Friday, July 30, 2010

Look Out Beta Readers!

I’m in the process of making the final* pass through my WIP before it goes to my beta readers.

Specifically, I’m looking at:

  • Bolstering descriptions, of settings and people
  • Incorporating the five senses
  • Spelling/grammar/typos/awkward sentences
  • Overuse of pet words: that, just, maybe, Kyrgyzstan
  • Making sure the chapter numbers are in order
  • Characters who are always smiling, nodding, shrugging, or guffawing.

Last night, I awoke at three a.m. with some ideas about the book. I jumped up, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, and hustled to the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up my wife with the light. I jotted down my great ideas and went back to bed.

Here’s what I wrote:

Ref go droang xrtg pepperoni aft dincc. Bertttt Xoccwee & frooop. Ha ha ha ha!!! drrb,poipi 799

Any ideas what that means? And why do I have this urge to order pizza?


*Final? Yeah, right!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eleven Times Faster

Something_Bleu It’s a treat to welcome guest blogger Cricket McRae. A fellow Midnight Ink author, Cricket’s new book was just released: SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLEU, the fourth book in the Home Crafting Mystery Series. She also recently started a blog, Hearth Cricket. Take it away, Cricket!

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

The other day a few writer friends and I were sitting around talking about, believe it or not, writing. This happens to a frightening degree when writers get together, and if we’re not talking about writing then it’s publishing news, marketing techniques, promotion ideas … or food.

Ahem. Well, food always comes up when I’m around, but that might not be the case among all writers.

Anyway, one of the women had heard back from an agent who had an issue with the pacing in her novel. As we talked, I realized there were several practical techniques I’ve developed over time to increase and/or smooth the pacing in my Home Crafting Mysteries.

First a caveat: Mad pacing is not the be all and end all. My books are light, contemporary cozy mysteries that feature colonial home crafts as the backdrops to the murder and mayhem. The stories move along quickly, which I like. Literary tomes unfold differently, and some thrillers move so fast your hair blows back when you read them. I’m just sayin’ these tips work for me.

Eleven Tips for Increasing Pace

  1. Start in the middle of action. Long lead-ins with tons of exposition lose a lot of readers right from the get go. Start strong and keep it going – the background information can be feathered in later.

  2. Avoid long narrative passages as much as possible. Convey information in scenes or, if necessary, in short narrative bursts tucked into scenes.

  3. Leave out the boring stuff. That includes lengthy transitions, moving characters around, or trying to account for every minute of the day. One way to bypass that information is to:

  4. Use scene breaks. Used within chapters, they serve wonderfully as transitions and move the story along quickly.

  5. Have some kind of tension on every page, and at the very least in every scene. In some cases that might take the milder form of internal conflict and in others escalate into action scenes or psychological thrills that make it hard to breathe.

  6. Write natural dialog. That doesn’t mean realistic dialog, because if you wrote down what people actually say it might not even be readable. So focus on dialog that flows naturally, back and forth. When the dialog is right the pages turn pretty quickly.

  7. Break up long passages of dialog with action beats to keep the reader grounded. Also, use action beats when one character is talking for a long time, for example recounting a story. This breaks up paragraphs and keeps the scene from feeling like a monologue.

  8. Allow white space. The more white space there is on a page the faster the reader reads and the smoother the pacing is. Dialog is a great way to do this, as are short sentences mixed with long ones.

  9. Use description to add to the story, not just the setting. Who cares if the grass is green? But if the lawn if brown, the garbage stinks, and the curtains are drawn across the front windows of a house then the reader receives setting details that also serve as questions and add tension.

  10. Short chapters. Not everyone agrees with this, but my chapters are usually between six and ten pages. Like potato chips, it’s easy to take just one more.

  11. End every chapter with a bang – and every scene if possible. Since I write contemporary cozies, that usually doesn’t involve an actual cliffhanger, but I try to always offer a question or intriguing comment to draw the reader on to the next section.

As a writer, what tricks have you developed to smooth pacing? As a reader, what bogs down a story for you? McRae_Cricket pic

For more information about me or my Home Crafting Mysteries, check out my website or my blog, Hearth Cricket.

Thanks again, Alan!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cricket is Coming

Something_Bleu Please be sure to visit tomorrow to learn guest blogger Cricket McRae’s tips for increasing pace. She’s a fellow Midnight Ink author, and her new book, SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLEU, was just released.

If you want to rev up your manuscript, you’ll want to check out these tips!


Monday, July 26, 2010


Mystery Writers of America is launching their MWA University, a day-long symposium on writing mysteries. The pilot program will be held in the Mid-Atlantic Region, at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, on August 14. Registration begins at 8:15. Sessions begin at 9:00 and end at 5:00.

In MWA’s own words:

MWA University is an entire day of top-notch classes, taught by top-notch mystery writers. Novice or pro, you will benefit from hearing the experts discuss their strategies for all facets of writing and publishing.

Below is a schedule preview (subject to change).

After the Idea
Teacher: Jess Lourey is the author of the Murder-by-Month mysteries and a tenured professor of English and sociology at a two-year Minnesota college.

“If you wish to be a writer, write." But how? You've got the great idea, the one that won't let you go, that embellishes itself as you walk around your day. But how do you grow that kernel into a compelling story, and where do you find the time? This class gives you the tools to turn a good idea into a great novel. Bring a notebook and writing utensil.

Dramatic Structure & Plot
Teacher: Hallie Ephron is the author of psychological suspense Never Tell a Lie, crime fiction book reviewer for the Boston Globe, and author of the Edgar-nominated Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.

Since Aristotle, the three-act structure for storytelling has reigned supreme, but does it still hold true for modern crime writers? Is it the best way, or the only way, to tell your tale? Is plotting simply sequencing your scenes or is there more to it? This class will teach you the art of storytelling and plotting so your manuscript will attract the attention it deserves.

Setting & Description
Teacher: Daniel Stashower is a two-time Edgar award winner, and a recipient of the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective and Crime Fiction Writing.

“I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday,” Raymond Chandler once said, and this seemingly tossed-off remark has much to teach us about the gentle arts of setting and description. This class will guide you through the process and potential pitfalls of choosing a setting, and explore the ways in which descriptive passages can be honed to illuminate characters and themes.

Character & Dialogue
Teacher: Donna Andrews is the award-winning NYT bestselling author of sixteen novels and founding member of the MWA Mid-Atlantic chapter.

From Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlings, character is arguably the most memorable element of a mystery novel and a series. How do you create a fully-realized unique protagonist that leaps from the page? How should you develop secondary characters as well as the protagonist’s nemesis? This class will challenge you to eliminate cardboard characterizations and create something new and fresh.

Writing as Re-Writing
Teacher: Reed Farrel Coleman (Twice nominated for the Edgar® and a three-time winner of the Shamus Award, Reed Farrel Coleman is an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University.)

If editing was good enough for William Shakespeare, it’s good enough for you. More often than not, it’s the things you remove, the tweaks you make, and the tinkering you do, that are the difference between another slush pile manuscript and a new book contract. There are some easy methods to learn and follow to help you develop an editorial ear. Give us fifty minutes and we’ll give you a better chance with agents and editors.

The Writing Life
Teacher: Hank Phillippi Ryan is the winner of two Agatha Awards and nominated for the Anthony, Agatha and Macavity, Boston TV reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan has won 26 Emmys for her investigative journalism.

"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning." That's how Peter DeVries balanced art and craft. What's the reality of the writing life? The journey from your great idea to 90,000 words will mean hours of solitude. Days of self-doubt. Revision. Rejection. And then--rejoicing. You'll often say: "I wish someone had explained this to me!" In this class, they will.

Cost: $50 for both members and non-members of Mystery Writers of America. Must register by Monday, August 9, 2010. Registration is limited to 80 people.

For more information and to register, visit the MWA website.

I’ll see you there!


Friday, July 23, 2010

I’m Covered

In case you didn’t see this post yesterday on InkSpot, here it is on my very own personal blog.

Sometimes when I’m giving a book talk, I’ll ask the audience what drives them to purchase a book. Is it the title? The cover copy? The reviews? The terrific things they’ve heard about the witty and charming author standing before them? (Hmm, I don’t get very many positive responses to that one.)

Usually, I’ll get a variety of answers—after all, different people are moved by different things—but for some reason, not everyone admits that a book’s cover is a factor.

Of course, I know they’re lying.

Covers are huge. Covers catch the eye and draw a reader in. Covers entice, set the mood, tantalize the reader with great intrigue. That old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Utter hogwash.

Sure, if a reader likes a particular author, the cover may not matter so much. And the cover might not matter if your BFF demands you read a book because it was the best book ever. But if you’re on the fence about a book, then how you feel about the cover is definitely part of the equation.

That’s why publishers hire talented cover designers. That’s why there’s so much emphasis placed on designing the perfect cover for each book. Why do you think publishers have wonderful, slick, glossy catalogs? To display their wonderful, slick, glossy covers!!!

I’m still relatively new in the publishing business, but I have learned one thing: My publisher, Midnight Ink, designs the best covers in the business.

Not that you need it, but here’s some more evidence. I present to you the cover for KILLER ROUTINE:

Killer Routine 300dpi


Thanks Midnight Ink.


Okay, here are the discussion questions for today. Will the rise of the ebook lessen the importance of a good cover? Will covers have to change in the ebook era? How?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing to the Market

DELICIOUS  SUSPICIOUS cover It’s my pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Spann Craig to the blog today. Her new book, DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS was released July 6, and it looks positively yummy. Her blog, Mystery Writing Is Murder, was named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, and she’s a Twitter goddess. Plus, she’s one of the nicest people around.


I have very little interest in transportation except as a means to an end.

But when my now-thirteen-year-old son was two, he was obsessed with trains, trucks, and airplanes.

And, wanting to keep him occupied (he was a really busy little guy), I made it a point to connect him with the objects of his affection.

We hung out at the airport (this was pre-9/11, and he’d stick his nose against the glass at the gate and watch the planes fly in and out), train stations, and even parked outside construction sites. His favorite site was the construction of the hospital’s new breezeway where he could watch the big crane working.

And the twice-a-week, don’t-miss event was the arrival of the garbage truck. He loved the garbage truck. I’d hear that thing’s engine roaring down the street and I’d grab Riley and hold him right up to the window so he could wave at the garbage men. If he was napping when they came, the sanitation workers looked disappointed and kept looking for the towheaded baby.

What did I get out of this? Well, I didn’t get any direct gratification, since I’m not a transportation nut. But my son was so excited, so delighted, so happy that it rubbed off on me.

Plus, Riley wasn’t at home trying to stick his finger in electrical outlets, drink Clorox, or climb the bookshelves. :)

To me, this is like writing to a market. I think we all have stories of our hearts—the book we’ve been thinking about or mulling over or kicking around in our heads. Some of these stories? They’re probably not that marketable.

But I think we can get just as much gratification by entertaining our readers with a good story…whatever these readers are interested in. We may not have as much of an interest in the subject as the readers do, but we can get just as excited by it because they’re excited by it.

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing, either. No one says we can’t write the story of our hearts and try submitting it while pleasing readers (and ultimately, ourselves) by writing entertaining, marketable novels.

What are your thoughts on writing for the market? Could you get just as passionate about a story you’ve crafted for the market as a story of your heart?

ElizabethSpannCraig Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and, in addition to blogging daily at Mystery Writing Is Murder, she blogs on Thursdays at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Chip Off the Old Block

DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD has been fortunate to garner some nice reviews so far (thanks, reviewers), but my favorite review came from my 12-year-old son:

“No offense, Dad, but that book is way too good to be written by you.”

Thanks, son!


D and SBe sure to visit the blog on Wednesday for wonderful guest blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams, author of the just-released Delicious and Suspicious. Yummy!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Who’s With Me?

A few mid-year (writing/reading) resolutions:

I resolve to read more. In my favorite genres, in other genres, and I’ll even try to plow through a few “classics.”

I resolve to be more efficient when it comes to social media (read: less goofing around on FB!).

I resolve to finish up those projects that need finishing. (And to find that thing that needs finding!)

I resolve to stay involved in MWA and ITW.

I resolve to clean up my office (okay, this one’s a “maybe”).

How about you? Got any mid-year resolutions you’d like to share?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Simply Thrilling

I attended my first Thrillerfest convention this past week and thought I’d wandered into a three-day cocktail reception. I’m sure I spent more time standing around in small groups talking to other writers and readers with drinks in their hands than I did going to panel discussions.

Of course, that’s exactly why I went to Thrillerfest—to connect with other writers and readers!

What a kick it was to meet some of the authors I’ve been reading for twenty years or more. R.L. Stine. Ridley Pearson. John Lescroart. Ken Follett. Tess Gerritsen. Michael Palmer. David Morrell. Harlan Coben. And many others.

Even more exciting was getting to know some writers, published and for-now-unpublished, at the beginning of their careers. (I’d name them, but I’m sure I’d leave some out.) As part of the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Author class, I participated in the appropriately-named Debut Authors Breakfast. Twenty of us newbies got 60 seconds to pitch ourselves and our books to a full banquet hall of convention-goers. One of us even sang! To top off the event, Brad Melzer gave a very funny, very inspiring speech.

The panels and interviews I attended were, without exception, quite good. I learned a lot, about writing, but I think listening to the writers talk about themselves and what drives them was even more rewarding.

And did I mention the parties?

After spending three days with thriller writers, I can say this definitively: They are the nicest, most generous bunch of people I’ve ever met. And that makes me happy!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Seen in the City

Back in my corporate life, I traveled to NYC on business every so often, but I’ve probably only been there three times in the last ten years (and two of those times were in the past two months).

Some things never change. New York is a wacky place.

Here are a few observations from my trip:

  • I overheard two twenty-something guys talking on the street. First guy: “I slept in a bed last night.”
    Second guy: <shrug>
    First guy: “I slept in somebody’s bed.”
  • I saw a guy carrying a set of golf clubs through Grand Central Station.
  • I saw a guy carrying a surfboard down 34th Street.
  • I saw a lady wearing a post-surgical boot on one foot and a shoe with a 3-inch heel on the other.
  • I saw a guy playing chicken with a taxi (I know, not too unusual).

For those of you who wanted to know about the “bus” part of my trip, it was great. Very convenient and comfortable, right up until we got the flat tire. Then, not so much.

Oh yeah, the Thrillerfest convention was great, too. I’ll post a recap of that later in the week.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where I’m At



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hop on the Bus, Gus

I leave tomorrow for Thrillerfest.

It’s my last big promotional event for the summer, and I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of cyberpals in the flesh, as well as making a lot of new friends. I’ll socialize at the cocktail parties (and in the bar), I’ll learn stuff attending panels, and I’ll plug my book at the Debut Authors Breakfast on Saturday morning (if you’re going to Thrillerfest, please stop by and say hi!).

When I went to New York in May for BookExpo America, I drove and stayed with relatives in New Jersey. This time, I’ll be staying in the heart of the action so I don’t need my car (there’s no place to park it anyway).

How will I get to NYC? I could take a plane or a train, but I opted for…a bus.

Yes. I am taking the bus to NYC. It’s one of those DC-NYC buses that has become popular the last few years (sometimes called the Chinatown bus). There are about ten (maybe more, maybe less) different bus lines that service the route. Their attraction? Low prices! And convenience! And WiFi! And electrical outlets!

One other definite advantage to not driving: I can get some work done. I plan on revising/editing my WIP en route. Four and half hours (each way) to work—yay!

I’m a simple man and I never shy away from public transportation, so I’m psyched for the trip. I’ll let you know how it goes. (And I’ll let you know how Thrillerfest is, too!)


Monday, July 5, 2010

Once Again, With Feeling

Every year around this time, I find myself knee deep in berries. Here’s a rerun of a post I wrote last year.

When it comes to my yard, I'm a naturalist.

Not exactly the kind of naturalist who works to preserve the environment (although I think that's important). I'm a naturalist in the sense that I’m lazy--whatever nature wants to do, I'm cool with, as long as I don't have to lift a finger doing yard work. Fertilizer, shmertilizer, I always say.

Calling myself a naturalist somehow makes my lawn neglect more palatable. (My wife calls me a "delusionalist.")

I live on a fairly wooded, one acre lot. It's tough for grass to grow because of all the shade. I don't even bother trying. I'll cut whatever grows--mostly crabgrass and other weeds--but only in certain spots so the kids have a place to play catch or kick the soccer ball (and so the neighbors don't complain too much). I let the rest of the property grow wild.

Being lazy about yard work* has certain advantages.

Here's the (too-long) tale of one:

blackberryA few years ago, I noticed some blackberry canes growing in one corner of the yard (good thing I didn't cut the "grass" in that corner--I would have mowed the canes down!). I didn't pay much attention to them, and, months later when I went back to see if any blackberries were ripe, they were gone. Birds must have eaten them.

The next year, more canes grew and in June, I saw lots of little red berries popping out, on their way to becoming nice, juicy blackberries. Somehow, a rather large patch of blackberries also appeared in the front yard, intermingled with some azalea bushes (good thing I didn't weed out the azalea bed!).

Because we were leaving on a seven week cross-country trip, I knew I wouldn't get to harvest these berries, so I alerted the neighbors. I told them they were welcome to pick the berries and gave them a heads-up to be quick if they wanted to beat the birds to the punch.

Fast forward seven weeks. The neighbors didn't get any blackberries. Somehow, the birds got them before the berries had ripened. Oh well.

The following year, even more canes grew. I now had two huge blackberry2 patches of blackberries, one in the front and one in the back. I watched over them like a mother hen, determined to outsmart the birds and harvest some berries before they got them all. I even put netting over some of the plants. Take that, birdies!

Lots of little red berries appeared, and my mouth watered daily.

I waited and waited for those berries to ripen. And waited. And waited some more.

One day, the father of my son's friend came over. As he picked up his son, he commented, "That's a very impressive patch of wild raspberries."

I smiled and corrected him. "Thanks, but they're blackberries."

"No, I'm pretty sure they are raspberries."

I chuckled. "Well, I go running near here, and I pass a ton of blackberry plants. And I'm pretty sure mine are blackberries. They're just not ripe yet."

The other guy smiled. "Well, I taught plant identification in college, and I'm absolutely positive those are raspberries. And, by the way, they're ripe."**

Sometimes my wife calls me "idiot" too.

I don't argue.

*The one hour I spent doing yard work in the past year didn't go too well. See My Last Superpower. That'll teach me to fool with Mother Nature!

**No wonder my "blackberries" never got ripe and turned dark purple! Good news: it's looking like another bumper crop this year.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Good Reading

When it comes to being a participant in on-line social media, I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I blog three times a week, not daily. I only tweet occasionally, and I update my Facebook status whenever the heck I feel like it.

I’m in the game in each arena, even though I’m no superstar (Cue the vuvuzelas. On second thought, don’t. I hate those annoying things).

I’m also starting to get more involved with Goodreads. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a social media site built around books. You can catalog the books you’ve read and want to read, you can make friends to talk with about books, you can rank and review books, and I’m sure you can do a bunch of other things I don’t even know about (Hopefully, it can write a synopsis for me, although I haven’t found that function yet. Maybe in the next release.)

One of the other things that you can do on Goodreads is give away books!

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m giving away three copies of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. All you have to do is navigate to my book’s page, then go to the “win a copy of this book” section. Click on “Enter to win,” and you’re in the running. That’s all there is to it.*

I’m still learning about Goodreads. Do you have any tips for maximizing my enjoyment there? How about some of the other book-related sites (such as LibraryThing and Shelfari)? How do they compare?


* Well, almost all. I believe you have to join Goodreads to be eligible. And, um, you may have to move to the United States first. Sorry non-US residents—I’ll try to do a more inclusive giveaway next time!