Friday, March 28, 2014

"Ten Best Tips I Stole From Other Authors"

A dozen years ago author, Merline Lovelace, gave a presentation to my RWA chapter entitled "Ten Best Tips I Stole From Other Authors". She thanked each contributing author for the tips given in her presentation and written on  handouts she gave to our members. Merline was a gem. I referrred to those tips many times, finding them  to be helpful to me as a beginning writer. Especially did I value the section of her presentation which was about the craft of writing. I replicate here the five tips mentioned on craft for anyone who may be starting out, or perhaps for those authors who may be self-editing their work with an eye on improvement.

#1. Organize Your Research (thanks Margaret Malloy)
       Build a chronology of significant events during time period of your book
        Insert key dates of characters (eg birth, 1st meeting, marraige etc.)
       List key reference material and build your own reference book

#2. Pictures of Hero/Heroine (thanks Maggie Price)
      clip pictures of characters from catalogs or magazines
       Post over your computer for visualizing &  consistency as you work
       send in with your art cover plans/suggestions

#3. Start Where the Action Is (thanks Annie Steinmetz)
      Open your book in the middle of the action
       Write chapters 1,2, & 3. Then throw out chapter 1

#4. Balance the Romance and Action line (thanks Leslie Wainger)
      Writing two stories - the drama and relationship
       Think big, fat braid
       Consider using a plotting chart

#5. Blow something up in chapter 8 (thanks Jayne Ann Krentz)
      Avoid sagging middles. Keep the action moving.
       This is where plotting helps (ie plot bullets for action per chapter}

This blog post is brief by necessity. Declining health this past month leaves me no choice to do otherwise. Perhaps it will spark the memory of their "beginnings" for  some of my AE coleagues or  even give a little aid to others. I hope so.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Interview with Author/Editor Alice Duncan by Jacqueline Seewald

Alice Duncan is a much published, award-winning author who also happens to edit  mystery novels for Five Star/Gale/Cengage. I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with Alice who edited five of my Five Star/Gale novels.

Alice has a new mystery published by Five Star/Gale this month entitled SPIRITS REVIVED. You can check it out in the book catalog on the Five Star site.
For my review of this novel, go to: or

Alice, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog.   Congratulations on the excellent reviews of SPIRITS REVIVED.

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate you inviting me.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine of SPIRITS REVIVED?

Daisy Gumm Majesty, heroine of SPIRITS REVIVED, is my very favorite character of those who’ve shown up in my brain during the past twenty or so years I’ve been writing. She began her career as a phony spiritualist when her Aunt Vi was given an old Ouija board in Daisy’s tenth year. She had such success with her family that she branched out, and by the time the first book in the series, STRONG SPIRITS, was published she was the primary support of her family.

Her husband, Billy Majesty, died a little more than a year before SPIRITS REVIVED starts, and Daisy, who’s been through an ordeal of grief and guilt, is finally coming to terms with his loss. Daisy (I think) is actually me, only without the crippling neuroses and with a supportive family. In SPIRITS REVIVED, for the first time ever, Daisy actually conjures a real, live (or dead) ghost in one of her séances. This both shocks and scares her. Then she has to figure out who killed the poor boy without letting on to anyone how she discovered he’d been murdered and hadn’t committed suicide.

Question:   I know that this novel is part of a mystery series because I’ve read and very much enjoyed the previous novels. Could you tell readers about the series? How did it originate?  What inspired the series?

Let me see . . . For one thing, I was born and grew up in the Pasadena/Altadena area, and have always loved it. Even now, when it’s overcrowded and smoggy, Pasadena and Altadena are lovely. I’ve used a lot of my own life in the Daisy books. In fact, I’ve used many, many names and locations. For instance, Daisy and her family live in a house I used to own (only my house was on Michigan Avenue and not Marengo). And I grew up in Mrs. Bissel’s house! It’s still there, on the corner of Altadena Drive (used to be Foothill Boulevard) and Maiden Lane. I also took my kids to Dr. Benjamin when they were little, and took my very first dachshund to the Pasanita Obedience Club in Brookside Park, where he did very well. Miyaki’s Restaurant, where Daisy and her family dine in SPIRITS REVIVED, was a real Japanese Restaurant, only it was called Miyako’s. Mijare’s Mexican Restaurant, which opened in 1920, is still going strong and still serving fabulous Mexican food. I used my late son-in-law’s name in the book, too. Keiji and my daughter Anni were married for years before his untimely demise.

As for the series itself, from the start I wanted it to be an historical cozy mystery series. My publisher at the time (Kensington) decided they wanted me to take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance (because Daisy’s already married) and then marketed them as romances, which they weren’t. Of course, by that time they weren’t mysteries, either. They tanked. The late, great Kate Duffy actually called me to apologize for mis-marketing them, but by that time it was too late, and I had to write more historical romances. I didn’t want to, but there you go. In fact, I was downright depressed when I wrote my first post-Daisy book, A PERFECT STRANGER. I hated writing that book and have only recently overcome my loathing of the book itself.

I was overjoyed when Five Star picked up the series under their women’s fiction line. Then that line closed. I managed to squeeze the sixth book, ANCIENT SPIRITS, in as a romantic suspense novel, but from now on they’re mysteries. Whew! Daisy’s had as rough a life as I’ve had.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels? I know there are quite a few and that many are now available as both audio and e-books.

Oh, my goodness. There are, literally, dozens of them. I’ve written historical romances under my name (Alice Duncan), Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson and Anne Robins. I also wrote a couple of westerns in the “Trailsman” series under the pseudonym Jon Sharpe, but the less said about them, the better. My very first book, ONE BRIGHT MORNING, came about because I used to get migraine headaches. They were terrible. I got to wondering what a young widow woman with a baby and a ghastly migraine would do if she lived in the 1880s in New Mexico Territory, and a gunshot stranger showed up at her door. My second book, TEXAS LONESOME, contains dachshunds. I attract dachshunds kind of like a magnet attracts steel shavings. I think it’s a curse. Daisy Majesty gave her husband a dachshund named Spike, and Mercy Allcutt (in another series) has an apricot toy poodle named Buttercup. I love dogs J Anyhow, I’ve had something over fifty books published under a whole bunch of names, and nobody’s ever heard of any of them. Well, that might be a bit of an understatement, but not by much.

Anyhow, all my out-of-print backlist, and some of my in-print books, and a short story, which is part of my Pecos Valley series (another cozy mystery series set in the twenties, only this one in New Mexico in 1923) are available on Kindle and Smashwords. You can read all about them here: . My Daisy books have recently undergone a facelift and are being published as e-books and trade paperbacks by ePW. You can read all about them here:

Question:   Did you always want to be a writer? What made you start writing?

Yes. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. From the time I could listen to stories, I knew I wanted to write them. Life got in the way (as it has a habit of doing), and I didn’t begin writing books until the nineteen-nineties. I tell you, life was *hard*. Sometimes I hear people say (generally disparagingly about people who say they want to write but don’t have time) that “writers write.” That may well be true, but writers also have to live, rear children, and earn livings.

Question:  As an editor for Five Star, how do you suggest writers contact your company?

Here’s the web site for Five Star, which will show you what kinds of books they like:

Question: What advice would you offer to those who have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

The publishing world today is fantastically different from what it was when I first published. Nowadays, authors have an abundance of ways to get their books published and don’t have to depend on five or six big name in New York City. Having said that, however, an aspiring author has to be careful his or her work is worth publishing. You need to LEARN YOUR CRAFT before you publish anything (or you’ll look like an idiot). I’ve seen a whole bunch of self-published garbage lately. I’ve also seen a lot of well-written, well-edited books being put out. But you really, really, REALLY need to get a handle on the language, which is the tool of your trade, before you tackle writing and publishing a book. Please.

Alice, thanks so much for being our guest today. I love your unique, original style of writing and clever sense of humor.

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate the opportunity.

Those of you who have comments, please know that they are very welcome. So feel free to join the conversation. Don’t be shy. Go ask Alice!

Monday, March 17, 2014

How do we contain the excitement of a new book?

Personally, I can't contain my excitement. It's like Christmas and giving birth all rolled together. Yes, it's painful and takes a long time, but when the book comes out it's a wonderful gift.

Last week I was given a copy of the new cover. I think it's beautiful. For those of you that read Feisty Family Values you know just how important the kitchen table is to the Morgan's story. All the best conversations happen there. It's that way in a lot of families, especially with my generation, my parents, grandparents and way back.

Sadly now days, meals are often eaten on the run, in the car on the way to a sports event or school, in front of the television or with everyone poking buttons on their tablets. (But I digress...)

Patchwork Family is the second book in the feisty family series and the story picks up a year after Feisty Family Values ends.
  • A year after Annabelle became guardian of two teens and a tween, she is feeling more than her age. (Grandkids can wear you out and she can’t send them home.)
    • Regina is comfortably housed with Sam, but has yet to say “yes” when he asks her to marry him. (Silly woman.)
    • Peggy, the oldest granddaughter is growing up way too fast and madly in love with a boy at school. (She has the whisker burns to prove it.)
    • Tilly is happily married to Joe and enjoying being on hand whenever someone in the family needs her, whether it’s to cook a gourmet meal or referee a case of sibling rivalry.
    • Tad’s on the basketball team and the assistant coach seems to like his ladies full bodied like our dear Annabelle.
    • And after a decade Tom returns and wants to see the kids. This sets off a chain reaction that might just destroy them all. 

    Now comes another fun part. In a couple of weeks the book will be out and I'll be able to hold it in my hands, smell it, and feel the breeze as I flip the pages. My eReader friends (I have a Kindle Fire) will be able to get it and read all about what happens next. Readings and signings will begin at bookstores, book clubs, women's clubs,  libraries, anywhere where people enjoy reading--I plan to be there. (To set something up just send me an email at

    Another big plus of the huge migration to eBooks, we authors will be able to have our books in print practically forever.  The digital world has simplified the publishing process (no more typesetting required) and no need for a huge warehouse of inventory.

    The first book in the series came out in 2010 in a beautiful hardback. It went out of print two years after it was published, however. I bought up all available stock and there are still books available for you to buy if you want one. The second book, Patchwork Family will be in eBook and paperback (print on demand), so it'll be just as lovely and a wee bit cheaper.

    All the sweat, lack of sleep, eye twitches and achy wrists from hammering the keyboard have come to fruition. Patchwork Family is coming the end of March. Stay tuned. (See, dreams really do come true.)

    • How do you feel when your book is complete? 
    • How do you feel when you see your book available for purchase? 
    • Which is more satisfying seeing your eBook for sale or holding a traditional book (paper or hardback) in your hand?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reader Reviews: Why They Matter by Jacqueline Seewald

As a reader you might think that your opinion of a book or short story you’ve read doesn’t matter, but you’d be wrong! Not only does your opinion matter to the author but it matters to other potential readers as well. Writers who can’t build a readership because they remain unknown are likely to become discouraged and stop writing. So if you do respect and/or enjoy a book or short story, voice your opinion. Give that writer some encouragement and publicity. Amazon is one place to do it and so are Goodreads and Library Thing. But there are many other sites as well.

For those authors who are published in print, major editorial reviews only matter as much as they do because the reviews offered in such publications as: The New York Times Book Review, Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus etc. are what acquisitions librarians consider when they place their orders. Librarians are often referred to as gatekeepers, but this is not quite true. For the most part, just a few publications control what books will be purchased worldwide. But these review pubs merely voice the opinion of single reviewers, and these reviewers don’t know more than the average person in regard to what should be available to readers. If a book gets a rave or starred review from these all important publications, then in essence that is what readers will have available in libraries and bookstores. 

Unfortunately, a great many fine, quality books will be ignored and get no reviews or publicity because they aren’t offered by the big publishers who heavily advertise. It appears that the major review publications give special preference to the publishers who advertise with them—not at all surprising. Readers should check out some of the internet review sites for buying recommendations. Also, why not request that your library order books from smaller, independent publishers that you think might be a good read.

The internet is now offering readers real alternatives. This is wonderfully democratic. A great many small independent publishers are making a variety of books available to readers. If you read a book you like, speak up and be a reader reviewer. Tell other readers why you would recommend a particular book. Write and be counted! Your opinion matters! But one caution: take this as a serious responsibility. Of late, it has been noted that some individuals bash books, sometimes books they haven’t even bothered to read. This is highly destructive, much in the way that hackers attack the internet.

What is your thinking on this topic? Your comments pro and con are welcome here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Six Steps for a Book Launch

In May, Five Star will publish For the Love of Parvati, the third book in the Anita Ray series, featuring  Indian American photographer Anita Ray, who lives in South India at her aunt’s tourist hotel. Anita first appeared in a short story published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, “A Murder Made in India,” in the October 2003 issue. Since then, eleven more Anita Ray stories have appeared in AHMM and Level Best Books anthologies, with another in the pipeline.

Now that the book is written, my job is to launch it on what I hope is a very successful path. Launching a book, as most writers now, is almost as much work as writing it, but I have a few established practices that help me get the word out and generate sales.

1. I compile a list of professional reviewers and review sites, invite them to review the ARC. (These do not duplicate those contacted by Five Star.) Some say yes, and some say no. I send the ARCs out about two to three months in advance, depending on the reviewer. I also ask colleagues, friends, and local reviewers to review. I also do giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing. Depending on the reviewer, I may include a letter from the publisher indicating the type of story, etc. This year I have 45 ARCs for the third Anita Ray, almost twice what I had for the second book.

2. I order updated bookmarks with the cover of the new book. I give these to everyone, and even put them into reply envelopes for bills, etc. I also make sure I have enough business cards. I put cards and bookmarks on every chair at a book event (if there is seating), and hand them out at events like book fairs. For reasons that elude me, I find it easy to hand these out to strangers at events when I normally wouldn’t even say hello to a stranger.

3. I begin setting up events--talks, panels, etc., anything that gets my name out there and gives me a chance to interact with other people. I admit that I don’t do as many of these as I used to, but I’ve found a variety of events is more useful to me than a high number of traditional events like library panels.

4. I use social media, so I'll be posting regularly on my own blog plus do a few guest blogs. I post on FB and I am learning to use Pinterest, especially since I have wonderful covers. I don’t use these sites to sell my book. Instead I talk about writing, what I love about India, and other interests. No one wants to get constant requests to “like” my page, show up at my “virtual” launch, and the rest of it. If I haven’t something interesting to say about writing and other topics, then it’s better for me not to write.

5. This one is harder, but I recommend it if you can pull it off. I recently sold another short story featuring Anita Ray to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. This will probably be published in the coming year, which will reinforce interest, I hope, in the novel For the Love of Parvati, coming out in May 2014, as well as the two previous books, Under the Eye of Kali (2010) and The Wrath of Shiva (2012).

6. I use Wattpad to introduce readers to my series characters by posting short short stories for free. I also have posted the opening scene from a longer work, with a link to the site where the reader can buy the whole book. Unless you’re a very well known writer, it takes time to build up a readership on this site, but it does build.

Like almost any other writer, I would rather be writing than promoting. I doubt I will ever get over the feeling of foolishness of talking about myself and my books. But once in a while, to my great delight, I strike up a conversation with someone who loves all sorts of mysteries, India, Indian food, and meeting strangers. That’s when I don’t care if the person buys my book or not because I'm enjoying the conversation so much, and that’s when he or she usually does buy it.

The first two books in the series are available as eBooks and in paper through Amazon. You can read an Anita Ray story at