This Page

has moved to a new address:


Sorry for the inconvenience…

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
----------------------------------------------------- Blogger Template Style Sheet Name: Scribe Designer: Todd Dominey URL: domineydesign.com / whatdoiknow.org Date: 27 Feb 2004 ------------------------------------------------------ */ /* Defaults ----------------------------------------------- */ body { margin:0; padding:0; font-family: Georgia, Times, Times New Roman, sans-serif; font-size: small; text-align:center; color:#29303B; line-height:1.3; background:#483521 url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg.gif") repeat; } blockquote { font-style:italic; padding:0 32px; line-height:1.6; margin:0 0 .6em 0; } p {margin:0;padding:0}; abbr, acronym { cursor:help; font-style:normal; } code {font:12px monospace;white-space:normal;color:#666;} hr {display:none;} img {border:0;} /* Link styles */ a:link {color:#473624;text-decoration:underline;} a:visited {color:#716E6C;text-decoration:underline;} a:hover {color:#956839;text-decoration:underline;} a:active {color:#956839;} /* Layout ----------------------------------------------- */ @media all { #wrap { background-color:#473624; border-left:1px solid #332A24; border-right:1px solid #332A24; width:700px; margin:0 auto; padding:8px; text-align:center; } #main-top { width:700px; height:49px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_top.jpg") no-repeat top left; margin:0;padding:0; display:block; } #main-bot { width:700px; height:81px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_bot.jpg") no-repeat top left; margin:0; padding:0; display:block; } #main-content { width:700px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_mid.jpg") repeat-y; margin:0; text-align:left; display:block; } } @media handheld { #wrap { width:90%; } #main-top { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } #main-bot { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } #main-content { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } } #inner-wrap { padding:0 50px; } #blog-header { margin-bottom:12px; } #blog-header h1 { margin:0; padding:0 0 6px 0; font-size:225%; font-weight:normal; color:#612E00; } #blog-header h1 a:link { text-decoration:none; } #blog-header h1 a:visited { text-decoration:none; } #blog-header h1 a:hover { border:0; text-decoration:none; } #blog-header p { margin:0; padding:0; font-style:italic; font-size:94%; line-height:1.5em; } div.clearer { clear:left; line-height:0; height:10px; margin-bottom:12px; _margin-top:-4px; /* IE Windows target */ background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat bottom left; } @media all { #main { width:430px; float:right; padding:8px 0; margin:0; } #sidebar { width:150px; float:left; padding:8px 0; margin:0; } } @media handheld { #main { width:100%; float:none; } #sidebar { width:100%; float:none; } } #footer { clear:both; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat top left; padding-top:10px; _padding-top:6px; /* IE Windows target */ } #footer p { line-height:1.5em; font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; font-size:75%; } /* Typography :: Main entry ----------------------------------------------- */ h2.date-header { font-weight:normal; text-transform:uppercase; letter-spacing:.1em; font-size:90%; margin:0; padding:0; } .post { margin:8px 0 24px 0; line-height:1.5em; } h3.post-title { font-weight:normal; font-size:140%; color:#1B0431; margin:0; padding:0; } .post-body p { margin:0 0 .6em 0; } .post-footer { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; color:#211104; font-size:74%; border-top:1px solid #BFB186; padding-top:6px; } .post ul { margin:0; padding:0; } .post li { line-height:1.5em; list-style:none; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/list_icon.gif") no-repeat 0px .3em; vertical-align:top; padding: 0 0 .6em 17px; margin:0; } /* Typography :: Sidebar ----------------------------------------------- */ h2.sidebar-title { font-weight:normal; font-size:120%; margin:0; padding:0; color:#211104; } h2.sidebar-title img { margin-bottom:-4px; } #sidebar ul { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; font-size:86%; margin:6px 0 12px 0; padding:0; } #sidebar ul li { list-style: none; padding-bottom:6px; margin:0; } #sidebar p { font-family:Verdana,sans-serif; font-size:86%; margin:0 0 .6em 0; } /* Comments ----------------------------------------------- */ #comments {} #comments h4 { font-weight:normal; font-size:120%; color:#29303B; margin:0; padding:0; } #comments-block { line-height:1.5em; } .comment-poster { background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/list_icon.gif") no-repeat 2px .35em; margin:.5em 0 0; padding:0 0 0 20px; font-weight:bold; } .comment-body { margin:0; padding:0 0 0 20px; } .comment-body p { font-size:100%; margin:0 0 .2em 0; } .comment-timestamp { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; color:#29303B; font-size:74%; margin:0 0 10px; padding:0 0 .75em 20px; } .comment-timestamp a:link { color:#473624; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:visited { color:#716E6C; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:hover { color:#956839; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:active { color:#956839; text-decoration:none; } .deleted-comment { font-style:italic; color:gray; } .paging-control-container { float: right; margin: 0px 6px 0px 0px; font-size: 80%; } .unneeded-paging-control { visibility: hidden; } /* Profile ----------------------------------------------- */ #profile-container { margin-top:12px; padding-top:12px; height:auto; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat top left; } .profile-datablock { margin:0 0 4px 0; } .profile-data { display:inline; margin:0; padding:0 8px 0 0; text-transform:uppercase; letter-spacing:.1em; font-size:90%; color:#211104; } .profile-img {display:inline;} .profile-img img { float:left; margin:0 8px 0 0; border:1px solid #A2907D; padding:2px; } .profile-textblock { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif;font-size:86%;margin:0;padding:0; } .profile-link { margin-top:5px; font-family:Verdana,sans-serif; font-size:86%; } /* Post photos ----------------------------------------------- */ img.post-photo { border:1px solid #A2907D; padding:4px; } /* Feeds ----------------------------------------------- */ #blogfeeds { } #postfeeds { padding:0 0 12px 20px; }

Anne R. Allen's Blog


My Photo

Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jumpstarting Fiction: How to Find Unique, Timely Ideas to Energize Your Creativity

We have a big announcement: Ruth Harris has started her own blog!

No, she’s not going to abandon us over here. Her new blog is a whole 'nother kettle of fish links. She will be posting a daily collection of links to articles she finds intriguing, unique, or just plain wacky. Fun stuff to use as writing prompts to jumpstart your own ideas.

I can tell you from experience how well the random newspaper article works as a writing prompt. Camilla Randall, the ultra-polite sleuth who stars in my comic mystery series, was inspired by an article I read in the New York Times that poked vicious fun at a young woman who had been named “debutante of the year.”  

It was so condescending and mean-spirited, I wanted to stick up for the well-heeled teenager in question. So I sat down and rewrote the piece from her point of view. The result became the opening scene of my first Camilla book, The Best Revenge. One five-paragraph article jumpstarted three novels (with a fourth on the way.) 

So check out Ruth’s blog. She links to fun, newsy ideas you can use to add punch to your fiction, as Ruth explains below.

But exercise caution, they can be addictive. Bet you can’t click on just one!


by Ruth Harris

For quite a while, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog. Problem was, I couldn’t figure out what to blog about. I knew I wanted to create something for readers and writers. I wanted it to be unique, helpful and entertaining. But what, exactly, would that be--and how would I do it?

For years (decades) I was an editor during what is now called the “golden age” of publishing.  In mass market paperback, we worked on a monthly publication schedule with ferocious demands for content. I couldn’t afford to wait for inspiration, I had to go out looking for it.

I haunted bookstores, inhaled the bestseller lists, got chummy with the sales department—they were mostly male, some very bright and college-educated. Others with practical on-the-ground experience had moved to the publishing side from distribution.

Plus one guy I suspected was a “made” man, a "dese" and "dems" guy straight out of The Godfather. How exactly he sold books I had no idea but there he was, stopping by my office with the newest jokes, the latest in industry gossip and accurate info on current sales trends.

All of this info gave me a good sense of what turned readers on (and what turned them off). The next step was working with writers to turn the raw material into books which meant I needed ideas and plenty of them.

I read books, of course—the ones I edited, plus books other editors enthused over and other publishers launched. Fiction and non-fiction, cookbooks, bios, history and how-to’s came through my office and, at minimum, I glanced at each one. In addition to books, I read magazines and newspapers—everything from Cosmopolitan, Scientific American and Playboy to The New York Times and the tabloids, the New York Post (cheeky and fun even in those days) and the Daily News which had—and has—terrific sports writers.

I went to the big international newsstands around the city in those days and bought foreign magazines in a search for the headline or the article or the picture that would trigger an idea. A friend supported herself writing for movie magazines and true confessions magazines. Another edited Confidential, sleazy but wildly popular. Through them, I kept up on pop culture.

I had lunch and dinner with writers and other editors. Impromptu phone conversations and office drop-by visits. Writers and colleagues suggested ideas and plots; so did I. My magpie reading added up. Bits of this and that, fragments half remembered or partially digested, a shocking or moving news article, wars and weddings all contributed.

As I was thinking about what kind of blog I would enjoy writing, I thought about those days and realized that out of that messy high-low stew, ideas bubbled and bloomed.

*ideas that led to a book, a plot, a title or a series
*ideas that solved plot problems
*ideas that sparked new ideas

I also learned not to dismiss or pre-judge anything because we—literally—never knew where out next terrific idea would come from.

Realizing in retrospect that it was that oddball potpourri that caused ideas to flow, I began to think about how I could recreate that creative energy in blog form.  Why not share all the interesting, offbeat, repellent, lurid, provocative and enlightening content that rushes past in a torrent every day? With the huge plus that the internet adds a vital new dimension: the ability to link.

Writers are constantly being advised to read, read, read but not very many advisers are specific about exactly what writers should read and how their reading can help them. What I’ve decided to do is employ my editor’s eye and offer links to content that grabbed my attention with the thought that what got me thinking might also trigger ideas in others.

I want to make it clear that you should almost never take anything literally.

*Consider a link through the filter of your own interests, your genre or a genre you’re interested in trying.
*Whether you need a plot, a scene, a character, a setting or even a word, don’t wait around waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead, actively seek out inspiration.
*Be assertive but not impatient.
*Make allowances for the delayed reaction.
*Give yourself and your creativity time and space to process your reactions to what you’ve read, skimmed and/or experienced.

Here are a few examples of how reading something you never thought would interest you can increase your creativity:

*A link to an article about clothes/fashion/design might seem to be about the clothes--but look deeper. What about the designer him/herself? Or the man or woman wearing those clothes?  Could a model in haute couture or a geek in a hoodie, a socialite in a fur or a club kid in shredded jeans suggest a new character, bring an existing character into clearer focus or even spark a brand new idea?

*A link to a review of a book about spies in New York might suggest a setting, a double cross, a killing or a ghost. What happens if a chick lit heroine moves into an apartment where Nazi secrets were once traded? Or what if a present-day spy learns from history and avoids a fatal mistake?

*The link to a story about butt lifts & millionaire mixers might suggest a character (or a few), a setting (for a crime or a romance), or how the millionaire at a mixer is really a billionaire. Or a complete con man. Or woman.

I love slang, lingo and shoptalk—so whenever I come across lively examples, I’ll share them because slang and shoptalk can jazz up the most workmanlike but necessary scene. For example:

*piaffes and gassers. (Translation for people as uninformed as Ruth’s blog partner: piaffes are steps in dressage and gassers are a sprints by football players. See what you’ll learn on Ruth’s blog?)

*And that gem, BOHICA. Military slang for: Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.

I hope you will think of this new blog as a springboard, a tool box or a bank, one from which you can borrow interest-free and keep going back for more. I hope it will spark new ideas or refurbish old ideas in a new way, and that the comments will be used to bounce ideas off me and other readers.

Last and most important of all, remember that you’re not looking for an idea. You’re looking for ideas that will generate other ideas—and lots of them.

What about you, scriveners? Have you found inspiration for your characters and plots in unlikely places?  Do you have a favorite place to go to jumpstart your ideas?

WINNER! The WINNER of the Terence Stamp CD contest is Rose Zurkan! Congratulations Rose, Alicia will be in touch with you!

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Should You Eliminate "Was" From Your Writing? Why Sometimes "the Rules" are Wrong.

No matter how much time and energy we put into querying agents and editors--or learning the ins and outs of self-publishing--it's all wasted if we don’t have a polished piece of work. One way to make sure your book is the best it can be is to brush up on your nuts-and-bolts writing skills. (Also a good way to save money in editing fees.)

So In honor of the kids going back to school, I’ve got a grammar lesson today. (Puts on schoolmarm hat.) 

As soon as you joined your first critique group, found a beta reader, or joined a creative writing workshop, somebody no doubt lectured you about avoiding the word “was.” In fact, you were probably admonished to eliminate all forms of the verb “to be” from your fledgling prose.

Your well-meaning mentors told you “was” is “passive,” so you must avoid it at all costs, along with adverbs, run-on sentences, and naming all of your characters “Bob”.

The people who told you this were repeating "The Rules" they heard from their own critique groups, beta readers, and workshop leaders when they started writing.

The problem is: they were wrong.

This particular rule has good intentions. But it’s based on a lack of understanding of the rules of grammar. The verb “to be” has many functions in modern English and some have nothing to do with the passive voice.

Sadly, English grammar seems to have disappeared from most schoolrooms and—unless you’ve studied another language—you may not have been taught the basics.

We have a number of past tenses in English:

  • Simple Past
  • Present Perfect
  • Past Continuous (or “Progressive”)
  • Present Perfect
  • Past Perfect (or “Pluperfect”)
  • Past Perfect Continuous.

Some of these tenses are created by using various forms of the verbs “to be” and “to have.” They’re called “auxiliary verbs” when they are used this way.

Simple past:

I barfed.

Present Perfect: 

I have been barfing since I ate that squirrel-meat chili.

Here an action starts in the past and comes up to the present. (“Perfect” in grammar doesn’t mean the tense is awesome. “Perfect” just means it’s finished.)

Past Continuous: 

I was barfing when Mrs. Poindexter arrived to invite me to tea.

A continuous action in the past gets interrupted by the simple past. “Was” is necessary to create this tense with the verb “to barf.” “Was” in this auxiliary function has nothing to do with the stand-alone meaning of the verb “was” meaning “existed in the past.”

Past Perfect: 

I had barfed right before she came to the door.

An action happened in the past BEFORE the past of the story. “Had” is the auxiliary verb that creates this tense. This is different from the stand-alone meaning of the verb “had” meaning “possessed in the past”.

Past Perfect continuous: 

I had been barfing for hours.

An action happened in the past over a period of time until it got interrupted by another action. The verbs “to have” AND “to be” are combined with the primary verb “to barf” to make this tense.

But these tenses have nothing to do with the Passive VOICE

Barfing was caused by squirrel chili.   

In the Passive Voice, we use forms of "to be" when the object of the verb becomes the subject of the sentence.

Or, as my mother, the English professor, would say:

The passive voice is avoided whenever possible by good writers.

Then, just to be confusing, we have the Subjunctive MOOD.  (Sometimes called the “Unreal Conditional” tense.)

If I were smarter, I’d have brought my own lunch.  

It also uses the auxiliary verb “to be”. (It’s quite the multi-purpose word, isn’t it?) The word “were” doesn’t put us in the past. It tells us he’s not actually smart.

But what about this?

If I was even smarter, I’d have shot my uncle instead of the durned squirrel.

This is incorrect grammar, because the subjunctive uses “were,” not “was.”

So “was” should be eliminated here, right?

If you’re aiming for grammatical prose, absolutely, but if you’re writing fiction, it’s probably just fine. You don’t want all your characters to sound like college professors.

What does this all mean?

It means sometimes “was” and “were” are absolutely necessary for meaning and by no means “passive.”

I was just sitting there when the squirrel bit me.

This means something different from: 

I just sat there when the squirrel bit me.

Eliminating "was" changes the meaning from “the squirrel bit me with no provocation,” to “I didn’t react when the squirrel bit me.”

However, your critique group didn’t steer you totally wrong when they told you to be wary of “was.”  
This isn’t because the word is always passive, but because it can be part of lazy sentence construction.
Beginning writers tend to write flabby sentences like this:

 There was a squirrel sitting on the picnic table and he was eating my peanut butter sandwich. He was looking at me like I was nobody to be scared of, so I decided it was time to get my shotgun.

That can be cleaned up by using simpler verbs:

A squirrel sat on the picnic table eating my peanut butter sandwich. He looked me in the eye without a speck of fear. I went for my shotgun.

See how that’s easier to read and gives a stronger, clearer image?

Another note on past tenses

Most readers say they prefer reading a book written in the past tense (although present tense is popular in some YA right now.) But writing in the past can be difficult when you get into the dreaded flashback.

Of course you can eliminate that problem by not writing any flashbacks, which I’m sure some writing teachers would recommend. But sometimes the story absolutely requires one. That’s when you go into the past perfect tense. But you don’t have to stay there, because it sounds awkward.

He hated squirrels. Last summer, he had been walking in the park when he had run into a gang of squirrels who had attacked him with giant acorns.

Actually, you only have to use the past perfect (the “had” construction) once or twice to introduce the flashback, then continue in the simple past and readers will automatically adjust.

He hated squirrels. Last summer, he had been walking in the park when he ran into a gang of squirrels who attacked him with giant acorns.

It’s all in the distant past, but we know that without all the extra “hads.”

So to answer the question I posed in the title: A search for “was” in your manuscript can indeed help clean up your prose. (What did we do before the days of the search and replace function?) But don’t say it’s because “was” is “passive” or you will make grammarians go totally squirrely.

For more on the subject of the passive voice, awesome mystery author and fellow grammar maven  Elizabeth S. Craig has a great post on it this week, too. Check her out at Laura Howard's blog. I'd also like to thank the wonderful Aussie writer and "word nerd" Karin Cox for her input. 

So Scriveners, have you been trying to eliminate the word “was” from your deathless prose? What other words have you been told to avoid? What other "Rules" turned out to be wrong for your writing?

UK's Superstar thriller writer Stephen Leather calls it "The best few dollars an aspiring writer can spend" HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE  is NOW IN PAPERBACK for only $9.99 Kindle edition, $2.99.

One place to brush up on your skills is a writers conference. A great one is the Central Coast Writers Conference in beautiful San Luis Obispo CA. It will be held on September 21st and 22nd on the campus of Cuesta College. I'll be there, teaching about how to be a writer in the e-age. 

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How a 91-year-old Author's Debut Mystery Hit the Bestseller List


Recently, my publisher, MWiDP, relaunched Shirley S. Allen’s cozy mystery, ACADEMIC BODY as an ebook. Sales had slowed for the print version published by Mainly Murder Press in 2010, but Mark Williams saw my ad for the book on this blog, read it and loved it. He saw a strong future for it as an ebook--especially in the international market, where classic mysteries still sell.

Shirley S. Allen happens to be my mom, who turned 91 years old in May. 

So this is an emphatic lesson for every aspiring writer out there: IT'S NEVER TOO LATE! Keep at it and your publishing dreams will come true. 

The ebook of ACADEMIC BODY launched in June and had steady sales, but we were kind of disappointed in the numbers until last weekend, when Mark decided to give it some of the free days allowed to ebooks in Amazon’s KDP Select program.

I should note there’s a certain amount of controversy surrounding the concept of giving free ebooks. On the plus side, it’s great advertising that costs nothing.  But the whole concept of free books rubs some authors the wrong way, since it seems to contribute to the devaluing of our product.

But with the advent of Amazon's KDP Select program last year, the freebie became the technique of choice for launching ebooks—both for self-publishers and small presses.

It worked brilliantly when Amazon algorithms gave free books the same boost in “popularity” as their regular inventory. Catherine Ryan Hyde had a huge success with KDP Select free days when launching her self-published novel WHEN I FOUND YOU. I wrote about Catherine’s phenomenal success last month in my post Social Media vs. A New York Times Book Review Cover: Which Sells More Books. After dismal initial sales, Catherine made her book free for three days and the subsequent bounce made her enough money to buy a Lexus. Not a brand new one, but a very, very nice car.

A change in the Amazon algorithms on May 3rd made cheap and free books much less bouncy, but still Catherine was able to launch her book DON’T LET ME GO with a two-day give-away that gave a nice boost to sales.

Catherine and I did the same thing with our nonfiction book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. The freebie got us to #1 in free writing books for three days, ahead of the new Eisler-Konrath book, and two of agent Noah Lukeman’s offerings. But then sales went down to well below where they’d been before we went free. We not only got no bounce, but the freebie seems to have worked against us.

Except that it got us some very nice reviews. Thanks to the lovely readers who took the time to write them. Free books that get thoughtful reviews are never wasted. (And it’s still only $2.99, everybody: great deal! And it tells you important stuff about launching your writing career that you won’t get anywhere else, whether you’re self-pubbing or going the traditional route. OK, end of commercial break.)  

It was a learning experience. Nonfiction books with a limited audience do not seem to benefit from free give-aways.

In spite of this, we decided to go ahead and offer my mom’s book as a freebie last weekend. Quite frankly, our hopes weren’t that high. This book is a classic cozy set in a small New England town. It’s beautifully written and plotted, but the criminal activity is all offstage. There’s none of the mayhem, high body count or torture fashionable in today’s crime fiction. But it’s also not one of the crafty cozies that are currently popular with older readers: nobody knitted or tatted or made throw pillows out of dryer lint. The sleuths are a couple of sophisticated middle-aged married people who love each other--much more Nick and Nora Charles than Alex Cross or Stephanie Plum.

But what happened next was epic!

ACADEMIC BODY shot up to the top ten in the thrillers and suspense category. And it started to climb up the top 100 in the entire Kindle free store. By the second day, it was at #2 in thrillers—probably the most competitive fiction genre—and #30 of all free Kindle books. And it stayed there.

And, curse you Bob Mayer, it might even have gone to #1 if Bob’s new Black Ops thriller hadn’t been free the same weekend.

By the time ACADEMIC BODY went off its three free days, it had over 10,500 downloads. Remember how I said last month that the bump a book gets from a New York Times Book Review cover can be as little as 82 actual books sold? Compare that with moving 10,500 books!

Obviously the big difference is that the NYT author’s book cost money and my mom’s didn’t. But still, over 10K people decided to download her book to their Kindles. Considering how many 1000s of Kindle books are free at any given moment, and how many of us have Kindles already loaded than more books than we can read in the next 10 years, it’s pretty durn amazing.

So why did this particular free book climb to such heights?

Here are some things I suspect may have helped:

1) The Perfect Cover. The cover of ACADEMIC BODY, designed by Patricia L. Foltz of Mainly Murder Press, shows an inviting room bathed in amber light—lined with books—and just the legs of a deceased person in the shadowy foreground. It’s the classic “body in the library.” It immediately brings to mind Agatha Christie.

And those books in the library are so inviting and warm. Perhaps as we lose paper books to technology, we’re already getting a little nostalgic for them? To a reader, there’s hardly anything more inviting than a cozy room full of books.

The cover is a seductive invitation to read.

2) A Great Bio. I rewrote my mother’s bio for this book launch, adding material about her academic achievements. In the past, publishers haven’t wanted to advertise that she has a PhD in English Literature and wrote the definitive book on the life of London’s great 19th century Shakespearean actor-manager, Samuel Phelps. Her publishers were afraid she’d sound stuffy and boring.

But in today’s world of so much not-ready-for-prime-time self-publishing, I thought readers would like to know the author has a superb command of the English language. Plus the protagonist of ACADEMIC BODY is a theater director. I figure it’s a plus to know the author has in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

3) An Established Social Network. No, my Mom isn’t spending her days on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The network is mine. It was easy to use my own connections to promote her book. Plus I went to some senior sites and FB and LinkedIn pages for alums of Bryn Mawr—our alma mater. That allowed me to reach out to people who aren’t in the current writing scene and didn’t know about free Kindle ebooks, but were very interested in books about academia. And of course they wanted to support a fellow alum.

4) Serendipity. We didn’t think about the Olympics when we chose last weekend, but I think the games worked in our favor. Most of the people interested in action and sports were glued to the tube, watching the spectacular competitions in London—so the readers who might be more likely to buy an action-adventure type of thriller were otherwise occupied. The non-sports fans were at loose ends, looking for some less sweaty entertainment.

5) Writing in a Genre that’s Under-Represented by Mainstream Publishing. It seems readers still want classic mysteries. In fact, they may be starved for them. Contemporary mysteries usually fall into the James Patterson/Steig Larsson category (graphically violent serial killer thrillers) or Janet Evanovich types (rom-com mysteries like mine) or the crafty cozies I mentioned earlier. 

But classic mysteries are puzzles that engage the mind and leave the reader satisfied that justice has prevailed. At the end of a classic mystery, all is right with the world. Evolved intelligence has prevailed over primitive brute force. Reading a classic mystery gives order to the universe--like listening to Mozart.

After the spectacular success of the freebie days, ACADEMIC BODY did get a nice bounce. Not enough for my mom to trade in her old Acura, but the book is selling much, much better than it did before the freebie days. And the paper version from Mainly Murder seems to be moving, too.

Does that mean giving away free books will work for everybody? No. As I say, it didn't work for our nonfic. book. And I’m not sure how much longer cheap and free books are going to be of benefit as marketing tools.

Mark Coker of Smashwords said in an interview with Forbes this week that he thinks many self-publishers are undervaluing their work. Like Amazon, Smashwords has changed its algorithm so it no longer counts free and 99-cent books as “sales” with the same weight as sales of books priced at $2.99 and up. Mr. Coker says he “found that the $2.99 to $5.99 price band appears to be the sweet spot for indie authors, those prices over-performed the average in terms of income for the author. But 99¢ and $1.99 under-performed.”

And free? It still seems to be working for some fiction right now--it sure did for my mom. Her next book—a historical—is due out next month and we'll see how that works out. But whatever happens, I know nothing's going to stand in the way of her dreams!

What about you, scriveners? Have give-aways worked to promote your work? Do you read a lot of free Kindle books? How do you feel about free ebooks? Do you have a dream you'll never give up on?

Don’t forget the Central Coast Writers Conference in beautiful San Luis Obispo CA. It will be held on September 21st and 22nd on the campus of Cuesta College. Last year I got to meet Mark Coker in person there.  This year will have an equally exciting roster of speakers and presenters (including yours truly.)

On Wednesday, August 15th, I'll be visiting the awesome blog of M. Christine Weber, to talk about being a writer--and a reader--in the e-age, and why it's such a great time for us all. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Terence Stamp: Actor, Writer, Publisher—His Journey from Academy Award Nomination to Unemployment and Back

I'm so excited and honored to be hosting a superstar today! Terence Stamp is one of my favorite actors of all time. His career has spanned more than four decades, from his Academy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning title role in Billy Budd to his Cannes Film Festival Best Actor award winning role in The Collector to his portrayal of General Zod in the Superman movies, to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Limey in the ‘90s to his more current work beside actors like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon.

He’s an actor’s actor—every character nuanced and detailed —no two characterizations alike. And it turns out he’s an author as well. I’ve just started his third memoir, Rare Stamps, and it reads like a novel. A brisk, entertaining read. What a life he’s had! And it turns out he’s a neighbor—He lives in Ojai, CA about 150 miles south of Los Osos.

And he’s offering a giveaway! One lucky commenter can win a free CD of Mr. Stamp reading Rare Stamps in that famous voice. Just put “CD” in your comment and you’ll be in the running for the prize. The winner will be chosen by the number generator at Random.org and announced next Sunday, August 12.

Terence is being interviewed today by Alicia Street, friend of the blog and an award-winning author in her own right. She is also a regular contributor to the WG2E blog and creator of Reader2Author interviews.

Interview with Terence Stamp, Author

Alicia: How does the process of writing differ from the process of acting?

Terence: When I am performing/acting at my best, the work is spontaneous; it exists in the moment. I am the character that I am portraying. Yet, when I am unable to get into the moment, for whatever reasons, I have fifty years of experience, or craft, to fall back and rely upon. So I can always get through ‘take’ or the film.

In writing, when it is going well, in the flow so to speak, it is the same. It is spontaneous, in the moment. But when it is not going well, I do not have my craft to rely on, as I am trained in performing, not writing. So I must stop. Wait for inspiration. It is a much more stop-and-go process.

Alicia: You have three memoirs. How did each affect you while mining the territory in those different phases of your life and career? For example, the first, Stamp Album, takes readers from your early days growing up on London’s East End, to rooming with fellow struggling actor Michael Caine, up to your initial success in the title role of Peter Ustinov’s film based on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.

Terence: Stamp Album was like a therapy. I was on the set of Wall Street when my mother passed away. I was very close to her and the fact of her passing and me being on a different continent was difficult to bear. I began to write, in my hotel, during breaks in the film, anytime I could get the chance. Recalling the time we had spent and all the things we had done together, and how she had influenced my life and my art. The words just flowed out of me. It was my catharsis, my therapy, and the first memoir came rather easily.   

Alicia: The second, Double Feature is about that special time when you were “the face” of the Sixties, an actor in demand and being seen with the beautiful people of Hollywood and London, that period when your career really took off.

Terence: Yes, Double Feature was actually a continuation of Stamp Album. I wrote it because the first was well received and people wanted to know what happened next in my life and in my career. Also, by then, I enjoyed the process of writing…when the words flowed, that is.

Alicia: What about the newest memoir, Rare Stamps? What inspired you to write that?

Terence: It was the idea of my friend Richard LaPlante. He kept talking about a book for young actors and other artists, something I would write from my own experience, which has included stints at the very top as well as the bottom of my profession, in other words from an Academy nomination to unemployment. He thought it would be inspirational, as well as reassuring, and it would give me an opportunity to talk about the various physical and mental disciplines that have sustained and developed me throughout the years. I took him up on the idea and went to work scribbling.

Alicia: Well, you certainly have had a long career, being born before the first WW II bomb hit London and you’re still working. I liked what you said at a press junket during the release of the film Valkyrie: “Hitler missed a big chance to prevent some of the dodgier movies I have made . . .” I know in addition to the big commercial films like  Get Smart and  The Adjustment Bureau, you like to do smaller, art films.

Terence: Yes, I just finished Song For Marion, a small film in which I play an elderly pensioner who finds redemption through his voice and song. I was also genuinely moved by the screenplay.

Alicia: How does an author’s creation of a character differ from an actor’s creation of a character? (Note: this question was suggested by our own Ruth Harris.)

Terence: I have only written one novel, The Night, so my knowledge here is somewhat limited, but when I was writing it, my characters and scenes had to come right out of the ether. Everything was created from smoke, so to speak. Yes, my life experience and memories of people I have known helped in the shaping of characters and places, but it required me to conjure and project. In a screenplay, it’s all there. The screenwriter has already done the conjuring, the work. You may add a touch to his or her creation, but the basic form is already in front of you. Your job is to embody, not to pull the rabbit from the hat.  

Alicia: Hmm. Pulling a rabbit from a hat. That’s a great metaphor for the act of writing fiction. Has writing had any influence on your acting?

Terence: There is probably a sub-conscious connection. You know, like being in the moment and going into the depths of your psyche to recall certain feeling and emotions, but generally, I don’t feel one as linked to the other. They, for me, are separate disciplines.

Alicia: Getting back to the memoir, I noticed that aside from giving the reader a behind the scenes look, you talk about the process of art and career itself.

Terence: Richard pushed me to include ways in which I dealt with my own insecurities, including unemployment. And to write about my experiences in India, studying with various masters, and a lot of very personal stuff that molded me, not only as an actor, but also as a man.

Alicia: I know you do yoga and have been into healthy eating for many years. Now you’re also involved in a publishing venture, right? Escargot Books. What’s the story on that?

Terence: Escargot Books was the brainchild of my friend Richard LaPlante, thriller writer and entrepreneur. He knew I had the rights to my earlier books. And he brought in another friend, author Peter Mayle, who had some older out-of-print works. It began as a small group of friends, all of a certain age and relatively successful in our various fields. But it is growing into an independent publishing company, with Richard as the editorial director, offering new books as well.

Alicia: Like the new memoir coming from another friend, Rolling Stones founder Andrew Loog Oldham. Before we stop, I just have to ask you—what was your favorite role?

Terence: From my early career, I would say the serial killer in The Collector. From the modern roles, it would be Wilson in The Limey, which took me back to my East End roots.


How about you, scriveners? Were you surprised to find out Mr. Stamp is an author and publisher? Alicia says she’ll stop by and answer our questions. Don't forget to put "CD" in your comments to be eligible to win the CD of Rare Stamps.

My question is: Is Escargot Books planning to reissue Mr. Stamp’s novel, The Night?

Don't forget the Central Coast Writers Conference is coming up next month. I'll be teaching a course based on my book with Catherine Ryan Hyde: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. The paper version of the book should be making its debut at the Conference.  

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,