Wednesday, October 16, 2013


My very first Blog post, in April of 2009, was about my contemporary romance novel FREE FALL, which had just been published by a small publisher. Here’s what I wrote:

“I was a single working gal and it was April in Illinois, (Not exactly Paris, but you can’t have everything.) A girlfriend and I decided to go to Iowa to visit a friend and her husband. Our hosts took us to a club for dinner and dancing and I wore my new dress. It was sleeveless, with a square neckline and bouffant skirt, and, as the silk fabric was imprinted with colorful flowers, I put an orange belt around my (then) tiny waist. My hostess owned a pair of orange silk pumps so I wore those too, although they were two sizes too small.

“We finished dinner and were drinking coffee, when a handsome man came to our table and asked our host for permission to ask me to dance. Even in those days, men didn’t ask permission to marry a girl, much less ask her to dance. Was this amazing, or what?

“So I danced with him, during which I discovered he was a skydiver. A forty-one day whirlwind courtship later we were married and about seven hundred days after that, we were divorced. My mother quoted the old proverb, “Marry in haste; repent at leisure,” regularly thereafter, bless her heart.

“FREE FALL, my latest contemporary romance novel, is based on what I learned about skydiving and parachutes in those two years. In my book, the skydiver is the hero, but in real life he left a lot to be desired. So, although some of the novel is true, most is made up, which is what novelists do. Not to brag too much about my own work, I’ll just say it has some romantic scenes--which is what you buy a romance for--some exciting scenes--this is an awesome sport--and a bit of humor. Without humor, I’d never have survived that matrimonial adventure.”

Now, four years later, I got my rights back. The publisher I used never got reviews on Amazon or did any other promotion, was sloppy about reporting sales to me, and charged way too much -$6.50 - for a 200-page e-book. I’m republishing it with the same title and text, but a new cover picture (after all, it’s a romance so it needed lovers), and the new e-book price is $2.99. In fact, it’s going free for five days, Nov. 7-11, on KDP Select.

And here’s the other good news. If you receive a free copy And post a review on Amazon, I will send you a free copy of one of my other novels. (Your choice of NORTH BY NORTHEAST, STRANGER IN PARADISE, THE ITALIAN JOB or ONCE MORE WITH FEELING.)

The bad news? I’m going to take a hiatus from my weekly blog to get a complete knee replacement. But I’ll keep in touch after I’m home again and will resume posting as soon as I can.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


When cleaning out some old files last week, I came across an article I’d saved from the October 2008 issue of The Writer Magazine by Hallie Ephron. It’s titled “The Deadly Dozen Mistakes in Mystery Writing” and it’s as relevant now as it was five years ago. Maybe more, since, as I wrote last week, self-publishing has mushroomed.

In fact, thanks to Amazon’s “Read inside,” I read a portion of a self-published romantic suspense novel that wouldn’t pass Number Twelve of the list below. Ms. Ephron pointed out that many years ago, a group of British mystery writers, including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, formed the Detective Club, and made a list of things to avoid in their writing. They even swore an oath with dire consequences for ignoring it.

“If you fail to keep our promise, may other writers anticipate your plots, may strangers sue you for libel, may your pages swarm with misprints, and may your sales continually diminish.”

So, here they are: make notes and beware.

* #1. Coincidence or an Act of God. Coincidences happen in real life, but the rules are more stringent in fiction. If your sleuth is in a bathroom stall and overhears two strangers plotting a murder, Rewrite!

* #2. Concealed Clues. Mystery readers want to solve the crime along with your detective, so if your sleuth knows a fact you haven’t revealed to the reader, Rewrite!

* #3. Plot-Herding Characters. Don’t let your characters do things normal people wouldn’t do just because your plot requires that. If your character, all alone and unarmed, goes into a scary place to confront the villain, you’d better give him a darned good reason, or else... Rewrite!

* #4. False starts. Readers need a mystery, or something exciting, to keep reading, so if you give them an immediate information dump, or a “flash forward” instead, Rewrite!

* #5. Narration in dialog form. Sure, there are things you want the reader to know, but if your dialogue is stuffed with “reader feeders,” Rewrite!

* #6. False finish. These days readers expect the sleuth to have a final confrontation with the enemy, or at least a credible, though unexpected, solution. If you’ve picked the least-suspected person to be the villain and it’s not believable, or the sleuth spends pages explaining to the gathering how he put all the clues together, or if good luck, or divine intervention or a sudden rescue party solves the problem... Right. Rewrite!

* #7. Too many viewpoints. There’s a reason so many whodunits are written in first person. Readers have no problem following one person and trying to solve the crime when, or before, he does. Your story may require two viewpoint characters, but if you write more than three, and especially if you switch viewpoints in the middle of a scene, Rewrite!

* #8. Sidekicks as Stereotypes. Please, no heart-of-gold ex-hookers, no eyeglass-wearing, clumsy computer nerds, no incompetent cops. Dream up an interesting original or else, Rewrite!

* #9. Zigzag Timeline. Don’t switch between time periods if it can be avoided. If you make the reader wonder if this is 2013 or 1990 too often, you’ll lose her. Rewrite!

* #10. Fa, la, la, gathering clues. Remember the theme of all fiction is conflict. If your sleuth is brilliant, fearless and cunning at all times, if he always stumbles upon the necessary clues, if witnesses always tell him the truth, let’s face it, it’s boring.  Rewrite!

* #11. Overstaying your welcome. If your sleuth reveals a suspect to be the murderer, and then decides he’s not and chooses someone else, or the killer escapes and the last hundred pages are just a “007" chase scene, Rewrite!

* #12. The small stuff. Mystery readers are relentless about wanting things to be accurate, so make sure you have no glaring errors. That applies to punctuation and grammar too. Do it right, or Rewrite!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


With self-published books multiplying exponentially (or so it seems), I’m finding more and more articles and blogs urging writers to do two important things before throwing their book-baby at Amazon.

* The first is to hire a professional editor. As Anne R. Allen expressed it so cleverly, “Kindle no book before its time.” Typos, bad grammar and misspelled words are a major problem driving people to condemn self-publishing and thereby hurting all of us. To say nothing of poor formatting and bad covers. Check out and be sure to read the comments below each one. They’re hilarious.

But I digress.

* The second bit of advice is “Write more books.” I agree that the more books you have available--assuming a reader likes your work--the more sales you will make. But that, too, has a caveat. Just as you need a good cover, blurb and editing, you need a good plot. As I told a writer whose book I was asked to critique, “Your goal should be to write a good story, not Book Number Four.” And the reason for a bad story is often lack of believable character motivation.

Example Number One. I’ve written about this one before. A truck driver with an alcoholic wife, a teen-aged son in trouble and a teen-aged daughter who’s pregnant, has an affair with another woman who gives birth to their child and then dies. So the husband brings the baby home to his wife to raise. Excuse me? This makes sense? Why?

Example Number Two. Four teenagers get into a car accident and one of the girls ends up paralyzed. Many years later, said victim decides to kill, not the teen driver, but...wait for it... her father. Why? Because he was “uncaring” after the accident. Yet he paid for her education, she held a good job, even fell in love and got married. Most people would say she’d had a pretty good life. How does this turn into the need to kill her father?

Example Number Three. A young woman and her brother travel from the U.S. to England to deliver art work to a wealthy Brit whom they’ve never met before. They’re invited to stay the night in his palatial mansion, and in the morning the old guy is found dead. Who’s guilty? One of the relatives who also live in the mansion and have reasons to hate the elderly relative? No. It’s the young American woman who kills him and tries to frame her own brother for the crime. Why? Because when she was sixteen he offered a surfboard to his friend if he promised to seduce her. That book was actually published by a Big-6 Publisher.

Take-away. Hire an experienced artist for the cover. Have your book edited for content as well as grammar. And, finally, write characters with motivations that answer the question, “Why?” without making the reader want to throw the book at the nearest wall. (Which is what happened to Number Three. Crash!)

Anne R. Allen