn’t really necessary. You hope they like the cover enough to buy the book and give it a chance. Maybe they decide against the book because the font is too curly or not curly enough. You hope that little writing trick you used flows, but it might be more like sunlight bouncing off a mirror. There’s no other band members to help carry you or cover up your flubs. It’s just you, Miss Grammar and the reader. In music, you hope the listener doesn’t have big ears. In writing, you hope the reader falls into the story and forgets to look for stains, scratches and imperfections. Music isn’t as easy as it sounds. Neither is writing a novel.

Posted: December 3, 2016
Filed in Editor Advice, On Writing, Writing Links

Sweet Potato Leaves and Writerly Concerns

My sweet potato plants are the only thing growing gangbusters in this heat. I don’t even know if there are any potatoes under the ground! But then I found out I can eat the leaves and flowers! Excellent! I’ll leave the flowers for the bees, but I’ve already added the leaves to my clam linguini recipe (in place of spinach. I can’t grow spinach here because it’s too hot.) Excellent and it beat kale hands down, no contest! The leaves are tender and a little sweet with no overwhelming flavor. Could be my best harvest!

In book release news, I am often asked if releasing a new book after having published so many is still a thrill. Yes, yes it is. It’s a lot like a first date with someone you really like, but don’t yet know well. You’re nervous, excited and very hopeful. While waiting for your date to show up, you decide to eat a tiny bit of fortifying chocolate and accidentally smear a huge smudge on the front of your new shirt. This would be the equivalent of the little things that go wrong during the launch of said book.

You change shirts, but now the shirt doesn’t match your skirt. It sticks out funny, and you feel totally awkward and ugly, but the doorbell rings! You don’t want to look like a high maintenance freak, so you can’t ask him to wait while you change. This is the equivalent of jitters over that one scene…and the word choice on page 57 and did you remember everyone in the acknowledgements???

When you open the door, he is totally apologetic because his hands are greasy. He had a flat tire and had to change it on the way. You’re relieved because now he won’t think you’re a colorblind ninny because your shirt doesn’t match your skirt! He washes up and off you go to dinner, which is completely filled with “what to say” and “what not to say.” This is sort of like pre-release/pre-orders where you don’t know whether to say MORE about the book or less. Who do you tell and is it polite to speak up on such and such forum??? Do you release an excerpt, do four thousand giveaways or just keep quiet and hope for the best???

If the dinner date goes well, you spend the half-hour ride home wondering if he will kiss you good night. And you don’t want to be too enthusiastic but you want to be enthusiastic. And what if HE DOESN’T even try for a kiss good night? Does he hate you? Is he just classy? How classy is classy versus not interested anyway??? Yup, this would be the sales numbers and reviews. You get some reviews where you wonder, “What does that mean?” You get some reviews that are thrilling. You get some reviews that aren’t so great and that’s the equivalent of a date gone very, very bad, maybe one where you had the waiter call for a taxi. If sales are bad, it’s not only a horrific date, it’s one where you tried to sneak out the restaurant bathroom window and tore your skirt on the stupid ledge getting down the other side. Then your awful date finds you in the alley and you end up having to shoot the guy.

Well, as I always say, all’s well that ends well! But yes, every book IS a thrill.

Posted: July 29, 2015
Filed in On Writing

When Roses Smell of Offal

Plagiarism. It doesn’t get a lot uglier for a writer.

Recently, I came across two books that I was considering for the book blurb poll. I got very frustrated because they both sounded cute and similar. I sampled one but then just gave up because if there were that many books with ghosts helping solve murders with a main who cleaned crime scenes, who wants to even try to choose?

Turns out one of the books was largely plagiarized from the other. WHAT? A thief actually took the original, changed the names, a few scenes and words here and there…and called it her own. It was changed to third person instead of first. Maybe the thief felt she made enough changes that it wouldn’t be noticed (it would be hard for the usual comparison software to catch it). But if roses stink, don’t put your nose too close.

The Original

deadAt any rate, I wanted to make note of the original work and the hard working author so that if you like books with ghosts, you have a chance to read it. Wendy Roberts writes the Ghost Dusters Mysteries. The first book is: The Remains of the Dead. The second is: Devil May Ride. Dead and Kicking is book 3.

If you ever suspect plagiarism, you can do a few things: Write a review noting the names of the two works. Contact Amazon with your suspicions. Contact the author. Contact the publisher. You don’t have to do a lot of research, but letting a few people know can go a long ways towards solving the problem.

Authors put an incredible amount of work into writing and editing a book. We take criticism, we get ignored, we make sacrifices to finish a story, usually for no pay at all–we ride on hope for a long time. Authors work for YEARS on the craft of writing, and it takes years to get published whether we self-publish or go the traditional route. Most of us do not make a lot of money. Still, most of us write every word of our own work. We may give a nod to themes or characters we love from other books, but we do it in our own words.

There’s no excuse for shortcuts or outright thievery. I’m glad the internet makes catching the thieves possible.

Posted: February 15, 2014
Filed in On Writing
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