Friday, July 21, 2017

Writing Mary Sue

If you don't know what a Mary Sue is, go read this discussion on fanfiction.net. You still won't know, but you'll be highly entertained.
A Mary Sue is, by general consensus, a female character who irritates people other than the author by drawing all the attention to herself. True Mary Sues are adorable to the other characters and/or to the reader (in the writer's mind, at any rate) because she's perky and perfect or a lovable goof-up who nevertheless saves the day. True Mary Sues exist only in fan fiction -- stories set in established universes like Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien's Middle Earth. Hard core fans of those universes resent these upstarts' hogging the limelight and warping the stories/personalities of the official characters.

Some folks claim that, if the official stories and personalities aren't warped, the new character isn't really a Mary Sue.

NOW, as someone points out in the discussion I linked, sometimes the character labeled a Mary Sue fulfills the author's fantasies: She battles bad guys. Or she has a romance (preferably doomed) with an official character. Or she saves an important person's life. And she's the main character of the story, driving the action and solving all the things!

AND, as someone else pointed out in the discussion, and I think this is my point, although I'm never sure, all our characters are pieces of us, living out fantasies of what we would do if we were in various situations. But kind of not.

Because our characters are not us, playing out fantasies. Our characters have their own backstories, their own likes and dislikes, their own childhoods, and they can't all be the same as ours. That's why I have so many prompts asking things like, "What's in your character's wallet?". Sauron doesn't have the same things in his wallet as you do, most likely; why should any of your characters?

It's fun to write #menotme characters who get into and out of scrapes in other people's universes and wrap the narratives around themselves. And there's nothing wrong with doing that, if it pleases you. Just do it on purpose, because you choose to do it, not because you don't know any better. And expect some people to call your character a Mary Sue and sneer at her. Because folks are like that, sometimes.

Me, I've done it. And I've extracted my Mary Sue, changed all the official characters, and given her her own book. ha!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Power and Importance of Reading

From an early age, I’ve loved to read. Books kept me company in a life that involved frequent moves, and were solace when family life was tough. Although I didn’t plan to become a writer, a love for the written word and a good imagination found me delving into the world of fiction.

Reading has many benefits. One study says that readers live longer. An article in Blinklist states that the common link among the world’s high achievers isn’t IQ or luck, it’s a love of reading. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, are all avid readers. I’m not saying that they read fiction, but that they make a point to read daily and often learn something new nearly every day. How cool is that?

I’ve learned a lot about the craft of storytelling by reading thousands of works of fiction and books on writing. I’m turning to other types of nonfiction these days, and I can’t wait to learn many more things.

By the way, for those of you who love to discuss books, I belong to three great groups on Facebook. All are well moderated, so the discussions usually stays friendly.



Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

#Canada150Event!

To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, my publisher, Imajin Books will be giving away 150 ebooks to Canadian residents and 150 ebooks to international residents. To enter, just subscribe to the Imajin Books Inner Circle (IBIC newsletter).

Winners will be selected from subscribers and will be able to choose their ebook prize. This is a great way to add to your summer reading collection, for free!



Good luck!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Imajin Book’s Summer Sizzles Ebook Sale, July 1 - 15!

My publisher, Imajin Books, is about to launch a terrific two-week sale on their ebooks from July 1st to July 15. My first Evan Dunstan mystery novella, DEAD MAN FLOATING, will be on sale for only $.99 (U.S.) through the following links:




Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/573302, (use promo code HF32M)

One wrong decision…

Security guard Evan Dunstan didn’t expect to find a body floating in a campus stream. An empty vodka bottle nearby suggests that the highly despised George Krenn, head of the plumbing department, had drunkenly fallen in. Refusing to let the death of a vile man ruin his romantic plans, Evan decides to leave the body for the next shift to find.

One friend in trouble…

When it’s discovered that Krenn was murdered, Evan has a lot of explaining to do. So does his friend Sully, Krenn’s least favourite student. Evan uses his hacking skills and campus knowledge to keep them both out of jail, but the investigation forces him to question Sully’s innocence.

One mystery to solve…

Uncovering the truth proves to be more than challenging. It may cost Evan his job, his friendship, and his woman. Will Evan find the killer, or will the killer find him first?





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Using Flash Fiction as an Outline

I've done Story A Day May for five years, now. Last year, I intended every story to feed into a collection of various previously established characters of mine. The ones based in the SAGE world, I collected, along with some others, into SHIFTY. But, in 2014, I wrote one called Salali and Vernando. That also ended up in SHIFTY, but not quite in the form I had thought.

If you follow the link and read the entry, you'll see that what I have is a bare-bones tale, with a segment in the middle that merely catalogs action. I also had a notion that everything I wrote would be only the first part of an adventure tale.

When I started expanding the story, I front-loaded A LOT of explication, backstory, and world-building into the running-away section. I tend to do that, damn my eyes. I put so much on the story's head, it falls over backward and can't get up off the floor. But, because I had written all that detail, I was able to cut almost all of it out and merely touch on it, using telling details in place of elaborate paragraphs. While I was at it, I added an encounter that turned out fortuitous, as such encounters so often are in fairy tales.

I was wrong about the continuation. The longer section of the story stub turned out to be the only adventure in it. In a way, that's too bad, because I do like a tale that goes on and on, with chases and narrow escapes and magic combs and such. This one ended up as sort of a locked-room adventure, I guess.

THE POINT IS, I've turned quite a few flash fiction pieces into longer stories, and stories into novels.
Pick the story apart. Each thing that happens is a plot point. Each plot point can be expanded and/or bracketed by rests between the beats. Room can be made for subplots. And this can all be done formally, with Roman Numerals and Capital Letters, or informally, by the seat of the pants, with the short version serving as a series of torches to show the way.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Revisiting My Old Fictional Friend

(reposted from my new WordPress blog)

I’m one of those weird writers who likes to work on several novels at once. The upside is that I’m never ever bored. The downside is that it takes a while to see the books published.

Since I find it impossible to release three or four new titles a year to stay visible, (trust me, I’ve tried) it’s not a huge issue. The truth is that I like to take my time with plots…allow them to simmer and merge into a story with seamless subplots and layers of character development.

So, after a nearly eighteen month hiatus, I’m finally ready to start the sixth draft of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, still untitled. This WIP has been around a while, ever since I met a bus driver a few years back. He’d been assaulted three times on the job, and has since changed careers.


 Although I was working on book five this spring (now in my editor’s hands), it feels like I haven’t visited Casey in a long time. I think this way because Casey’s in a different place emotionally in book six than she was in the fifth installment. It’ll be interesting to catch up on the latest challenges in her life. How has she grown? What new challenges must she face, beyond crime solving?


I’ve been writing about Casey for many years, and I’ve changed more than she has. Certainly, my perspective has changed, but that can be a good thing. Authors, like their protagonists, need to grow and change, don’t you think?


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Dreaded Back Cover Blurb: My Progress So Far

Members of my critique group have witnessed my struggle to write a compelling back cover blurb for my 5th Casey Holland mystery, Knock Knock. Soon, my editor will be working with it and chiming in. Anyone who’s attempted to write a back cover blurb knows how daunting this vital process is. Many readers make decisions on whether to buy a book or not based on that blurb.

So, it was timely to come across a how-to blog about writing a back cover blurb, and for different genres. For my genre, mystery and suspense, author Marilynn Byerly provides a four paragraph process, but she also provides tips for paring it down.

Essentially, she says that the back cover blurb should set up the plot and the protagonist’s emotional investment in the first paragraph. Paragraph two should elaborate on more plot set up and emotional involvement, or more information about the victim. The next two paragraphs focus on the stakes and the obstacles the protagonist must overcome. What is the interior conflict?

Here’s the tentative draft, version no. 342, or thereabouts. I lost count...

The latest attack in a string of violent Vancouver home invasions kills senior Elsie Englehart. Security officer Casey Holland is devastated. She’s let Elsie down. Casey’s supposed to be watching over elderly bus riders in an affluent, high-risk area.

Determined to keep others safe, Casey escorts an elderly man home one afternoon, but an armed intruder forces his way in and attacks them both. Hospitalized and frustrated, Casey struggles to regain control of her life, despite interference from family and colleagues.

Her fiancé wants to postpone their wedding, and Casey’s boss cuts her out of the loop. Another violent home invasion compels Casey to take action, but at what cost to her health, her relationship, and her career?

Find out in Debra Purdy Kong’s fifth installment, Knock Knock, where the risks have never been higher, or the consequences more deadly.


I think it’s almost there. But I certainly welcome input. For those who want to read blurb suggestions for other genres, check out Marilynn’s suggestions HERE.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mystery and Fantasy Story Arcs: A Big Difference

Before I get into today’s topic, please note that my books are now listed on the popular BookBub site. I’ve belonged to BookBub a while, and whenever an author I’m following releases a new title, I receive notification. If you’d like to follow me, you can do so HERE.

I first learned about story arcs at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference years ago, and also from an agent I was working with at that time. For new writers, or readers of books, a story arc is an overview of the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

While writing mysteries, I’ve learned that dividing my story arc into three acts works well for me. The first act sets up the murder, suspects, protagonist, and sidekicks. The second act presents, obstacles, danger, clues, setbacks and twists. The final act supplies the final pieces of the puzzle and leads to resolution.

Some authors prefer a story arc in four acts, and others even uses a more detailed seven step approach that includes defining a big event, raising the stakes and action, creating an exceptional event, a big dark moment, and finally the conclusion.

While working on my first urban fantasy, it’s become obvious that my story arc is far more intricate than the straightforward three-act narrative I’ve been using. The book is divided into five sections right now, and each section requires its own story arc.

Chapters also require their own story arc—a point and a purpose that move the plot along, even if it’s all told through backstory. The trick will be not to become overly repetitive, as each of the main characters’ sections might overlap with the others. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m still in the early stages of the second rewrite, but am finding that it’ll soon be necessary to plot each chapter and section on an Excel sheet. This will help remind me of the purpose of each chapter while staying focused on the story arc in each section, and the overall big picture. It’s a daunting task, but one that I’m really enjoying.



Another Use For Interviews

Did you ever hit a point where you wonder why you do what you do, how you got started in it, how you got where you are (wherever that is), what's holding you back, and what's pulling you on?
I don't, but maybe you do.
ANYWAY, whether you do or you don't, those aren't bad questions to ask. And here's an idea for coming up with questions: Go to interview sites. Copy the questions. Then answer them.
I'm thinking of author interviews, naturally; I'm pretty sure there are actor interviews galore; for all I know, there are sites that interview dog-catchers, trash collectors, cat-toy designers, and goat breeders. But I'm talking about authors.

WHAT BOOKS INFLUENCED YOUR STYLE?

Hard one. "All of them" isn't really useful. See if you can pin it down. If you're struggling with your voice, maybe you haven't fully integrated your influences into yourself. Maybe you're trying a voice that doesn't work well with the kind of story you're working on. Maybe a little smoothing, tweaking, or adjusting the mix will help.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

Well, when did you? Did you have an imaginary friend and suddenly realize you had made it up, like a character in a book? Did you have a school assignment that clicked? Did you read a novel and think, "Geez -- I could do better than that!"?

WHAT BOOK DO YOU WISH YOU HAD WRITTEN AND WHY?

"Because it made a billion bucks" doesn't count. What is it about that book that connects with you as a writer? What did the author accomplish that you want to accomplish?
~*~
You get the picture. By finding and answering interview questions, we might get in touch with all that mess in there that makes us the writers we are. If we do the interview for ourselves alone, we just might find out something about "the man behind the curtain" we'd just as soon not share, but can benefit (as writers and as people) from knowing.
I'm participating in Story A Day May again this year. If you want 31 dashed-off stories to beguile your time, hop on over to my Story A Day May category and help yourself to some free reading!
Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Books That Changed You

I have to say upfront that this blog is inspired by two events. One is that today is Mother’s Day, and I’m planning to spend a relaxing day both writing and reading. These are among two of my favorite things in life.

The second inspiration comes from an insightful discussion in my writers’ group yesterday about books we’ve been reading. That discussion evolved into a conversation about books that really changed our thinking about all the world, or ourselves, or even inspired us to write.

One of the most influential books I read way back when I was in my 20’s was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. If you haven’t read the novel, it’s a dark, compelling exploration at what quality and integrity really means, and how some people are truly threatened and/or challenged by these concepts. In some ways, I now find it a prophetic book.

I was also greatly influenced in childhood by Nancy Drew mysteries. The thought of solving a puzzle, of an independent teenager sleuthing her way through life to help others, appealed to me. I remember wondering, could I do that? Could I be as confident and smart and compassionate as that girl? A few years later, I wondered if I could be a writer of mysteries.

Agatha Christie novels changed me again. As I struggled to write my first mystery, I was reading Agatha Christie novels and learning a little about Christie’s life. Here was a successful author who assisted her husband on his archeological digs, and incorporated their work into her stories. Christie’s books taught me how to weave my own work and volunteer experiences into fiction.

To Kill a Mockingbird showed me what good storytelling can be, as did The Color Purple. As a Canadian girl growing up in the 60’s we were taught almost nothing about slavery and the tortuous hardships people suffered. Alice Walker revealed the faces, emotions, trauma, and scars of a part of American history I knew nothing about.

Here’s one I’d forgotten about but really shouldn’t have. Someone on a FB book reading group asked if any of us had read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Oh, my god! If there was ever a book that began to change my thinking about my place in the world, and how I didn’t have to settle for the roles expected of me, it was that book. Thank you Betty Friedan.

Are there books that changed you? If so, let me know. I’d love to hear what they were. And Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!



Sunday, May 07, 2017

Contract Signed, Novella Coming Soon!

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with Imajin Books to publish my second Evan Dunstan novella, A TOXIC CRAFT, later this year. It’s a pleasure to be working with such a terrific, marketing-savvy publisher again.

Set during a Christmas craft fair, A TOXIC CRAFT was great fun to write. Those of you who read the first Evan novella, DEAD MAN FLOATING, might remember Evan’s spunky grandmother and her two cronies, Flo and Agnes. Those three are at the center of the trouble in this story, and provide never-ending problems for Evan.

I’ll post more and reveal the cover once we get closer to publication date. Meanwhile, I’m sure there will be more editing to do over the coming weeks, but honestly, I’m looking forward to it.

If you haven’t read DEAD MAN FLOATING and are curious, free samples can be downloaded at amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/zelnx7x

Thanks,

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Embracing Failure

I love collecting quotes, and one of my favorites comes from an excerpt in a Writers’ Digest Magazine article years ago. I’ve kept the quote pinned to my bulletin board for so long that the paper’s yellowed. Here’s what it says:

Rejection is a writer’s best friend. “If you are not failing regularly,” Gregg Levoy observes in ‘This Business of Writing’,” you are living so far below your potential that you’re failing anyway”.

This statement still hits me in the gut.

Over the years, I’ve tried to analyze and define what success and failure means to me in terms of my writing life. I’m still working on it. So far, my only definition of failure is to quit before my most important goals are achieved. Believe me, there are days when I’ve been tempted.

Last week, I read an interesting blog called “The 7 Differences Between Pros and Amateurs”. The one that jumped out at me is point #5, "Amateurs Fear Failure. Pros Crave It." The piece goes on to say that failure can teach you more than success ever will. When it comes to writing, publishing, and promoting, this is completely true.

I learned a long time ago that rejection or lousy reviews or poor sales is a part of many writers’ lives. But embracing those disappointments and learning from them is crucial. So this year, I’m planning to take more risks by asking for more reviews and guest blogging opportunities. I’m going to take more chances on new marketing and selling opportunities. Because if I don’t try, I’m failing anyway, and that’s not going to happen.

Here are more great quotes about failure:

“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have. – Dale Carnegie.

“Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% that is called failure.” – Soichiro Honda

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Nominees

Crime Writers of Canada announced this year’s slate of nominees for the Arthur Ellis Awards at events across the country. Established in 1984, the awards are named after the nom de travail of Canada’s official hangman. (Yes, our country once had one). The Arthur Ellis awards celebrate excellence in crime writing. Eligible books were published in 2016, with the exception of the Unhanged Author, which awards a prize to the year’s best unpublished novel. Good luck to all of the nominees:
Best Novel
Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost, Penguin Random House of Canada
Michael Helm, After James, McClelland & Stewart
Maureen Jennings, Dead Ground in Between, McClelland & Stewart
Janet Kellough, Wishful Seeing, Dundurn Press
Donna Morrissey, The Fortunate Brother, Viking Canada
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
Ryan Aldred, Rum Luck, Five Star Publishing
R.M.Greenaway, Cold Girl, Dundurn Press
Mark Lisac, Where the Bodies Lie, NeWest Press
Amy Stuart, Still Mine, Simon & Schuster Canada
Elle Wild, Strange Things Done, Dundurn Press
Best Novella: The Lou Allin Memorial Award
Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers
Brenda Chapman, No Trace, Grass Roots Press
Jas. R. Petrin, The Devil You Know, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Linda L. Richards, When Blood Lies, Orca Book Publishers
Peter Robinson, The Village That Lost Its Head, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Short Story
Cathy Ace, Steve’s Story, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Susan Daly, A Death at the Parsonage, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Elizabeth Hosang, Where There’s a Will, The Whole She-Bang 3, Toronto Sisters in Crime
Scott Mackay, The Ascent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
David Morrell, The Granite Kitchen, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Dell Publishing
Best Book in French
Marie-Eve Bourassa, Red Light: Adieu, Mignonne, Groupe Ville-Marie Littérature, vlb éditions
Chrystine Brouillet, Vrai ou faux, Éditions Druide
Guillaume Morrissette, Terreur domestique, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur
Johanne Seymour, Rinzen et l’homme perdu, Libre Expression
Richard Ste-Marie, Le Blues des sacrifiés, Éditions Alire
Best Juvenile/YA Book
Gordon Korman, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Norah McClintock, Trial by Fire, Orca Book Publishers
John Moss, The Girl in a Coma, The Poisoned Pencil-Poisoned Pen Press
Caroline Pignat, Shooter, Tundra Books
Eva Wiseman, Another Me, Tundra Books
Best Nonfiction Book
Christie Blatchford, Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting — or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System, Doubleday Canada
Joe Friesen, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw, Signal McClelland & Stewart
Jeremy Grimaldi, A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, Dundurn Press
Debra Komar, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, Goose Lane
Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland, Goose Lane
Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press
Mary Fernando, An Absence of Empathy
S.J. Jennings, The Golkonda Project
Charlotte Morganti, Concrete Becomes Her
Ann Shortell, Celtic Knot
Mark Thomas, The Last Dragon
The winners will be announced at a Gala Awards Dinner in Toronto on May 25, 2017. For more information, check out Crime Writers of Canada’s website at www.crimewriterscanada.com




Friday, April 21, 2017

Who's Telling This Story, Anyway?

The other day, I was talking story with a writer friend, and we got onto subject of point of view.
Now, there are two kinds of point-of-view decisions. One is, do you tell the story from first person (I knocked down the door and strode through, a revolver blazing in each hand) or third person (HE knocked down the door). Occasionally, someone writes a book in second person (YOU knock down the door) -- second person is usually, though not always, written in the present tense.

The other kind -- and the kind we were talking about -- is narrative point-of-view, as in who tells the story, no matter what grammatical person you use.

I've had books I just couldn't get going. Pushing that pencil or those keys was like trying to push a chain uphill. Couldn't do it. When that happens to me, I know the story is trying to tell me something. Sometimes what it's trying to tell me is that I'm trying to tell the story from the wrong narrative point of view.

The foremost example is probably the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes is the main character, and has all the action and most of the best lines. Yet the stories are better, told from the point-of-view of his sidekick. We wouldn't be astonished at Holmes' brilliance, if we were inside his head and knew what he knows and followed his inferences and deductions all along.

If you have a book or a story you can't get moving, try writing a scene from the point of view of a different character. Maybe a character you thought was just a bit character needs to be more important. Maybe the whole book is actually about what you thought was a minor sub-plot.

Alice Friman, one of my favorite poets, said that everything you create is a thread that's attached to something in your subconscious. Sometimes what that thread attaches to isn't what you think it attaches to. Sometimes switching out plot lines and narrative characters can sort out what you really want to say, as opposed to what you thought you wanted to say.

It's worth a try!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Lazy Way to Publication

Over the years, I’ve been approached by a number of people who want me to write their story for them…and find a publisher, oh, and maybe an agent. The conversation always comes down to “You do it and we’ll split the royalties.” Honestly, I’m not sure I can hide the chagrin on my face anymore.

These people might have taken the occasional writing course or joined a critique group just long enough to sense how daunting writing a book can be, never mind selling and promoting it. Sometimes, the wannabe author is someone I’ve met socially, or while selling my books, or through a friend.

I call this the lazy way to getting published. Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing against someone wanting to hire a ghostwriter, and I often recommend reputable publishing services to others, but I would never take on the project myself. In fact, I’m highly suspicious of people who want to get from point A to Z without doing a shred of the leg work required, or who refuse to spend a single penny on a good editor, or writer, for that matter.

I’ve given workshops that outline the importance of having a social media presence, and offer simple how-to tips, only to have the occasional attendee say at the end, “I don’t really have to do all that, do I?” Of course not, provided they don’t want to sell any copies. My answer is a bit more diplomatic than that in person, but it amounts to the same thing. If you don’t invest in your idea without doing your homework and spending some dollars, then you won’t get far.

There’s a lot of nice people out there with great stories to tell, but it’s a slippery road to hell to commit your time and skill to someone who doesn’t understand what it takes to write, publish, and promote a book.





Sunday, April 02, 2017

One of the Worst Writing Tips I've Heard

One of the more common writing tips I’ve heard throughout the years is to make sure the protagonist in my books is likable. This is particularly applicable to female protagonists. The consensus was that if readers don’t like her, they’re going to put the book down. So, I’ve worked hard to create at least somewhat likable characters over the years, albeit still flawed.

I’ve come to realize, though, that likability is a matter of reader taste, and to some degree, genre. I write mysteries, which offers a diverse spectrum from light cozies to noir thrillers. Generally, (and of course there are exceptions) cozy readers prefer a likable protagonist who isn’t an alcoholic or drug user. Thriller fans prefer a protagonist who doesn’t spend her afternoons drinking tea with a cat on her lap.

I write amateur sleuth mysteries, which incorporates dark and light worlds, so it can be a bit of a risk, as I might not please either group. Still, I feel compelled to write books and create character that are meaningful to me. All readers bring their experiences, biases, and preferences to the table when it comes to books, and that’s fine. The truth is that no writer will please everyone.

As a writer and a reader, a likeable character isn’t as important to me as a compelling and complex character with a an obstacle to climb or a mission to accomplish. It can be small or global, but it has to matter to the protagonist.

I came across an interesting a piece in Bookriot a few days ago, called ‘100 Must-Read Books With Unlikable Women’. The author argues that female characters are given short shrift by being labeled annoying, among other things. They aren’t allowed the same leeway that male protagonists are, and receive more complaints from readers for their un-likability. Hmm. She might have something there.

I browsed the list to see if there were any mysteries and sure enough, I found Gone Girl and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. There were also quite a number of mainstream novels. I have to admit, I didn’t browse through the entire list, so I’m not sure if there are any fantasy or romance titles there.


But the author makes a good point: there are plenty of great novels featuring unlikable characters in terrific novels. Really, did you find Scarlett O’Hara likable? I sure didn’t, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. In fact, Scarlett’s unlikability was crucial to the story’s success. So go ahead, write unlikable female characters, despite what some of those writing instructors tell you. Just ensure that you’ve got a memorable, compelling story to tell.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editing by Computer or Pencil?

I read an interesting quote from P.J. O’Rourke, which was posted in the Passive Voice newsletter (it’s a great newsletter, by the way). The quote is:

Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory. - P. J. O’Rourke

I’m not sure I agree with O’Rourke’s opinion about pretentious sentences being kept rather than tossed. I spend far more time tweaking and deleting words on the computer than I would if I was still bashing novel chapters out on my typewriter, or writing in longhand. But I do agree with the essential point: writing and editing by computer is not the same as doing so with pencil and paper, or even a typewriter.

For many years, I wrote and rewrote short stories in longhand. It was cumbersome at times, but there was something about the impact of brain to hand to paper creativity that is different than clicking a keyboard.

I used pen and paper in the first place because my secretarial job required me to type correspondence, minutes of meetings, and tax returns, among other things. I therefore didn’t associate typing with creativity.

But as time progressed, I decided to experiment with first and subsequent drafts on the computer, to see if I could speed up the process. It took me years to complete my first three novels, so I had to do something.

I wrote and edited my 5th Casey Holland mystery primarily on the computer. For the final draft, I’ve been printing out chapters and bringing them to my day job. I arrive early, find a quiet place to work, away from my office, and reread everything carefully with pencil in hand. As I’d already completed four drafts, I thought I’d get through it quickly. Boy, was I wrong.

By the midway point, I found myself needing to make important changes. My pencil’s gotten a workout, and it’s been an invaluable lesson. For me, editing on computer is simply not the same as editing on paper. These days, I write and edit in longhand and on the keyboard. Both options are effective, yet neither provides a complete and thorough editing process.

The decision to print out each chapter and edit away from a computer was a spontaneous one. Who knew that it would turn out to be one of the best things I could have done for this book?




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overlooking the Obvious

The membership of the Southern Indiana Writers Group has changed over the twenty or so years we've been together. Some of us have been there the whole time. Others have left, and new members have joined. So, when I began the rewrite on the book formerly known as Eel's Reverence (first published as Eel's Revenge), I decided I couldn't do better than to take it and read it to the group, a chapter at a time.

I knew that the chances were good that the new members would catch things we missed in our earlier days. Sure enough, one of our long-time members caught something and one of our new members caught something else.

As the title implies, what we had all overlooked (chiefly, of course, me, since it's my little world) were obvious. Things that, once pointed out, made me slap my forehead and go, "Duh!"

The main character is a woman, a priest of Micah, a holy man of legend. The main conflict is between her and the priests of a section of coastline called The Eel, who are mercenary hypocrites. Her spiritual stance and behavior are central to the action. And what did I forget?

She's hidden by a family who had prepared a secret room, certain that a "true" priest would come to them, eventually. And I forgot to have them put an altar in the room.

Although she's always saying to others or thinking to herself about what a priest of Micah would do, she never has an inner dialog with Micah, the way Christians pray to God the Father, Jesus, Mary, or a saint. I could pretend I decided priests of Micah don't do that, but that would be a lie. I just left it out. Didn't think of it. Missed the obvious.

I know why I did it: I was thinking about other parts of the story construction. But that's what rewrites are for, and that's especially what getting new eyes on something is for: reminding us of the obvious things we overlooked in writing and editing and rewriting and revising and reworking. And I still missed the obvious!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Avoiding Burnout

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed occurred over recent months, one that has been mentioned on a number of different blogs. Bloggers have discovered that a number of familiar names in indie publishing are no longer around. Frequent posts to favorite networking sites have disappeared, there's no newly published books, and websites haven’t been updated in some time.

Some believe that the huge number of books now being published annually (I hear that it’s two million or more) has so glutted the market that many authors aren’t selling nearly as many books as they did between 2010 and 2015. Substantial royalties have therefore diminished, forcing some to return to day jobs. Still, others seem to have given up. Keep in mind that a small percentage of authors, particularly in the romance and erotica markets, are still making good incomes.

Another theory also factors in here. Burnout. On indie sites like Kindleboards, authors were touting the necessity of putting out a book every three months to stay visible and on top of Amazon’s mysterious algorithm. To me, this is akin to investing in stocks you don’t know much about, but hoping they’ll rise in your favor anyway. A number of authors have tried to do this with varying degrees of success. As those who follow my blogs know, I’ve tried to step up my pace, but it’s truly difficult.

So, I was really interested by a recent blog that discussed burnout…what it really is, and how to overcome it. Author BelleCooper identifies burnout as a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It seems that burnout is not just a matter of overworking, but of losing enthusiasm for what you’re doing to the point where you become inefficient and unproductive. I’ve seen evidence of this in my own life, so I’ve been taking steps to avoid complete burnout.

First, I put four of the six writing projects away to focus on just two. Secondly, I’m improving my diet, getting more rest when needed, and exercising more. Third, I’m adjusting my life/work balance by spending more time with friends, planning, weekend getaways, and even a couple of vacations over the next twelve months. A rarity for me!


It’s already helping. There’s more I can do, and Cooper has other great tips. If you feel like you’re working too hard and are becoming jaded by the lack of reward for your efforts, then please read her blog. Maybe it will help.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Dead Man Floating and Other Novella Stuff

As some of you know, I began writing mystery novellas a while back, and was delighted when Imajin Books published my first Evan Dunstan mystery, Dead Man Floating, in September, 2015. To that end, my book is currently on sale for 50% off on Smashwords this week until Mar. 11). You can use the code, RAE50, and find the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/573302

I had hoped to finish the second installment last year, but real life responsibilities got in the way. I’m now working on the final edit and will submit the manuscript to Imajin next month.

The second novella has a Christmas theme, and Evan’s feisty, eccentric grandmother plays a key role in what is tentatively titled Crafty Killer. Since the setting takes place at a seniors’ Christmas craft fair, the title fits, but I’m never completely sure until I see it on the jacket cover.

I’m also working on the third installment, which has no title right now, but it’s a ghost story set at the post-secondary campus where Evan works as a security guard. The story’s inspired by my real life work in campus security, where rumors of hauntings in some of the older buildings circulated now and then. I never saw anything, but I didn't work graveyard shifts, and that’s when the real ghost action happened, or so I was told.

I didn’t set out to use holiday themes for this series, but it’s worked out that way. Whether I’ll do the same for the fourth book Is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned!




Sunday, February 26, 2017

After a Nine-Year Absence, I’m Self-Publishing Again

It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since I released my second Alex Bellamy mystery, Fatal Encryption in 2008. The book first appeared in paperback, then a couple of years later in ebook format.

After that, I landed a contract with traditional publisher, TouchWood Editions, who released four of my Casey Holland mysteries. Working with TouchWood was an interesting, eye-opening experience and, although they helped me in many ways, we’ve now parted amicably. I’m now ready to publish the fifth Casey mystery, Knock Knock, myself.

It’s really interesting to compare how my self-publishing experience has changed from 2008 to 2017. First, what’s stayed the same? Hiring a good editor and jacket designer, for one thing. In my last post, I discussed my dilemma about choosing an image for the jacket cover. I’ve now found an experienced jacket designer, whose work and price I like, and who was recommended to me by a colleague. At the moment, I’m in the process of completing a detailed questionnaire about the book to give their designers a clear idea of what’s been done, and what should be done.

I’ll plan some sort of launch as I did with Fatal Encryption. I have a venue in mind for a possible fall release, but details needs to be ironed out. I’ll tell you what else stays the same…preparing a detailed, to-do list that includes acquiring an ISBN, preparing front and back matter, and the crucially important back cover blurb.

So, what’s changed? Again, based on the recommendation of several colleagues, I’ll be publishing through CreateSpace this time instead of a local printing service, and ordering far fewer copies at a time than I did with Fatal Encryption.

Although, I’ll be seeking review requests, as I did last time, back in 2008, I spent a small fortune mailing copies of what was a fairly large book to interested reviewers. This time, I’ll send PDFs; reviewers seem to prefer them anyway.

My marketing plan will also be different, but we’ll get to that in later posts. Meanwhile, I need to finish the final edit before handing it over to my editor next month. Production is underway! It’s an exciting time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When Characters Won't Behave

Some writers feel that their characters are autonomous; they speak and act on their own, and the author just follows them around and writes things down.

I'm not one of them.

Yes, your characters have to seem to be autonomous. Your characters have to seem to speak and act spontaneously, out of their own inner realities. But I see myself as more of a director than a biographer.

If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character -- in my imagination, now, they don't actually speak to me; I may be odd, but I'm not a practitioner of alternate sanity .... I lost my place. Oh, yeah: If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character is all like, "I just don't feel that. What's my motivation?" then I'm all like, "Fair enough. Let's talk about that."

See, I don't like pushy characters (with the obvious exception of Bud Blossom), but I don't like sock puppets, either: characters who obviously speak and act at the writer's will. You know the kind where you go, "I can see why the author wanted her to steal the secret code and plans, but I don't understand why she wanted to."

So, when characters don't want to say or do what you want them to, you have choices:
  • Give 'em their heads and see where they take you
  • Get out the cattle prod and herd 'em back in line
  • Sit down with 'em and yak around until you come up with reasons that make sense in their contexts
  • Get all evil wit' it and plant false memories so they believe they have motive.
.
By which I actually mean, tweak their backstory. That's one reason I like to leave backstory a bit vague, so I can fill it in as I need it. Also lazy.

CHARACTER: "But I'm not afraid of dogs! I love dogs!"

ME: "You don't love ... um ... red dogs. Yeah, see this dog is red. 'Member when that red dog knocked you down and bit you on the chin when you were two?"

CHARACTER: "...No, I don't."

ME: "Blocked it out. That's how traumatic it was."

CHARACTER: "Oh, yeah. Big red dogs. I always cried when the teacher read a CLIFFORD book."

ME: "Right. Right. So sad. Poor baby. Ready for the scene, now?"

Some writers work out the backstory, characters, and plotlines ahead of time, so they don't run into this sort of thing. Me, that much planning doesn't work for. Neither does just going with the flow. Not a plotter, not a pantser, I call myself a panther. I outline enough to get me through the story, but leave things loosey-goosey enough that, if something more interesting than what I have planned comes along, I can pounce on it like a hungry panther.

Oh, and Bud? It's the cattle prod and the cow dogs for Bud. YES, I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU AGAIN. YOU ALWAYS MANAGE, DON'T YOU?

~sigh~ It isn't easy being me.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Book Cover Dilemma

I was in the mall this week, looking at all the winter clearance sale racks. It’s something I don’t do often, mainly because the many choices in department stores make my head spin. I’m better suited to the smaller boutiques, where there are maybe 40 racks instead of 90.

I’m discovering that the same is true when it comes to choosing a suitable book jacket image for my fifth Casey Holland mystery, and this is causing me a great dilemma. Even by using key words, there are thousands upon thousands of images to go through.

I remember doing this when I chose the cover for Fatal Encryption back in 2008, and it took a long time. But I was very clear about the image I wanted, a decision I don’t regret to this day. The cover for this book is a little more complicated, which adds to my dilemma.

Knock Knock is a story about a group of vicious home invasions that have been targeting seniors, many of whom also ride a particular Vancouver bus. Since my protagonist is a transit security officer for a bus company called Mainland, Public Transport, each cover has a bus related theme on the cover. They were designed by the in-house designer of my former publisher.

This time, a large part of the story takes place in residences. Thus, the second dilemma. Searching under the categories of mystery, home invasion, homes, and buses has presented some interesting images, and the choices are beginning to make my head spin.

To save costs and time, I was hoping to choose an image before I hire a jacket designer, but I’m now wondering if I should simply leave it to the expert.

Incidentally, I’m also intending to produce a Casey novella this year, the title of which is Man in a Gold Satin Thong. Really, the cover’s a no-brainer for that one, don’t you think?

If anyone has any suggestions to assist me in my search, please let me know! Thanks!




Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Deep End 2nd Edition Released!

At last, my fourth Casey Holland mystery, The Deep End, has been reissued in ebook format! This means that I’m finally caught up on reissuing previously published books and can now look forward to releasing new titles. The 5th Casey installment, Knock Knock will appear later in 2017, along with a brand new Casey Holland novella!

The Deep End is available at:


I also have a couple of local gift stores selling the paperback version, which you can find on the homepage of my website.

Here’s the blurb:

Transit security officer Casey Holland is surrounded by troublesome teens—her thirteen-year-old ward is dating a manipulative boy, a group of juvenile shoplifters attack her on the job, and during her first volunteer shift at a youth custody center, she is shocked to find a friend’s grandson, Justin, inside.

Shock turns to horror when the facility’s director suffers a fatal heart attack in front of her. A second death and rumors of illegal activity at the correctional facility make Casey wonder whether Justin is partly responsible or potentially in danger. As Casey fights to protect her ward, her friends, and the youths at the center, escalating violence threatens to change her life forever. Who will live and who will die?

The Deep End, the fourth installment of the Casey Holland mystery series, will have you compulsively turning its pages until the explosive conclusion.

Praise for Casey Holland mysteries:

The National Post - “Kong’s writing is no-nonsense at best . . . the end result is a mystery that fits the bill.”

The Hamilton Spectator -  “A good read with urban grit and a spicy climax.”

Quill & Quire - “The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.”

Crime Writers of Canada - “Purdy Kong keeps the action fast and furious . . . Casey is a perfect heroine for our times, a combination of thought and action.” – Lou Allin

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Latest Publishing Stats Released

I read a lot of blogs on the state of state of publishing. I have to tell you that the contradicting information and opinions about whether ebook sales are waning and print resurging is enough to make one’s head spin. If I want real data, though, I go to the folks from AuthorEarnings (AE) who gather incredible amounts of data to provide a snapshot of the publishing scene. Recently, they produced an incredibly detailed report on the state of publishing in 2016. It’s long, but has been prepared in easy-to-read graphics. It would take far too long to list every highlight, so browse at your leisure HERE.

So, are ebook sales dropping? AE’s short answer is no. In fact, their data shows that they increased by 4% in 2016 over 2015. Also, print sales among traditionally published books actually dropped through venue retail venues, chain bookstores, and Barnes and Noble in 2016. What did increase was sales from Amazon’s own print publications.

AE says that in 2015, “agency” contracts eliminated retailers from discounting ebooks from large traditional publishers, so Amazon raised discounts on their print books instead. Thus, the surge in sales. Apparently, Amazon has cut back on the discounts in 2017, which is already showing a cooling off of print sales.

Now, for non-traditional book sales, here’s surprising info: 43% of all ebook sales are going to books without ISBN numbers. And it’s not just self-publishing authors who are skipping the ISBN, but small traditional publishers as well.

Back in the day when I first started publishing, an ISBN number was essential. You couldn’t sell anywhere without one on the back cover. Things have clearly changed, which has also skewed the sales/publishing data of those who rely solely on books with ISBNs for their stats. In other words, there is a whole world of ebooks being sold outside the conventional means, and AE is one of the few who are paying attention to that.

You likely won’t be surprised to learn that romance and thriller/suspense novels still sell the most ebooks through both traditional and non-traditional means. My genre, mystery, is also fairly popular, along with fantasy, science fiction, and general fiction. A detailed, somewhat more complex look is spelled out in their report.

There’s much more in AE’s report, and it’s important for any writer who cares about where and how their books are likely to sell in the near future. As I’ve mentioned many times, consumer buying habits are changing, price matters, and, in my opinion, it’s still a good idea to work with Amazon than against them, at least for now…




Sunday, January 22, 2017

How Many Books Can You Write In A Lifetime?

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but these days I’m overwhelmed with the reality that I’ve been juggling six different writing projects, including four novels and two novellas, for some time. Actually, one of them I haven’t worked on at all this year, but that needs to change.

There are different ways to look at this. One is that I’m a professional writer. I write, publish, and sell novels, and am paid through royalties and direct sales. For me, working on more than one book at a time is how I continue to be a professional. The other upside is that pretty much all of 2016 was spent writing new work, which isn’t something I can say every year. In hindsight, it was a pretty awesome experience.

But the downside? Well, given that I also have a 5-day-a-week part-time admin job, a mother with dementia who needs more attention, and a 2,500 sq. ft. home that requires cleaning now and then, it all becomes a bit much at times. On these short, dark, damp winter days, I feel my energy and my spirits wane, especially after one of my regular bouts of interrupted sleep.

After weighing the pros and cons, it comes down to two things: I still love writing, and I can choose to stop anytime. I created this life. I can also dismantle it. These are my choices, and on those overwhelming days I find myself wondering about the latter.

It was invigorating, therefore, to come across a blog this week on Quartz Media, about how Isaac Asimov, author of nearly 500 books, wrote so much, and yet struggled with some of the same issues that plague me. It was good to know that I’ve already been using some of his strategies, like working on several works in progress.

The piece of advice that resonates with me most is Beware the Resistance (part of this means being paralyzed by persistent insecurities about one’s writing). For me, editing a book to a satisfactory, publishable state is challenging. Maybe I should adopt one of Asimov’s other strategies, which is to not strive for perfectionism.


In Asimov’s world, taking on six writing projects is normal and necessary. So, maybe I’m on the right track after all. I just have to keep figuring out ways to play down the negative self-talk and stay focused on completing some of these projects. This year, the plan is to publish two books. We’ll see how it goes.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Story Arcs


At the critique group meeting the other day, we were talking about story arcs. In case you haven't heard of them, they're pretty much what they sound like: the arcs of stories.

Story arcs are traditionally shown like this:
Not very helpful. Better ones break that up into sections, like First major conflict, Decision to act, Frustration of hopes, Change in direction, and so on. That can be helpful, although I find it more helpful in shaping the story after I've written the first messy blob of it. Most stories aren't really like that, though. Most stories are more like this.
Yes, here I go again. Although the story, itself, has an arc, each character in the story has a story arc.
Connie Willis is a mistress of this. Mom and I just finished reading the Black Out / All Clear set, and it illustrates the point perfectly.

Each character has a goal, then a revised goal, then another revised goal, constantly changing as circumstances change, plans are frustrated, and/or understanding of the situation alters. EACH ONE has a different story arc. Sometimes their arcs intersect; sometimes they run parallel, in cooperation or opposition.

"There are all sorts of things going on behind the scenes," one of them says, speaking of people they can't directly interact with who are aware of their difficulties and are doing everything they can to send help. Those people have story arcs. The reader may not be privy to them, but they have arcs, and they need to make sense.

As the book(s) progress(es), the arcs interweave until THE END, when it's clear that all that mish-mash was one big story arc, after all.

(By "dead guys," I mean backstory: sometimes, something that happened before the story begins has a presence in the story. Marley, as Mr. Dickens puts it so well, was dead, to begin with.)

All those arcs could also represent the main plot, the secondary plot, the minor plot, the running gag, some of which may belong to the main character, some may belong to secondary or minor characters, some may belong to an animal.

You know what I'm talking about: On any given episode of Boston Legal, for instance, there were always two trials going, each with its own story arc, usually at least one relationship story, and one or two running gags that had some kind of closure by the end of the episode, as well as a piece of at least one arc that continued over several episodes.

But how do you track that, when you're writing?

yWriter5 has a character timelines function, like index cards, but index cards work just fine. I love index cards, me. You can write each character in a different color, or get different colors of index cards, or just put a distinctive mark on the corner for each character.

Write out the elements of that character's arc on cards (one for A meets Q, one for A gets job at L's firm, one for A overhears L and B discuss murder). Write out the elements of each character's arc. Then you can arrange them in the context of the overall story arc, to see where it makes sense for each element to take place in relation to everybody else's elements.

Word to the wise: vacuum the floor first; you're gonna needa lotta room, for the cards and for dancing in frustration as you work it all out.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes