Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Take My Genre, Please.

The brisk air crackled with unanticipated excitement on the septuagenarian morn; blue-black crows cawed their nervous greetings above the ever-rolling hills, purveyors of nuisance. Beyond the craggy, distant, snow-covered, imposing peaks,—

Muse: Stop. Please stop.

—a plume of wispy smoke wisped up to the azure sky, signaling—

Muse: Oh, stop, stop, stop, STOP!100_3753

Me: What?

Muse: What are you doing?

Me: Writing a scene. Why?

Muse: I step out for a minute to stretch my legs and this is what happens? What’s with all the adjectives? And dude, use a dictionary.

Me: I thought I’d try something different.

Muse: We’ve been through this. Your readers don’t want different. They want you. Your voice. Writing what you write. No space aliens. No romance novels. No vampires.

Me: What’s wrong with vampires? They’re popular, you know.

Muse: There’s nothing wrong with vampires. But you’ve never bitten about vampires before.

Me: Hey, I’m the writer; you’re just here for inspiration. Please leave the wordplay to me.

Muse: See what happens when you try something new?

Me: Point taken. So you’re saying to stick to what I do best.

Muse: Exactly.

Me: Like simple sentences with simple words? Sentence fragments? One adjective per page? Stories about normal people in sticky situations?

Muse: It’s what your readers want. Frankly, you can’t handle much more than that.

Me: So no stories about talking trees? I was hoping to branch out.

Muse: Maybe we should both lay off the wordplay.

Me: Agreed.

Muse: Take your Last Laff mystery series. Please.

Me: Of all the muses I could get, I’m blessed with Henny Youngman? I thought we were going to stop the funny-biz.

Muse: Sorry. But seriously, in that series, you’ve taken a fairly normal protagonist, at least for a stand-up comic, and put him into a sticky situation. That’s what your readers expect from you. That’s what will make them happy.

Me: Not my sense of humor?

Muse: You’re lucky it’s not that. In your books, there’s some humor, but they’re primarily suspense/mystery stories. The humor is just a backdrop. At least that’s what you’ve been telling me.

Me: So what should I do if I feel the burning desire to write in another genre?

Muse: Try to quench it.

Me: And if I can’t?

Muse: That’s what pseudonyms are for. And personal journals. And Twitter. And epublishing.

Me: Oh.

Muse: One more thing. According to my union, it’s one muse per genre. So you and I would have to part company. And I know you don’t want that.


Muse: Well?

Me: Is my next muse likely to be funnier than you? Or at least nicer?

Muse: No.

Me: Okay, then. Let’s get back to work.


What about you, writers? Have you had the urge to write something in another genre? What’s been your solution?


(BTW, that’s a picture of my muse working a pool party on his day off. I guess I don’t pay him enough.)


This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bad Links! Bad, Bad Links!

Bad News: To my chagrin, yesterday’s terrific guest post by Cricket McRae got infected by some bad links. I’d like to blame the big, bad Internet, but the fault lies with me. Sorry!

Good News: They’ve been corrected. So if you visited the blog yesterday, and ended up in cyberspace limbo, I urge you to try again. Visit Cricket McRae’s website; her blog, Hearth Cricket; check out her latest release, WINED AND DIED; and visit Bizango Websites for Writers.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Synopsis Writing Tips

McRae_Cricket pic

I’m happy to welcome my writing pal Cricket McRae to the blog with some terrific tips for completing that most terrifying of creatures—the synopsis. In addition to being a successful novelist and fellow arugula lover, Cricket has a very interesting blog, Hearth Cricket, where she provides lots of crafty home and garden lessons, stories, and tasty tidbits.

Take it away, Cricket!

Thanks for inviting me to guest on A Million Blogging Monkeys, Alan!

As a result of my fifth contemporary cozy Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, hitting the shelves, I’m on this merry little blog tour and poking my head up here and there letting people know about the book release. Kind of like a literary whack-a-mole. At the same time, I just finished another manuscript for a second series, and most recently I wrote a detailed synopsis for the next book in that series. Now I’m back at work on Home Crafting Mystery #6.

The very word synopsis used to send terror arrowing through my solar plexus. Know why? Because they’re hard. At least they are for me. After all, I’ve never managed to start a short story that didn’t turn into a novel. Or at least an idea for a full-blown novel. Keeping it short is a challenge.

But over time I’ve completed several novel synopses, and have picked up a few basic tips:

Really basic: The format is double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and twelve-point Times Roman font. Pretty much just like a manuscript, but for some reason there seems to be a notion that it needs to be different. It doesn’t. Make sure your contact information is in the header. And some people say that the first time you introduce a character’s name it should be in all caps. No matter what tense your novel is in, the synopsis needs to be present tense.

Know how long your synopsis needs to be. If you don’t know, then write more than one. When I was sending them out to agents I had a one-page, a three-page, and a five-page synopsis, because different agents want different things. On the other hand, book proposals for editors typically have more detailed synopses, sometimes fifteen pages or more.

Map out your major plot points. Then identify crises, turning points, the motivation(s) of your main character(s), and the character arc of the protagonist over the course of the novel. Use this vital information as the skeleton for the rest of the synopsis.

Use the same voice and tone of your novel. It helps to convey a feel for the story if the synopsis reflects the way you’ve written it (or plan to write it). If your character is casual, keep the tone casual. If you tend to use brief, declarative sentences, do that in your synopsis. If you’re funny, let some of that humor come through.

Keep the important stuff. If there’s a character who is key late in the book, bring them up as early in the synopsis as you would, relatively, in the novel. Deciding what is important and what isn’t can be surprisingly difficult. So ask yourself whether a particular piece of information adds to or detracts from the clarity you are trying to convey in your brief rundown of your story.

Lose the unimportant stuff. That clever subplot? A brief mention is enough, and then a quick line to say how it turned out at the end. Sometimes you have to drop whole subplots or relationship details, especially in one-page or three-page synopses.

Leave out dialog and description. Mostly. A single line of dialog can convey a lot, and add to that voice/tone thing I mentioned earlier.

The synopsis doesn’t have to precisely reflect the timeline in the book. If you write with a lot of flashbacks, you may want to include some of those time leaps in the synopsis, but it might be easier to tell the story in shorthand if you present it chronologically.

Have other people read it. Preferably folks who haven’t read your novel. You know too much about your own book to have perspective. Does it make sense to them? Pay close attention to what questions they ask or where they want clarification.

I’d love to hear about any tricks you use when writing a synopsis!

---------------------------------------Wined and Died_1

In honor of the recent release of Wined and Died, you can enter to win a free Author Website ($900 value!) plus two years of free hosting from the creative folks at Bizango Websites for Writers until July 29, 2011. For more details and information on how to enter, please visit Cricket’s blog at www.hearthcricket.com.

A former resident of the Pacific Northwest where her novels are set, Cricket McRae has always dabbled in the kind of practical home crafts that were once necessary to everyday life. The magical chemistry of making soap, the satisfaction of canning garden produce, and the sensuous side of fiber arts like spinning and knitting are just of few of the reasons these activities have fascinated her since childhood. As a girl she was as much a fan of Nancy Drew as of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so it's no surprise that her contemporary cozy series features a soap maker with a nose for investigation. For more information about Cricket or the Home Crafting Mystery Series, check out www.cricketmcrae.com.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Many Hats

Elizabeth Spann Craig posted a question on the blog last week:

You've got a very interesting background...have you used any of your past work experience in your books? Are you planning to?

For those of you who don’t know, I have had, uh, quite a few jobs throughout my career. The following is from my Amazon Author Page bio:

Before Alan stepped off the corporate merry-go-round, he had an eclectic (some might say disjointed) career. As an engineer, he worked on nuclear submarines, supervised assembly workers in factories, facilitated technology transfer from the Star Wars program, and learned to stack washing machines three high in a warehouse with a forklift. He even started his own recycling and waste reduction newsletter business.

In addition, I did piping stress analyses for nuclear power plants, I supervised a group of product planning managers for a TV/radio ratings company, and I was the marketing manager for a hardware/software systems developer. (And I worked at the National Bureau of Standards, and I bought corrugated containers for a major appliance company, and I consulted to a national media company, and I…)

You get the picture.

So, have I ever used any of my past work experiences in my books? I’d have to say no. At least not consciously. I mean, who wants to read about a boring cubicle dweller, who spends all day crunching numbers and writing reports?

Of course, on a subconscious level, I’m sure I’ve used a ton of stuff from my experiences. The way a co-worker acts. The way a factory looks. The psychological effects of a particularly stressful negotiation. Those descriptive details, amassed from all my experiences, have definitely found their way into my books.

And who better to murder than all those evil ex-bosses?

As for the future, who knows? If there’s a market for a story about a rogue nuclear submarine that employs Star Wars technology as it’s used in an evil plot to manipulate the TV ratings, then I’m your guy.

(Here’s a question for you, Elizabeth: How much of your BBQ series is taken from your personal experience? If the answer is “a lot” then I’m inviting myself down for dinner sometime!)


Monday, July 18, 2011


Alex J. Cavanaugh left a question on the blog:

What other genres do you like besides mystery?

When I was a teenager, I read a ton. Oh, I’m not talking about all those stuffy “classics” we were supposed to read for English class (While I actually read a few of those, I have to thank Cliffs Notes for help with the rest). No, I read almost exclusively science fiction back in those days. Then I moved on to horror. I read every Stephen King and Dean Koontz book, including the books written under their pseudonyms (many of which required some serious research to determine).

When I was in my twenties, and working in Boston, I had a boss who liked to read. He recommended a series about a wise-cracking private eye, set right there in Boston. From that point on, I was a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, as well as crime fiction in general.

In addition, I enjoy humorous, coming-of-age stories, such as those by John R. Powers, and more contemporary books by John McNally, John Green, and Brian Katcher.

While most of my current reading consists of mystery and suspense novels, I still enjoy science fiction (in fact, CassaStar is on my Kindle—and I’m looking forward to reading it!), horror, and YA.

Of course, I’ll read any book that falls in the “good book” genre.

As far as writing goes, my published books (so far) fall into the mystery/suspense genre. But I have some exciting news to pass along in the next month or so—about a novel in another genre that someone close to me (very close!) will be epublishing. Stay tuned!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Come On, Monkey!

Dear Blogging Monkey,

I’m a big fan of the blog, but lately, say in the last month or so, you’ve been blogging more infrequently.

What gives?


A Fan

Dear Fan,

You make a good observation--I have been blogging less frequently (although there have been some excellent guest bloggers recently). This blogging monkey has been a very busy monkey. But I’d like to get back on track, so I’ll throw it open to you, my fabulous blog readers. Are there any burning questions you’d like to ask me? Leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll blog with the answers.

Soon. I promise!


Blogging Monkey


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Three For Three

Deadly Campaign

Another book will be throwing its hat into the 2012 ring: DEADLY CAMPAIGN, set for a January release.

This is my third book, and it was still a thrill when I saw my cover for the first time. And what a cover it is! Eye-catching, colorful, enticing (I hope!). For my money, Midnight Ink does the best covers in the business, and I’m very grateful to be part of the team.


Believe it or not, until about three weeks ago, I hadn’t connected the fact that this book—with a congressional campaign as a backdrop—was coming out in an election year (I know, duh!). Maybe it’s because I live in the D.C. suburbs and politics is in the news every single day, election year or not.

My two previous books were both Spring releases, so this will be my first Winter release. Hopefully, the book will appeal to all those who receive bookstore gift cards doing their shopping in early January.

Okay, so what’s the book about? Here’s the description from Midnight Ink’s website:

A new Last Laff Mystery from Agatha Award-nominated author Alan Orloff:   Comedy club owner and occasional performer Channing Hayes thought the comedy business was tough, but it's a stroll in the park compared to politics. When he and his business partner Artie attend a congressional campaign event for their friend Thomas Lee's nephew, masked thugs storm in and break up Lee's restaurant with baseball bats. The candidate's people insist that the police not be involved, so Lee asks Channing to investigate. As Channing searches for answers, he finds himself immersed in a corrupt world of payoffs, gangs, illicit affairs, blackmail—and murder . . .


It’s available for pre-order here, here, here, and here. Register your vote today!


My name is Alan Orloff, and I have approved this message.

(This entry has been simulposted on InkSpot.)