Saturday, December 31, 2011

When Inspiration Strikes

Have you noticed inspiration rarely arrives at a convenient time - like now, in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep because I’ve been inspired to write a novella and can’t turn my brain off? That’s why I’m writing this at 1:00 a.m. I hope the exercise will make me sleepy.

I’ve been working on the new book, pictured at the right, The Great Twitter Adventure – or How 5 Tweeps Saved the World. On this project, the moments when my muse has come to visit have not been when I had nothing to do. Oh, no. Rather, she (her name is Shirley) stops by when I’m at work and have to suppress my urge to write or times like tonight, when I’m so tired I can’t think. She’s been nudging me constantly so that I cannot close my eyes in peace. Luckily, I bought a little hand held recorder last year and I’ve been clicking it on and off for the better part of three hours.

This most recent brainchild, which started out as a short story and quickly expanded to novella size, has come in fits and starts, but tonight all the pieces came together. Yet, I’m physically unable to stay up and write for 24 hours straight. It’s times like these that make me yearn for the old days when I could party all night!

I really shouldn’t complain at all, for the greatest fear and test of any writer is that desolate stretch of time when nothing will come. Shirley has occasionally deserted me, although I have to say that the older I get the less this happens, so there is one advantage to advancing age.

Short, this little musing, I know, but something my fellow writers, every one I’ll bet, can relate to.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Confusion Versus Suspense

I’ve recently read a couple of books that have sent me scrambling to try to figure out what was going on and not in a good way. I became frustrated by the need to repeatedly flip back several pages to reacquaint myself with a character or plot line. Luckily, on this latest, 30% of the way in, I understand enough to enjoy the otherwise superb writing.

Suspense is the wonderful creation of tension, in part by the author holding back information. I think, occasionally, when the author is trying so hard to make a storyline taut, in fact important aspects are not revealed soon enough. Of course, you can’t tell the reader everything. But it is important to tell the reader enough so that he or she has at least a glimmer of the basics. Don’t leave us in the complete dark.

Another suspenseful technique is to throw in enough characters so that you’re never sure who did it, who will be eliminated, who really is the bad guy or who the good guy really loves, etc. There has to be several good characters to pin the blame on in a mystery and competition for the girl’s affections in a romance as well as multiple threats in a thriller.

But the number of characters and their introductions is a delicate thing and must be timed right. If the writer doesn’t include enough information in their first appearance, one character blends into another too easily, especially if the intros are rapid-fire, which was the case a few months ago, when I became overwhelmed and quit reading what looked like a promising book.

In my view, the very best creator of suspense is unknown motivation. What makes a character do what they do? Good or bad. In television crime dramas, it’s all about the motivation. I think that’s true in any good book – whether we are trying to discover why the man really left his wife or why the school bully beats everyone up. And the reader must believe in the motivation. The story’s strength lies in why the hero and villain are who they are.

Okay, enough - back to the book that prompted this post - now that I’ve happily entered the land of suspense.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

To Review or Not to Review

Long, long ago and far away, I reviewed movies for a small newspaper. I found it fun and I think I was pretty good at it. I developed a theory of reviewing that I still use today: review the piece for its intended audience, not for my taste.

I think this is an extremely important thing to keep in mind, whether you are reviewing a book, a CD or a movie. If the book is a thriller and you’re not much of a fan of thrillers, you either have to put on your thriller fan hat or choose not to review it. If you are trying to review a bluegrass band and you know nothing about and don’t even like bluegrass, you’ve got your work cut out trying to be an objective critic.

So, this is the first rule I apply to the review I do for Amazon and Goodreads. I put myself in the place of the booklover who would appreciate the genre I’ve read.

The second comes to me as an Indie author. I don’t do reviews rating a book less than 4. If I can’t do that in good conscience I don’t review the book. There is no way I’m going to write a review for either Amazon or Goodreads less than that, unless (there’s always an exception) the author has been blatantly offensive. I haven’t yet run into that situation, but reserve the option to lower the boom in that case.

Why have I taken this course of action? Because I will not do harm to another writer. There are those who would argue that telling a writer than their work needs help is constructive and good. However, I once had someone who loves me tell me that she didn’t think my dialog sounded real. I did not write for 6 months – at all. Reason eventually won out. As a screenwriter I had received many compliments on my dialog, so I listened to those comments in my head instead of the off-the-cuff remark from a relative. But I tell this story because I know it illustrates how sensitive a writer, or any artist, can be.

I am not a writing expert. If I considered myself one and had lived in James Joyce’s day I would have told him his writing needed work, because I still can’t read it. See what I mean? I doubt that he was as sensitive as I have been, but what if the one piece of criticism killed the genius? Hmmm?

Even when my opinion is requested, I’m very careful and hesitant. So, when you see that all my reviews are positive, if you’ve bothered to look, that does not mean I’m a push over. It simply means I’ve reserved my judgment on those I could not rave about.

Movies, however, I can still pan if I feel like it, because they are a collaborative effort and who cares if I hurt the feelings of someone who must have made a gazillion dollars to put out that tripe? Oh, did I say that out loud?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pricing eBooks – Is There Any One Best Way?

This month I decided to lower the price of the ebook copy of Red Mojo Mama to just $.99 as a holiday gesture. I expected there would be a bump in sales accompanying a lower price. Guess what? Not so much.

In fact, the lower price has not made any difference at all. Sales are ramping at the same pace as last month when the price was $2.99.

This shouldn’t have surprised me really, because I first offered RMM at $.99, following John Locke’s plan. When I realized I would have to sell 6 books to make the same amount of money as if I had sold one book at $2.99, I tentatively decided to try the $2.99 price. My sales did not suffer at all. They actually increased.

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter lately about pricing ebooks: from promotional free books to $.99 and then higher fees from $2.99 up. There is a divergence of opinion on the matter.

Free has worked for some authors in getting their names out there. Others feel free didn’t much impact on actual readers who then come back for more. The decision to price at $.99 seems to throw a book into the giant pond of books that some consider “less-than.”

I’ve personally priced two books at $.99 because they didn’t require the same level of effort as my novel – one is a collection of blog posts done over a couple of years and the other is a collection of short stories and poems written over a 10-year period. This seems fair to me. There are a number of single short stories out there for $.99 – which, again, seems fair to me.

I have made the decision that following the holidays, I will reinstate RMM’s price at $2.99 and it will stay there.

I’d love your feedback on this pricing issue. What do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Excellence Revisited

The last time I wrote about excellence in Indie authors I hadn’t read nearly as much as I now have. I’d already found two outstanding writers in Christina Carson and Will Bevis. Since then, I found several others that I think the reading community will or already are embracing - truly terrific writers in their genre.

Chicki Brown:
Let me start with the first person from whom I bought more than one book. Chicki specializes in what I call Urban Romance and she’s extremely good at it. Her African-American characters come from all walks of life: hairdresser to writer to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and they are all extremely well developed. Her characters walk off the page and into your heart. They face moral dilemmas and heartbreak that speak to everyone.

Elise Stokes:
Elise’s book Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula is the first Young Adult book I’ve been able to finish reading because the writing goes beyond it’s genre. It’s a very fun story for both girls and boys of a certain age, but I found it entertaining as an adult as well. I predict Elise is going to create a series that takes off in the Young Adult world of reading.

Dannie C. Hill: I read his book In Search of a Soul and found myself falling in love with the hero of this novel. Dannie explores the depths of a wounded man and how he’s redeemed by the love of a woman and still manages to pack in action and danger. Dannie’s innate talent for delving into what’s important in life will always rise to the surface of his writing.

Russell Blake: You would be hard put to find a better thriller writer than Russell, inside or outside of standard publishing. His books are filled with inside info that leaves you reeling and wondering, “How the hell does he know all this stuff” after you’ve read three that deal well below the surface on complicated topics. You’ll walk away more informed, deeply entertained and glad you found a writer with his enormous talent.

Karen Cantwell: This is the one writer I do not know as a tweep on Twitter. I ran across her book titled Take the Monkeys and Run and just could not resist. Happily, I found it great fun and went on to read the sequel Citizen Insane and a book of short stories The Chronicles of Marr-nia. All were hilarious. I’ll keep reading Cantwell as long as she keeps cranking them out.

I will endeavor to periodically spotlight authors I think are extremely talented as I explore the rank and file of Indie authors with eager anticipation. I hope you’ll try out these authors and give me some feedback here on the blog.