Tuesday, September 30, 2014


To my blog post readers, the following is my talk today at a meeting of the Writers’ Circle, a club I started seven years ago. This may be too elementary for most of you, but, as you’ll see, some writers don’t know the difference between memoirs and stories, and perhaps you’ll find something of value in this.

Many of you may have entered the News & Views Short Story contest. Some may have entered it last year too. The winner and finalists were published in News & Views throughout the year. Like some of you, I was a finalist, but, perhaps unlike you, I noticed - on reading the stories when they were published - that most were not stories, but memoirs.

Why do I say that? Because they sounded like someone telling me about an event in their lives, an event that really happened, instead of a made-up story.

Apparently the News & Views judges felt the same way I did, that the entries were not stories, but memoirs. How do I know that? Because this year they required the writer to include three specific elements in the story they entered: an annoying boss, a bikini and a fake illness. Since it was unlikely a writer really experienced an event containing all three elements, it seems to me they were trying to encourage writers to write “made up” stories, not memoirs, real things that happened to them.

It’s obviously too late for my advice today to show up in that contest entry. However, Writers Circle holds a contest every year too and when we say we want “Fiction,” we mean Fiction, which Websters dictionary defines as ”something invented by the imagination, an invented story.”

Therefore, if you turn in something with the pronoun “I," the judges have been instructed to consider that “non-fiction” meaning something not invented, but true, and they will put it with “non-Fiction.”

Now, it’s possible to write fiction in the first person, that is, using the pronoun “I.” I’ve written novels that way myself. So how does a reader know if the material is a memoir, or a short story written in first person? Well, one obvious clue will be the subject matter. If I write as if I’m a Private Eye, or a mass murderer or the president of a large country, you can be sure it’s fiction. But if there’s any doubt, be aware the judges may decide it’s a memoir.

So let’s define Short story versus Memoir. What’s needed to be sure it’s a story?

1. Pronoun. Stories generally describe characters as “he” or “she”, not “I”.

2. The plot. What happens in a story is generally very different from ordinary life. Not always, but usually. And those are the stories people “usually” prefer to read. Think of the popularity of what’s called “genre” fiction:

Romance, where the girl meets the Billionaire who falls in love with her and they marry and live happily ever after.

Mystery. Someone is killed and a smart sleuth figures out “whodunit.” Justice is served.

Thriller. A bad person wants to take over the world, but someone else prevents it and saves humanity.

Science Fiction. A strange new world is invented where strange things happen. Even if there’s romance or mystery, too, the strange world makes it fiction, not memoir.

If you read a book or attend a class, or a writing workshop which teaches how to write a short story, you will probably be taught what I was a long time ago. Namely,

(1) a character has a problem or goal or desire.

(2) the character is unable to reach this goal because of obstacles.

(3) the character tries - maybe many times - to succeed and finally he either reaches his goal and has a “happy ending” or he fails and has an “unhappy” ending.

What are the possible obstacles to achieving his goal?

(A) Man against man. Hero against a bad guy.

(B) Man against nature. He’s on a mountain and a blizzard comes up.

(C) Man against himself. He has a character flaw he must correct before he can win the job or the girl.

Read some short stories in anthologies until it becomes clear what a short story is. Deadline for entries is our February WC meeting. Good luck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Amazon may be “The Everything Store,” and perhaps that’s what CEO Jeff Bezos is most interested in. However, writers are the beneficiaries of his interest in books. He started just selling books from publishers, but he made them cheaper than anywhere else, easy to order with “one Click” and gave fast shipping. And that’s not even counting inventing the Kindle and its later versions which has turned readers onto digital instead of paper books. Not that paper is dead or ever will be, but most writers report their biggest sales come from e-books. Some are making six figures and many have quit their day jobs because of that income.

Thanks to Amazon, self-publishing has taken off in a big way too. True, there was lots of it going on before they came along, but it was by vanity presses and a few scams where authors paid huge sums to get their books printed. Amazon’s prices are low and the books are high quality. If you price your self-published e-book between $2.99 and $9.99, you get to keep 70 percent of the price and payment is made monthly, not every six months like the BPH.

In addition, Amazon publishes books, and so many writers query them with manuscripts, it’s sometimes hard to get the work looked at, much less accepted for publication. Their lines include Montlake Romance for romance novels, Thomas & Mercer for mystery and 47-North for science fiction. There are also imprints for translated works, literary fiction and classics, among others.

Wait. That’s not all. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Amazon hosts Kindle Worlds where best-selling authors create “worlds” to which writers can submit novellas, and if accepted, receive 35 percent of the price of every copy sold.

And there’s more. Within the next 45 days, Amazon will begin another program for writers in which full-length novels can be entered for possible publication with advances and a guaranteed minimum income. I won’t name all the other perks, but it’s an awesome list. I suspect the goal for this program is to lure authors contracted by the BPH (especially Hachette) because those writers can only dream of getting such a good deal from them. It’s no secret that the big publishers treat their writers very badly, with terrible contract clauses, to say nothing of keeping 82 percent of the money so they can afford their New York offices and fancy lunches.

But even if that is Amazon’s goal, I’ll be happy to sign on and try to get one of those deals.  I’ve already been treated well by Amazon, with the books they self-publish for me, as well as having my romance novel SOUTHERN STAR in their Montlake imprint and my novella, THE WEDDING GUEST, in a Kindle World. I’m not earning six figures, but I’m a very happy camper.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Last week The Passive Voice carried an article by Maria Popov about keeping a diary or journal. Writing in her weekly blog, Brain Pickings, Ms. Popov lists names of famous people who kept diaries and what they said in them.

She quotes W. H. Auden, Madeleine L’Engle, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Thoreau, Emerson, and Virginia Woolf. Not all diarists were writers. Others were artists or scientists. The author reports they used their diaries as tools for discipline, teaching the art of solitude and a way to inhabit their inner selves. They wrote about what interested them, or nature, or life and death. Diarists have left behind glimpses of their inner lives and creative struggles.

Probably the most famous diarist was 13-year-old Anne Frank, who didn’t think anyone would care what she had to say. Contrast that with Oscar Wilde, who said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Keeping a diary seems old fashioned today, and those written by long-dead authors were written by hand and sometimes filled several volumes. It’s strange to think of doing that now, although I’ve read that mystery writer Sue Grafton writes in her journal every day, the one she keeps in her computer.

I kept a diary for a short time when I was a teenager, and then again when my early marriage fell apart, but that was many years ago. I suppose you could say that my novels are my diaries now because details of my travels or places I’ve lived have found their way into my books. Of course, we’re told to “write what you know,” so in a way I’m just following instructions. It also explains, perhaps, why I like to write in first person. I feel the writing seems more authentic and it goes more smoothly.

My two cozy mysteries, which have yet to be published, are written in first person, but then aren’t most mysteries? Think of Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald.

Yet only one of my romance novels is done that way. It’s THE ITALIAN JOB, which I’ll be republishing within the next month. I did it because I wanted to use a phrase which didn’t sound right any other way. What is the phrase? At the end of a particular scene my character thinks, “I learned a long time ago that I have plenty of faults, so I lean toward forgiving others for theirs.”

How about you? Have you ever kept a diary or journal? Do you now? What kinds of things do you put in it? If I get some good ideas, I may take it up again.

The Passive Voice
Brain Pickings
Sue Grafton

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Pardon me if I share some good news this week. My romantic suspense novel, FINDING AMY, has been a slow starter, but I’m in hopes sales will pick up. As a matter of fact, I’m not the only author who found this past summer to be less than stellar.

Joe Konrath, whose blog I follow, has experienced the same thing and, last week, his blog post was about things a writer can do to try to move the needle up the chart. Such as:

1. Write more books. You can inform your newsletter, Facebook or Twitter friends about your latest effort, which is probably the best way to generate more interest in your work.

2. Advertise. I can’t give you any tips on where, but the usual suspects are BookBub, E-bookSoda, E-BookBooster and FussyLibrarian. Some are more expensive than others, so check them out first.

3. Have a sale or use Amazon’s Countdown to lower your book price temporarily to generate some interest.

4. Try a new genre. This is a lot like Write Another Book, but, in case you were thinking about expanding your niche anyway, this might be a good time to try that. It’s even possible you’d have more readers in, for example, New Adult, than your present genre.

5. Use the Pre-order option. Recently Amazon announced it allows KDP authors to use Pre-Order for self-published books, so give it a try. Hachette can’t, but you can.

6. Send a copy of your book to a new reviewer. That’s what I did and the MENSA BULLETIN posted a blurb and cover picture. All Mensa members are allowed to submit books for their monthly column, and fellow members are probably more likely to want to sample your work than the average Joe or Jane.

The above is a tip as well as my “good news” report. Remember too, that every industry has its up and down moments and this slowdown might blow over sooner than you think. Just do what you can and be grateful your career path lets you do what you love every day. As Joe says, “The world doesn’t owe you a living.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

WHY SOME AUTHORS FAIL (And How to Avoid Being One of Them)

I’m not a best-selling author. Yet. But the following list of attitudes and behaviors made me think about self-defeating actions that might slow me down in my quest for writing success. Perhaps you’re guilty of one of these too.

1. Not knowing enough about the industry. Why would you launch into a new business without knowing about it? It’s easy to publish these days. However, industry news won’t come to you without a little effort. Two good places to help you keep up are Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly. Some writers’ blogs are good resources too. I especially like Anne R. Allen’s blog (once a week on Sunday) and The Passive Voice (every day).

2. Not Accepting Feedback. If you have a critique group, or Beta readers, or even if you just ask someone to read something you wrote, pay attention to what they say. Not everything others say will be right or helpful, but keep an open mind and at least consider it. And above all, be polite and thank them. They’ll probably never know if you took their advice, but it doesn’t hurt to be gracious.

3. Not using professionals. Most advice these days centers on at least two professionals who can be very useful in making your book better: A cover designer, and an Editor. For proofreading to catch typos or grammar mistakes, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Your critique partners can help or you can swap chores.

4. Playing the blame game. If your book sales slow down, or no one’s reading your blog, it’s not necessarily because readers are dense. Try to learn how to improve, whether it’s writing better blog posts, adding to your mailing list, updating your website, or providing a new cover or blurb for your book.

5. Believing the Unbelievable. There are no guarantees. You may never get on the New York Times best seller list or be a guest on Oprah, but it’s certainly possible for you to earn enough from your writing to pay a few bills (maybe a lot of bills!) Or even be able to quit your day job. Recently over 500 self-published authors revealed they were doing just that.

6. Giving up too soon. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to make millions in the first 60 days after your book comes out. It’s not a product, like food, that will spoil. E-books are forever and you have time to let readers find you.

Keep writing and good luck.