Friday, September 19, 2014

Mixing Things Up

Photo by Craighton Miller, via Flickr
In my last posting, I outlined the merits of using Third Person Omniscient narration if, like me, you’re a writer who enjoys working on large canvases. That said, if your novel features parallel plot lines and an ensemble cast of more-or-less equally important characters, there’s no law that says you can’t Mix Things Up, either by using multiple First Person narrators, or by utilising both First and Third person narrative technique in alternating sections of the same book.

Mixing Things Up is not a post-modern innovation.1 This trend was spear-headed by the celebrated Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) in his hugely-successful sensation novel The Woman in White. More recent maestros in the use of mixed narrative voices include two writers of Young Adult fiction: Jonathan Stroud and Elizabeth Wein.

Stroud’s exemplary work is a four-volume fantasy set in parallel gaslight version of Europe.2 Here, all social and political authority is vested in an elite cadre of wizards who derive their power from their ability to control a variety of “demons” summoned from a realm that the demons themselves refer to as “the Other Place”.

The first volume features two focal characters: a 5000-year-old djinn named Bartimaeus and a 14-year-old wizard’s apprentice named Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s side of the story is conveyed in Third Person. By wonderful contrast, Bartimaeus addresses us in First Person so that we get the benefit of a mature, often abrasive intelligence commenting on events as they unfold. The effect is nothing short of marvellous.

Elizabeth Wein’s internationally acclaimed single-volume Code Name Verity (2012) likewise features a combination of First and Third Person narration. Set during WWII, the novel’s two focal characters, Julie and Maddie, are young female aviators united by their love of flight. Julie’s portions of the narrative are conveyed in First Person; Maddie’s in Third Person. Using this mixed technique enables Wein to intensify the narrative tension to fever pitch.

The first chapter, presented from Julie’s First Person angle of vision, is absolutely riveting.3 Within the space of three paragraphs, we learn that she’s a prisoner of war, under interrogation by a German officer:
After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden, I know I am a coward….

Here’s the deal we made. I’m putting it down to keep it straight in my own mind.
“Let’s try this,” the Hauptsturmfuhrer said to me. “How could you be bribed?” And I said I wanted my clothes back.4

The other side of the story is conveyed via Third Person Maddie’s reminiscences of flying planes from air-field to air-field under the direction of the British High Command:
“Tyro to ground,” came the call from the training aircraft. “Position uncertain, overhead triangular body of water to east of corridor.” …

Maddie shook her head, swearing unprettily under her breath. “Oh my sainted aunt! … How in the name of mud is [a bomber-pilot] going to find Berlin if he can’t find Manchester?”
Utilising both angles of vision, Wein is able to construct a compelling back story that culminates with Maddie defying the odds to enter German air-space in a bid to rescue her friend.

Which brings us to the bottom line: when choosing your narrative angle of vision, don’t feel obliged to subscribe to the latest fad in “literary fiction”. Use what works for you!


1 On the contrary, Collins is adapting aspects of the epistolary novel, a form introduced into the English literary tradition by James Howell (1594-1666) in a work entitled “Familiar Letters” which is a subjective chronicle of romantic adventures.

2 The four novels which comprise The Bartimaeus Series are The Amulet of Samarkand (2003), The Golem’s Eye (2004), Ptolemy’s Gate (2005), and The Ring of Solomon (2010). I highly recommend them.

3 Fellow-members of the Wayside Writers’ Group were privileged to see this work in manuscript before it was contracted. We practically had to wrestle it out of one another’s hands.

4 I defy anyone to resist this opener. But don’t take my word for it. Read this novel for yourself.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

More About Pre-Orders

Last month, I talked about Amazon narrowing the gap between indie and traditionally published authors by making its pre-order option available to indie authors as well. Since then, I've tried the system, not only at Amazon, but at Kobo and the iBook store. As far as I can tell, there's no way to track sales at iBooks, so it'll be a matter of watching the sales reports when the book goes live in late October. Kobo doesn't track sales, but it does record rankings, so you can get an idea if you've been selling books by watching the rankings.

Amazon reports pre-orders as a separate section of their dashboard. And, contrary to what I thought was their system, it turns out they regard these pre-orders as regular sales, so the book's ranking will reflect that.

I put my newest book, Windswept Danger, up for pre-order on September 1st at all 3 channels, at the special pre-order price of 99 cents. Because I wanted to make sure everything was uploaded and working properly, I didn't do any advertising until my newsletter went out on September 4th. I always promise my subscribers exclusive content, so they got to see it first.

I was out of town (at the fantastic Writers' Police Academy) until the 8th, and when I got home, I started doing some promotion on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

Results? I noticed a nice spike in sales and rankings when my newsletter went out. In fact, Windswept Danger hit the top 100 in its sub-genres at Amazon almost immediately:

#10,332 Paid in Kindle Store US
#48 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Romance
#94 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery
#95 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense

#7,361 Paid in UK Kindle Store
#18 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Romance
#60 in Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Mystery > Action & Adventure

Results from the social media channels—not so much. Part of that is because of Facebook's policy of not feeding posts to all your contacts, so only a fraction saw the promotion.

But promoting without giving readers information about the book probably isn't going to sell copies. So, when my book went 'live' for pre-order, I made sure my website page for Windswept Danger was up and running.

I also promoted with a short blurb:

The Stepford Wives meet Hotel California
Can a feisty security agent who hates taking orders and a covert ops specialist who has some-thing to prove, put aside their own differences and their own agendas long enough to uncover the secrets of Windswept Heights?

Some said they want to read samples of the book before they buy, so I have the first chapter on my website.

Someone asked about getting reviews, saying they don't like to buy books until they've seen what others have to say. For indie authors, this can be a genuine struggle. I have ARC files in most formats which I'm happy to provide to people who want to review the book. For my last book, Dangerous Connections, I also created ARC 'proof' copies. These didn't even have the final cover—I thought I'd make them available to reviewers who want print version. I didn't end up with a lot of takers. Quite frankly, most of the advertising open to indie authors comes from newsletters like BookBub, The Fussy Librarian, eBookSoda, and others. What they look for is reader reviews on Amazon, not reviews from professional reviewers. I've stopped worrying about that. I write the book, I get it out there. (Of course there's a whole lot between those two steps.) There are also bloggers who review books. Most take digital copies, which makes it easy to get copies to them.

And, in case any readers here are interested in the book (or helping it rise in the rankings), you can pre-order it from Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes. You'll get it delivered to your e-reader on its release day. And you'll save $3.

I'll report again once the book is for sale 'live' to see how the entire process worked for me.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Writer’s Police Academy

For those of us writing mysteries in whichever sub-genre, learning the technical police procedures and lingo can be a daunting experience. I just spent five days as part of the volunteer staff at The Writer’s Police Academy. For the fifth year in a row, retired cop Lee Lofland rounded up a fantastic roster of writers, law enforcement, forensic specialists, psychologists, pathologists, explosive experts, firefighters, paramedics, agents from the ATF, FBI, Secret Service, and every other specialist related to crime you could think of. In addition, bestselling authors, Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Robin Burcell, and John Gilstrap either gave classes or talks.

Polly with Michael Connelly

One class I took, conducted by William “Billy” Queen, recounted his two years undercover with a biker gang. I found it particularly interesting because I have two undercover officers in my soon-to-be-released book, Backlash (which is now available for pre-order). When you hear truth is stranger than fiction, this man’s story definitely falls into that category. I can’t imagine the daily stress he was under, never knowing whether one of the bad guys—and they were really bad—would find out who he really was and kill him.

Robin Burcell’s class on forensic art and witness recall interested me in particular since I spent twenty-five years as a commercial artist. I sat there wondering if I could have been any good in that profession. Robin was already a police officer before she started doing the sketches, and she was good enough that many criminals were caught solely on the basis of her drawings.

I monitored a Meggitt session which, along with a few others, were classes allotted on a first come, first serve basis. Meggitt poses live action shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, using real firearms specially tooled for simulation training. It’s tense but fun. I didn’t get a chance to try it myself. Maybe next time. Other lottery courses were aviation and aerial surveillance, building searches, a six-session investigation of felony murder with a defense/prosecutor/judge conclusion, underwater recovery, and driving simulator, which I did try.

Another class I took was Broken Bones, Ballistics, & Backdrafts: Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong, given by John Gilstrap. Besides being a New York Times bestselling author, Gilstrap spent years as safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. He was entertaining as well as informed.

Dr. Kathryn Ramsland’s class on exotic crimes offered a touch of the macabre when she went through some bizarre serial killers and their murderous obsessions. This wouldn’t be a class for the faint of heart. Those of us writing harder crime fiction were riveted to her talk and slide screen presentation.

Police Chief Scott Silverii’s class covered special ops, K9, water/dive, SWAT, & more. Silverii, besides having experience in almost every facet of police work, has a PhD in anthropology.

One of the panels at WPA

The presenters of all the classes I had a chance to take—remember, I was on staff—were interesting and amusing. I missed some classes I wanted to take, but so many things were going on at once, I realized why some people come back year after year. There’s no way to take all the classes you want. I missed Dr. Denene Lofland’s class and former Secret Service agent Mike Roche’s classes. Anyone interested in more information, check out this year’s website. If you’re interested in coming next year, check back for the 2015 schedule.

Novelists Inc and Sisters in Crime are major supporters. SinC supplements part of the fee if you’re a member. It’s worth every penny.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Missed Connections

Photo courtesy of

Hello, duckies! So much for warm weather; fall has fallen and shows no sign of getting to its feet any time soon. Of course I don’t mind cooler weather, especially when there are so many lovely wooly things to knit. I’m just about to sew up the shoulders of a kimono-style jacket, so we’ll make this month’s missive a short one.

We’re all familiar with the use of and when stringing subjects together, yes? The polka-dot blouse and plaid pants were hideous. Indeed. This sort of pairing (eye-watering qualities aside) is fairly straightforward. A compound subject, a plural verb.

Now for the tricky part.

Suppose you like your prose a bit on the flowery side? You might decide to use in addition to, or together with, or any number of substitutes. Will you still use the plural verb?

Ah, I see several smiles and shaking heads. Good for you. Connective phrases such as along with or as well as do not make your subject plural. The manager in addition to his clerks was trampled by the overzealous shoppers. Of course, in this example, the right way still feels somewhat awkward. When this happens, consider going right back to good old and when structuring your sentence. The manager and his clerks were heard to scream like banshees as the stilettoed tide washed over them.

There you are. Short and sweet, just like my morning stack of pancakes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must make a decision about the sleeves of my jacket. Three-quarter length, or full? Ah, well. I suppose I’ll just knit until the pattern bores me. In the meantime, stay warm, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

Having recently purchased a bicycle, the Style Maven spends a great deal of time in the kitchen, compounding liniment. She was involved in a standoff two weeks ago; the details can be found on the Procraftinator page at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers’ Block is Not the Flu
From time to time, every writer contracts a case of Writers’ Block. But Writers’ Block is not a disease, something that you “catch” that will go away after you pamper yourself, take Vitamin C, and postpone activity until it’s over. Writer’s Block is really just another name for fear.

This doesn’t mean Writers’ Block isn’t real – of course it is. Writers’ Block is like a boulder damming up a flowing river. The boulder is real. The water can’t flow smoothly until something is done about that boulder. You have to move it or find a way around it.

In other words, you have to do some work. We want things to be easy. We think if our writing flows easily, it must be “right”, or if you are spiritually inclined, even god-directed. And if we are having trouble, if we have to write the same paragraph twelve times over, that somehow means the writing is not as good, that we’re doing something wrong, that maybe it’s not “meant to be.”

This is not necessarily true. Not everything good comes easily. Writing is work, and sometimes work is hard. Moving the boulders means you might sweat. Dredging a new channel for the river means it might take a long time and you’ll have to deal with aches and pains. 

So if you’ve got Writers’ Block, get to work. Write anyway, even if what you write is stupid or dull. Stupid and dull are simply boulders you’ve thrown into your own river. There’s always a way to deal with the boulders. It’s your job to find it.

Hint: Going back to bed and taking Vitamin C is not it. I know, because I’ve tried it. 

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, September 12, 2014

Enquiring Writers Want to Know…

During my years of editing, numerous questions and comments have come from writers who were new to the business. After reviewing some of the more common ones, I’ve made a list that might be useful to others here as they jump into the deep end of our literary pool.


I know exactly how my story is going to end before I type the first word. How do I make sure my ending won’t change? You don’t. Imposing an ending on your story that doesn’t fit its development will kill your book, just as will forcing your characters into cubby holes where they are nothing more than two-dimensional puppets. Instead, craft solid characters with individual likes, dislikes, and personalities; detailed backgrounds; and strong family histories; then put them into your setting and let them tell you their story. Of course, you can’t allow them to go too far afield, but you can give them enough latitude to bring reality to your words and an ending that fits who they are—not a written-in-stone finish that leaves the reader cold and unfulfilled. The last thing we want is for our reader to arrive at “The End” and wonder what happened…or didn’t happen.

Do I really have to do research? This is fiction. You need to do research only if you want your story to be convincing and the reader to be chomping at the bit for your next book. You need to have your factual ducks in a row and your story realistic, plausible, and accurate in even the little details. It should reflect real life, even if it’s fantasy. If it doesn’t, it won’t “connect” with your readers.

pjh via Morguefile

I have so many great stories bouncing around in my head that I know my books will be bestsellers. The big publishing houses are going to line up with contracts and advance checks in their hands. That gives you a big head start on the rest of us. It also labels you as incredibly optimistic. Writing is hard, lonely work. Competition is fierce. "Bouncing" stories in no way guarantee success; even J. K. Rowling and Stephen King had slow starts on their wildly successful writing careers. So come back to earth and begin reading every book in your genre that you can get your hands on. What works for you as a reader? What doesn’t work? How would you change the story to make it better, more exciting, more intense? How would you increase the reader’s connection with the story? Then perhaps you can think about writing a story of your own.

How long does it take to write a book? That’s a great question. While the answer is an unknown quantity, it can be stated without a doubt that the distracting factors (job, family, friends, social life, research required, commitment, perseverance, etc.) in your life contribute hugely to the final outcome in this arena. Best answer: it takes as long as it takes.

pschubert via Morguefile

These are but a few examples of questions and misconceptions from newbies to our field. Do you have other questions or expectations? If you are an experienced writer, can you share some advice that will help new ones as they try to find their way through the writing, publishing, and marketing mazes?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Write What You Know

Ever heard someone say, Write what you know? It sounds logical, but what does it really mean? To me, it means write what you are familiar with or what you can research. Even if you really know something, you want to weave your knowledge into the characters without the reader feeling like the author is doing the talking or spending too much time presenting minutiae. In my first fiction book, Angel Sometimes, I gave Angel the job of swimming as a mermaid. That was easy since I'd swam as a mermaid for four years.

My second fiction book, Dismembering the Past is different. Matti McAllister, a Private Investigator, is the protagonist. But I've never been a PI, so I had to do a lot of research and, as I wrote, I found myself getting inside her head. You may base characters on people you know or people you've seen around town or people you've met online. The trick is to choose something from that person and give that fear or favorite song or way of talking, or whatever you feel sets them apart from others, to a particular character. You can use little quirks or mannerism, but twist them or change them in a way that defines your character's character so that the person you base the character on doesn't see himself or herself and feel used.

What if you don't know something? For example, you have a character who's a coal miner and you know nothing about such a job. In that case, you're going to have to do a lot of researching, perhaps even some interviewing. You need to know that character inside and out in order to bring them to life on the page. Here's an idea. Sometimes, an author will have a drawing. The winner of the drawing becomes a character in the book. That's okay since the person knows she or he will be in the book. You could even do a drawing and the winner chooses whether they'd like to be a friend of the protagonist, a sidekick, or perhaps the antagonist. If you do this, you can post it on your Facebook page and announce it as a contest to see which follower gets to have input into your book or becomes a character in the book. In this way, you're pre-marketing the book and building interest in it. As the debut date for the book comes closer, you can amp up the expectation by doing a giveaway of a copy of the book when it comes out. Be sure to include a link to where followers can go to purchase your book and/or read about the book if they're not the winner. If you write what you know or what you learn, your characters are more likely to come to life on the page.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel SometimesDismembering the Past and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in 2015.


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