Friday, November 27, 2015

Wriiting: Guest Interview at Suspense Sisters

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I sort of hate to see the Christmas shopping season start so early, but if you're taking a break from the Black Friday activity, I think you'll like this, especially if you're a writer.

Last week I talked about this book, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. Today, on the Suspense Sisters blog, I'm interviewing one of the editors of that book. And there's a chance to win a copy of it by leaving a comment. Check out the site. And come back here next week for more of my Random Jottings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The day means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We are blessed people. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. I'll be back Friday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I thought I'd give readers of this blog a sneak peek at the first chapter of my latest novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. It's available on Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Readers of my newsletter have already had a preview, but I wanted everyone to know about it before the prices go up. Right now, the Kindle version is $1.99, the print version $5.99.  The Kindle price goes up a dollar after Thanksgiving. (End of commercial message).

     Here's a preview:

It was a scene that made you want to sing “Silent Night”—or at least hum a few bars. A full moon shone on the blanket of snow covering the yard of the home. Drapes at each side of a picture window were drawn back to display the holiday decorations within. Although Christmas had come and gone five days earlier, the tree’s colored lights still burned, reflecting off the ornaments and tinsel scattered through the branches. Holiday lights on the eaves of the house at Redman Lane cast a multicolored glow over the scene. 
The only false note was the front door of the house, standing wide-open and spilling light onto a narrow path across the porch. 
Officer Adela Reyes of the Hilton Police Department slowed her cruiser to a stop at the curb. An open door at three in the morning indicated either trouble or a careless homeowner. She scanned the scene before lifting the microphone from its clip on her patrol car’s dashboard. Reyes pressed the button to transmit. “This is Officer Reyes. I’ve got an open front door and lights still on at 7710 Redman Lane. I’m going to check it out.”
“Roger. Are you requesting backup?”
“I don’t think so. It’s probably just someone who forgot to lock up. I’ll call in if I need help.”
She flipped on the car’s strobes to warn anyone coming up on her cruiser, although she doubted there’d be any traffic on this residential street at this time of night—or rather, of morning. With one hand on her holstered Glock, a five-cell flashlight in her other hand—both for illumination and a use as a club—she carefully approached the house, slogging through the undisturbed snow of the front yard. 
When she reached the front porch, Reyes knocked loudly on the frame of the open door. “Police. Anyone home?” She repeated this several times before she walked inside. She’d learned that houses give off vibes when they were occupied, and her gut told her this one was empty. Nevertheless, she went through each room, calling out, scanning every hiding place. When she had satisfied herself that the house was unoccupied, she keyed the microphone secured to the epaulet near the collar of her uniform. 
“This is Reyes again. That house with the open door seems unoccupied.” She paused to think about her course of action. “I’ll push the button to lock the door when I leave.”
After shutting the door, she walked back to her squad car, when she noticed a peculiar mound of snow off to one side of the path. The little hill was about three feet by six, roughly the same dimensions as a grave. There was nothing unusual about snow piling up in mounds and drifts, but this one looked different somehow. Reyes was curious about what might be under that mound. Was it a toy of some sort, left in the yard and covered with snow? She decided to give it a look. As she approached, the flashlight in her left hand, her right hovered near her holstered weapon.
Reyes edged over and kicked a bit of snow away from the mound with a booted foot. She aimed her flashlight downward to see what she’d exposed, then stepped back and gave an almost-silent gasp. Up from the hole she’d made in the snow stared a pair of eyes—eyes in the face of a dead woman. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Writing: Twelve Fatal Flaws

I rarely do book reviews on this site, but I recently had the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of a book I think should be on every writer's bookshelf (or e-reader). It's The 12 Fatal Flaws Of Fiction Writing. It's a multi-authored book, which means you get the collective wisdom of editors C. S. Lakin, Linda S. Clare, Christy Distler, Robin Patchen, and Rachel Starr Thomson. And they do a masterful job of weaving everything together into an understandable work that I found very helpful.

The book not only talks about each of the flaws, but also gives examples of them and how to correct or avoid them. The chapters include Nothin' Happenin', Too Much Backstory, and Pesky Adverbs and "Weasel Words," among others.

In the section on showing and telling, the editor talks about an author who is told they should reveal backstory through dialogue--but instead of jettisoning their precious words, they simply put them in quotation marks. Rather than simply saying, "Don't do this," the editors go on to provide examples of what not to do, then how to correct these flaws.

In several places, the Rule of Three is invoked. It not only makes good sense, it's easy to remember. One application is that, when a character speaks three lines of dialogue, the writer either switches to speech by another character or inserts an action beat. Good advice, and it works.

The section on adverbs and weasel words is one I bookmarked for that final review of a manuscript--and we writers know how important that can be.

For those who think novels spring, fully formed, from the keys of an author's computer, this book will be eye-opening. For authors who are sweating out a manuscript, whether their first or fiftieth, this book serves as an excellent review. I highly recommend it.

I'll be doing a follow-up interview with one of the editors of this book on the Suspense Sisters blog in a week, and there'll be an opportunity to comment and win a copy. Stay tuned.

My question for you: What fatal flaws have you encountered in either reading or writing? I'd like to hear.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Resolving Conflicting Stories

If you follow this blog or my posts on Facebook, you know that I enjoy golf (although the game Jerry and I play might shock purists--we don't keep score). As some kind of reward--I don't even recall what I bought--I get a complimentary subscription to Golf Digest. And the most recent issue contained an interview with writer James Patterson, one that raised an interesting question.

It seems that Patterson's books are published in both Great Britain and the US, and through circumstances that aren't important, the British book was released first. Patterson didn't like the ending, so he rewrote it for the US book. That's all well and good, but it left Patterson with a dilemma. This was a series, and the plot of the new one depended on the ending of the preceding one. How did Patterson handle this? He didn't say.

So here's your chance to be a writer. How would you resolve this conflict? I look forward to reading your solutions in the comments section.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing: Resources

If you ask me what it takes to be a writer, I guess it's sort of like the old joke about the New York tourist asking how to get to Carnegie Hall, and getting the answer, "Practice, practice, practice." In order to write you have to write...and write...and write some more. But there's more to it than that. Your work should be critiqued by someone who is knowledgeable. I can tell you from first-hand experience that this may hurt. You may even be tempted to argue. But think about it, and usually you'll find that--although you might believe it's tantamount to sacrilege to change a word of your masterpiece--the suggested changes will make the work better.

But there are other things that a writer can do. They can attend classes given by experienced writers. If you can't afford the travel and registration costs, look in your own back yard. Here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area there are several groups that meet regularly, and they often have speakers presenting worthwhile material. I imagine the same is true in most places.

Then there are the writing books. If you only buy one, start with James Scott Bell's book on plot and structure. Get a book on self-editing, like the one by Browne and King. And unless you're a genius at punctuation, you might want a book about that as well. I found Noah Lukeman's book, A Dash of Style, to be both informative and entertaining, believe it or not. Are those three all you need? Not by a long shot. My shelf of reference books is full and overflowing, and I've read every one of them. Most are highlighted and dogeared. Just like "There's always room for Jello," no matter how many books you've written, there's always room for improvement.

What is your absolute, very favorite resource for writing? I'd like to know.

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NOTE: My novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, is now available for Kindle. The print version will follow shortly. I've initially priced it at $1.99 for the ebook and $4.99 for the print, but that will go up by a dollar for each version after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans' Day 2015

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a holiday once celebrated as Armistice Day, the anniversary of the declaration of a cease-fire on the Western Front in World War I. Now it's a day set aside to honor those who have served or are currently serving our nation in the uniformed services--the living and the dead.

I'm proud to say that I am a veteran, having served three years in the US Air Force. I salute my fellow veterans, and give special thanks to those currently serving. Sometimes that sacrifice seems so little. Sometimes it's the ultimate sacrifice.

To mark the day, I plan to do three things:
1) Fly the American flag
2) Thank a serviceman for his or her service
3) Pray for our nation

I hope you'll do the same. God bless America.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Writing: Who Reads What...And Does It Matter?

The Barna Group has recently released the results of a survey about reading, and the findings are interesting both to writers and readers. You can read the entire survey here, but a few of the high points include these:

Roughly two-thirds of the general population read five books per year. It varies a great deal according to the age of those queried, and one quarter of the Generation X respondents didn't read any books at all. Where do you fit into this?

In general, readers prefer fiction. However, among practicing Christians, there was a definite preference for non-fiction. This is attributed to the reason many of these people gave for their reading—“to grow and develop spiritually.” I've encountered this mindset a good bit when talking with other Christians. It's laudable, but what does that say to those of us who write Christian fiction (or, to use the newer term, inspirational fiction)?

About one-third of adults buy their books via brick-and-mortar outlets, while ten percent primarily order their books online. It’s interesting that about fifteen percent of adults across all age ranges usually borrow books rather than buying them. If the book is bought by a library, the author gets a royalty. If it's borrowed from a friend, though, the author gets nothing. And I've been told that the average book is read by five people, so there's a good bit of borrowing and loaning going on.

The summary of the study that I read didn’t give a definitive answer to one big question—are e-books replacing print books in popularity?  As best I can tell, though,  it appears that the printed word is still favored by a significant number of respondents.

All that’s very interesting, but it leaves a big question unanswered for writers. Do the results of this survey affect what you write and how it's published? And readers, do your habits match what Barna found in the survey? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Best Seller"...So What?

I was notified last week by one of my colleagues that my novel, Miracle Drug, had made the best-seller list of the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). I couldn't believe it, but when I clicked the link she sent I found that--sure enough--there it was at number five for suspense, on the same list as titles from some of the colleagues I've admired for quite a while. I was a "bestselling author."

I wondered if I could really claim this title, so I checked around. Agent Chip McGregor (who's not my agent, but is highly respected among authors) has blogged about this: "So if your book hit the New York Times list, the LA Times list, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, CBA, ECPA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other bestseller lists, you can promote yourself as a 'bestselling' author." Then I asked my own agent if I could call myself a "bestselling author," and she sent back a one word response: "Yes."

But my question is whether this makes any difference...or even should. You see wines that have won a gold medal at this competition or that. Certain products are "best-selling." But has that ever made a difference to you or other consumers? Does it affect your decision to purchase? The people who write ad copy apparently think so.

What do you think? Have you ever bought something because it was "prize-winning" or "best-selling?" Let me know.

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NOTE: I'm pleased to announce the winners from my recent Miracle Drug 5-book giveaway and blog tour. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Congratulations to the winners: Rebecca Maney, Andrea Schultz, Heather Thomas, Zoe Schoppa, and Jennifer Tipton. My publicists from Litfuse Publicity Group will be in touch via email with details on how to claim your prize. You can also email your mailing address to info {at} litfusegroup {dot} com. Congrats!