Friday, May 25, 2012


More and more often lately, I read that characters make a book, that readers want interesting characters they can empathize or even fall in love with. To say nothing of the evil ones who fascinate us. (Hannibsl Lechter, anyone?) Personally, I’ve always been a “plot” person, so that’s something I’ve had to learn.

Some years ago I wrote an article (actually it’s on my Blog under Writing Tips) about the difference between writers who are “word” people and those who are “story” people and how to learn to do both to help you get published. That still applies, but now--in addition to adding description--I’d add words that explore character. I’ve found that when I’ve finished a first draft of my novel, I must go back and “flesh out” my characters. It seems I learn about them as I write the book, as opposed to writers who don’t put a word on paper until they do a complete character biography including not just appearance, but schools, philosophy, phobias, family and friends.

Remember the movie “Ruthless People” starring Bette Midler and Danny Devito? It illustrates the fact that we love “larger than life” characters. Midler and DeVito weren’t, technically, the protagonists of the story. That designation belonged to the young couple who had been wronged by the DeVito character and--although too timid even to kill bugs--decided to get even by kidnapping his wife (Midler) and demanding ransom. But Devito won’t pay the ransom, because he has a girlfriend on the side and wants his wife dead anyway. And the girlfriend has a boyfriend who... Heck, rent the film from Netflix and enjoy one of the funniest and cleverest comedies ever made.

My point is that we tend to remember the quirky characters. I can’t even remember the names of the young couple.

As for books, the same thought occurred to me while reading DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James. As I’m sure you know, James is a famous British author of mysteries and this one is placed in England seven years after the time of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. However, to my surprise, James’s book received an average of only 3-1/2 stars on Amazon, whereas COLD APRIL, my historical novel, received 4-1/2, including three five-star reviews. How could that be?

My theory is that, while James did a masterful job of capturing Austen’s style, it wasn’t what present-day mystery readers are looking for. Jane Austen, although not a member of high society, was upper middle-class (her brothers attended Oxford and their home was filled with books) and so were all her characters. Not a quirky one in the bunch, and all behave in a civilized manner with perfect grammar. Today’s readers expect today’s style. Austen--and James--had no life-threatening situation confronting them, as I had with the Titanic sinking in my novel.

In fact, I remember a quote from a well-known writer at a conference. He said (approximately) “Movies have been around for 100 years, television for fifty. Sure you can write like Charles Dickens if you want to and have pages of description before any action begins. But remember, the audience for that kind of book-- is DEAD!”

I hope you will give me your opinions, but be aware I’ll be on vacation for the next three weeks and won’t post anything more until I return. But I hope to read your comments “en route.”

Jane Austen
P.D. James
“Ruthless People”

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Last week’s news wasn’t very good for authors. First, an article saying that if a writer isn’t producing more than one book a year, she’s “slacking.” Used to be that those prolific authors had to write under multiple pen-names because the publishers didn’t want them to release too many books each year. Just one more thing that the new world of publishing has changed for us.

Alas, I’m not a prolific writer. One a year was just right for me. And if the book didn’t sell, I rewrote it--sometimes several times--until it did. So perhaps my output is more like one every three years. Ouch.

Then along comes another problem, beautifully discussed on Anne R. Allen’s blog about taking your time, not being in too much of a hurry to self-publish. “Kindle no book before its time,” she said (Don’t you love that?) because debut novels are seldom any good, and many rewrites may be necessary before that magic moment arrives. Allen quoted Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who said, “The biggest challenge to authors today is self-restraint. Many authors, intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish, will often release their book before it’s ready.”

Okay, so now we have to slow down instead of speed up.

As if that weren’t enough to depress me, along came the brouhaha over Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s post about royalties from big publishers. Exactly a year ago, she wrote about the incorrect royalties that were hurting writers and brought it to the attention of writers’ organizations. One year later, had anything been done about it? No. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Aren’t they supposed to lobby for the authors who pay to be members? Why pay $95 a year or more, to a writer’s organization if they don’t pressure the publishers to correct the royalty problems?

Finally a letter from AAR, the literary agents’ association, that claims to work for authors (for 15% of their income) but has, instead, asked the Department of Justice not to investigate publishers who colluded to force a book-pricing system that diminishes the income of writers. Who’s protecting whom?

Will things get better next week? One can but hope. Meanwhile, please comment on what you think writers need to do.

Anne R. Allen,
Mark Coker

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I stole the title of this post (titles can’t be copyrighted) from the production of six funny one-act plays, one of which I’m directing, to be performed here June 1-3. It seemed apropriate because I‘m going to touch on a few topics instead of only one.

Practice Writing

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article here about wasted writing versus practice writing. I quoted a few well-known writers who had something to say on the subject, for instance:

1. Writing is never wasted. If you can’t use it now, save it

2. Writers, like musicians and athletes, need practice.

3. You have to write a million words before you’re any good

4. You can always fix a draft; you can’t fix a blank page.

Then last week I ran across another wonderful quote on the subject. It’s from Lawrence Block and is great advice. “One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself I’m going to do my five pages no matter what, and I can always tear them up the following morning if I want to. I’ve lost nothing. Writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”


I’m a follower of J.A. (Joe) Konrath’s blog and this week he had a “doozy.” A woman writer, who sold twenty-five romantic suspense novels to Harlequin Intrigue, told how she can’t afford to get her son’s teeth straightened because Harlequin pays her so little. Konrath added the numbers and they were shocking. After trying for twenty years to get published by Harlequin, now I’m glad I’m not. Read Konrath’s blog yourself.

Book Covers

I just read a blog by a reader who refuses to buy a book if the cover doesn’t depict what it’s about. My DH is not only my computer guru but is a wonderful artist who provides covers for my books when necessary. Since I got my rights back to the two books Kensington published in 1998 and 2000, I needed new covers for the e-books and he came up with some good ones, IMHO. I’m especially pleased with ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, which was an original oil painting, many prints of which he sold when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. STRANGER IN PARADISE, set in Hawaii, has an entirely different look, but it qualifies too.

I’d love to know what you think of the covers, and also how you choose covers for your Indie e-books.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


The more I read--and I read a lot--the more discouraged I get about the use of English by today’s writers. I posted a similar article on this blog some time ago, but it bears repeating because those same “boo-boos” keep`showing up.

With all the self-publishing going on these days--and the authors not having their books professionally edited--I suppose it was bound to happen, but, please, fellow authors, try not to make the following mistakes.

1. could’ve - could of. There is no legitimate reason to use “could of.“ I’ve seen it even in traditionally published books, and it apparently stems from the author--to say nothing of the editor--missing an English class. He/she means “could’ve” a contraction of the two words “could” and “have.“ Example: “I could’ve been a contender.“ or “I could have danced all night.”

2. doctors - apple’s. Plural words don’t get apostrophes. Example: “The apples were ripe and the doctors ate them.“ If you put an apostrophe before the “s” you have turned the word into a possessive. Example: “The doctor’s time was limited.”

3. Try to - try and. Technically there is no “try and” (or almost none.) If your character is going to try to do something, use “try to,” not “try and.“ Example: “I will try to help you.“ After all, if you say “try and” you imply you’ll succeed. But what if you don’t succeed? You’ve told a lie.

4. I couldn’t care less - I could care less. Once again, the second construction should never be used. After all, if you could care less, then you must care somewhat. But you’re trying to say that you care so little that it would be impossible for you to care any less than you do.

5. lose - loose. Stop putting the extra “o” in “lose.” Look them up in the dictionary. To lose something is to no longer have it. Example: “I don’t want to lose the lovely watch you gave me.“ Something which is loose is of an unstable consistency. Example: “The watch slipped off my wrist, because the band was too loose.”

6. incidents - incidentses. The latter is not a word. One event is an “incident.“ Two or more events are “Incidents” (add an “s” to make a plural). There is no such word as “incidentses.”

7. roll - role. As a noun, a roll can be a small pastry you eat. As a verb, it means moving or turning over or around. Example. “He let the car roll down the incline into the ditch.“ Role is a noun which describes a part you might play in a film or in life. Example: “The role required him to exit the stage.“ or “I’m tired of playing the role of your wicked stepmother.”

8. I hope I don’t have to tell you that--unless you’re writing dialogue in the voice of an illiterate character--you should never write, “Me and my brother,” “Her and I,” “we was,” or “She don’t.“ But I often see “myself” instead of “me. “ Don’t try to get fancy. Wrong: “She gave the book to John and myself.“ Right: “She gave the book to John and me.“ If John were gone, you’d say, “She gave the book to me.“ Wouldn’t you?

9. breath - breathe. Breath is a noun. Example: “He took my breath away.“ Breathe is a verb. Example: “It’s so hot, I can hardly breathe.”

Well, I see my Top Ten list dwindled into only nine, but these are the ones that make me cringe. There are lots more I could have included. What about you? Are there any blinders and boo-boos that make you want to scream? Share them, please. Let’s all try to improve our writing and help our readers enjoy our work.