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11-28-2016 Writing—Not So Solitary

December is almost here. That means I will be talking about my latest book and signing books on the first Saturday in the Mystery Author Extravaganza at the Reston Public Library in Reston, VA. Taking part in this annual event is just one of the many benefits I receive as a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

wreathe-copyDecember also means it’s dues renewal time. Dues for the national organization is $40 and for the local chapter, $20. Paltry sums for an organization that seeks to even the playing field for female mystery writers. SinC was organized when women authors started noticing that male authors got the better contracts, were reviewed more often, and received more awards than female authors. In other words, the system was not fair. Men are welcome to join the group too as long as they support the goals of SinC.

The Mystery Author Extravaganza is also held in Maryland, this year on October 29 at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. On hand to sell books at both events was Tom Harig of Mystery Loves Company Continue reading “11-28-2016 Writing—Not So Solitary”

11-23-2016 Defending Self-Publishing

My husband, Dr. Roger McIntire, and I started our own publishing company 20-some years ago. He writes practical books for parents and his books have been published by mainstream publishers, but he got tired of their mediocre marketing efforts and decided he’d rather publish his books himself and retain control.

Fortunately, I’ve been in the writing and publishing business most of my professional life, so I had skills that complemented his in establishing our small press. I also joined the Independent Book Publishing Association, which provides invaluable expertise, information, education and marketing opportunities. Our books have received excellent reviews, won the approval of the Parents’ Choice Foundation, and been translated and published in eight other countries.

In the last five years, we developed the imprint, Amanita Books, to publish my fiction, which now numbers five novels. My novels also receive excellent reviews.

Still, when we discuss our books, we feel the stigma of being self-published, and no matter how good my reviews are or how much people say they enjoy my books, I cannot participate as an author or presenter at the Malice Domestic Conference. Continue reading “11-23-2016 Defending Self-Publishing”

11-14-2016

Citizens Police Academy strikes again. This time with a lecture on counterfeit money, fake IDs and facial analysis. This is one course that has me consistently on the edge of my seat. And it is free. The police probably have such a course in your area too.

Those of us who, being honest and law-abiding, are unschooled in such things, usually assume that if we want to disguise ourselves, we would maybe change our hair color or a man might assume a beard or mustache. Forget it. They ignore hair, facial or otherwise, and they ignore eye color. Makes sense because hair and eye color are easily changed, added to or subtracted.

Instead, they look at the shape of the ears, eyes, brows, mouth, chin, jaw, head. Nope. Can’t change those unless you’re an expert make-up artist and even then, in the cold light of day, it will look fake. And they look at alignment. How do the ears align with the eyes? Higher? Lower? Where is the nose on the face and is it a long nose? Short nose?

The point is that crooks might shuffle through a pack of stolen driver’s licenses or passports, looking for one that has a photo that superficially resembles them. But a person experienced in facial identification, can easily see the differences. Ears lower than the eyes in the photo but higher in the individual, for example. Can’t disguise that. Short nose in the photo and long nose on the person. There are lots of similar cues.

When I talk about shuffling through a pack of passports or credit cards or other identification, I’m not joking. You can probably go to any restaurant, tell them you think you left your credit card there, and they’ll show you a stack of credit cards left by mistake.

Actually, crooks steal all kinds of identification for reuse. But they also make their own. We were shown sheets of blank Social Security cards, ready to be filled in with a name and number. Social Security cards are “breeder documents,” which means they can be used to obtain legitimate identification cards.

Here’s another wrinkle. Just how good is a “legitimate” identification card? What do you really have to show to get one? How easy is it to fake those documents? I just read the Social Security application requirements for identity documents and there seems to be a lot of room for fakery, it seems to me. And after a quick google search, I think you could buy whatever ID you might want on the Net.

But the only reason for fake IDs is some kind of criminal activity.

Now we get to counterfeiting. Ever since that class I’ve been checking my twenty dollar bills, looking for the vertical stripe on the left (hold the bill up to the light to see it) and checking the gold number “20” on the bottom right. That gold number will turn to a greenish hue when you tilt the bill horizontally in front of you. There are more clues to tell you if a bill is legitimate, but that should suffice for now.

Tonight’s class is on citizen services and traffic law enforcement. The last class is next week and we’ll be visiting the crime lab. After that, graduation. Woohoo!

11-7-2016 Researching History

On Saturday I led a workshop on Historical Research for the Montgomery County, MD, Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. I covered all the avenues I pursued in researching my books Shadow of the Rock and In Rembrandt’s Shadow as well as my 90s Club cozyShadow-of-the-Rock_front-cover-only_kindle-size[1] mysteries.

In doing this kind of research, I give my thanks and appreciation to the many specialized and local museums around the country. Many of them have knowledgeable docents there to answer questions as well as a library and archive. Their bookstores often have books or booklets about some aspect of local history and if the booklet doesn’t have the specific information you need, you have another resource, the author who may not have used the information in his book but have it on hand.

Here are a few museums that were useful to me. Continue reading “11-7-2016 Researching History”

Writer Beware and Pred-ed.com

I originally wrote this blog for www.latelastnightbooks.com, but it’s important enough to post again on my site.

Naiveté, desperation, eagerness. What does that spell to you? To me it spells V-I-C-T-I-M. It can also spell W-R-I-T-E-R.

A writer eager to find a publisher, desperate for an agent, naive enough to sign any contract that seems to promise an agent and publication. And that’s just the dirt on top. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find all kinds of “opportunities” to promote, sell, distribute or otherwise handle a writer’s opus—for a fee.

I have been a writer all my professional life and a publisher for the last twenty plus years. I know how eagerly a writer wants to be published; I know the anguish of being rejected again and again by uncaring and by, obviously, ignorant agents who can’t seem to grasp my vision. And I have been naive enough to hand over thousands of dollars for publicists who did nothing, distributors who charged more in fees than my publishing company made in sales, cover designers who cost more than the going rates or who never heard of “work for hire.”

Contests, awards, marketing consultants, advertisers, unscrupulous agents and editors, even reviewers, all add to the pile of “writer-get-rich” snares out there. Writer Beware.

In fact, google “writer beware” and you’ll find a number of websites under this name, usually owned by Ann Crispin, who wrote as A.C. Crispin, and/or Victoria Strauss. Many thanks to both of you. I once heard Ann Crispin speak on this subject at an annual conference of the Maryland Writers Association. It was an eye-opener, and the “writer beware” websites are well worth a visit.

Crispin and Strauss compiled a list of 20 agents about which they had received the greatest number of advisories or complaints. I won’t repeat that list (you can look it up) since it is dated 2006, but her advice remains the same. None of the agents on the list had a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most had virtually no documented and verified sales at all (many sales claimed by these agents turn out to be vanity publishers). All charged clients before a sale is made, whether directly, by charging fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for “editing services.”

Writer Beware suggests that writers searching for agents avoid questionable agents, and instead query agents who have actual track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.
Best of all is to find an agent who is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, which has a code of ethics. If they want you to pay “reader’s fees” or anything else upfront, raise a wary eyebrow.

One website I always check to find out the facts about agents, editors, awards, contests, etc. is www.pred-ed.com. It stands for Preditors & Editors and it’s a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to provide writers with information and contacts for the purpose of seeking publication of their work. Artists, composers, and game designers will also find the same information useful.

Go to this site, look up agents, and you’ll find some surprising comments. “Not recommended.” “Charges fee, not recommended.” “Under indictment.” Eye-opening, yessirree.

The first few years we were in publishing, we kept receiving requests for review copies from a Joan Orth. The letterhead seemed to have been cut out of a potato and stamped, so it didn’t quite look right, but eager for reviews, we sent her copies. Finally, one of our publisher acquaintances asked on a publishers’ chat room if anyone had ever seen a review by Joan Orth anywhere. The response was a resounding “No.” In response James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review, wrote a series of articles on how to spot a fake reviewer. Bless him.

So no matter how eagerly you want that book contract and a bestseller, watch out. You don’t want to become another pigeon.

10-17-2016: The Right Style

Last week, I started reading a novel by a local author I know and stopped at the first page in disgust. The book was self-published—many fine books are self-published-but the author knew nothing about the nuances of typesetting, a time-honored profession that is both art and science. Its traditions and rules are essential to a reader’s pleasure. Ignore them at your peril.

What greeted me on the first page was not a novel but a business letter or report. That was the format, and it’s the format of this blog, which is fine for a blog. But in a novel, the result is like driving a car with bad spark plugs. It’s a jerky ride. We expect a novel to be a smooth read, gently moving from paragraph to paragraph with a slightly indented first line and no space between paragraphs.
A shift in time, place, or person is indicated by a blank line between paragraphs.

When a novel is formatted like this blog, our expectations of a shift arrive after each paragraph, but there is no shift, just an extra line for no reason. Bumpy ride.

How can an author who has read novels all his or her life, not notice the novel’s format of indented first line of a paragraph, no space between paragraphs unless there’s a shift? The exception is the first paragraph in a chapter, which may or may not be indented.

Granted, that the Word default seems to be the business letter format, but it’s an easy change to make. With “Home” selected, click on the “Paragraph” menu, then click to draw down the menu under Indentation – Special. Click “First line” and then either .5” for manuscript or maybe .25” for a smaller page or the final layout ready for printing. Then go down to “Spacing” and make Continue reading “10-17-2016: The Right Style”

10/3/2016 – Be Careful With Conflict

I once read a biography of Earl Stanley Gardner, an attorney and prolific author who wrote close to 150 novels. His most popular books starred attorney-sleuth Perry Mason, and that became a hit television series in the late 50s and early 60s and then again in the 80s.

How did he come to write such successful books? One anecdote mentioned in the biography said that when he was a beginning writer, he sent a story to Black Mask Magazine, that was rejected, but along with the rejection was another note, apparently meant for the editor’s secretary that was a rant on all the faults in Gardner’s story.

Gardner took it as advice on how to write, so he paid attention to the editor’s criticism. He rewrote the story. When he resubmitted it, he thanked the editor for the suggestions and his storyperry-mason-bk was accepted, probably because of the editor’s embarrassment.

Recently, I picked up a copy of Gardner’s first novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, at a yard sale. As I read it, I had to smile. All of us involved in writing fiction are told about the importance of conflict in keeping reader interest. Gardner took this advice to heart, and his book is almost a parody or maybe a lesson on conflict in fiction.

It begins on the first page when Della Street walks into Mason’s office and says she thinks the new client is a phony. She’s opposed to this client at every turn in the plot. Then it’s obvious that the client is lying and withholding information and Mason knows it, but how to find out the truth? From what she tells him, Mason knows he’s up against some tough foes, and he’s in danger of being disbarred. And then Paul Drake, the detective, comes in, and he becomes another source of conflict. So by halfway through the book, Perry Mason is in conflict with his secretary, the detective he uses, the client, and an assortment of tough characters. Gardner establishes Perry Mason as a tough fighter who will battle any and everyone, but to me it seems like the conflict was laid on so thick that it became a parody.

Conflict is important, but when it becomes obvious or biased, it becomes trite, irritating, and boring. For instance, when the wife opposes her husband’s dream of adventure. Boringly obvious set-up. And biased. For one thing, why can’t it be the wife’s dream of adventure? And why can’t the conflict come from another source than the obvious spouse, who could be supportive.

Surprise us with the conflict. We’re inundated with the standard issue, and a lot of us are too sophisticated to buy into a writer’s lazy use of it.

9/26/2016 – More from the Police Academy; Baltimore Book Fest

So far I am impressed at the professionalism of the police teaching our class at the Citizens Police Academy in Howard County, Maryland. It makes me want to revisit my mystery novels and redo the police investigations parts. We pick up so much from our own experience and television shows that we tend to make assumptions that may not be true.

Reminds me of a scene in my latest novel, In Rembrandt’s Shadow, where I blithely have a character in 1616’s Antwerp lighting a match. Stop. Matches weren’t invented until much, much later. CoverFinalMD-InRembrandtsShadow 2Someone had to point that out to me. I changed that to a tinder box. In another scene, I had a character stepping out of a house in early 17th century Paris and stepping onto a sidewalk. Most likely, he stepped out onto the road.

So I’m in the Police Academy class soaking up the details. Last week, the subject was the Columbia Mall shootings of January, 2014. Fortunately, the police had already studied the Columbia Mall and conducted training sessions there, noting exits, entrances, hallways, and basement areas. They had already developed strategies for dealing with such an event there. In fact, our local police will come to any Continue reading “9/26/2016 – More from the Police Academy; Baltimore Book Fest”

9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching

My guest blog, “A Day in the Life of My Character,” will appear Sept. 20 at http://www.drusbookmusings.com.

CITIZENS POLICE ACADEMY:
Since I write mysteries, I want to learn the details of police work so when I’m describing an investigation, my mysteries will have the texture policeand flavor of the real thing. Toward this end, I have begun the 12-week free course held by the Police Department to familiarize local citizens with police procedures and activities. Many police departments around the country hold similar academies.

I’m not shy about asking for the correct details. In my 90s Club mysteries about 90-year-olds at Whisperwood Retirement Village, I contacted the West Virginia Sheriff’s Department to find out what exactly a sheriff’s uniform in West Virginia looked like. I also asked a firefighter friend exactly what the protocol was when paramedics were called to the scene of a beating victim. He gave me excellent detail which made the scene live.

The Police Academy is another resource. It will include a ride-along with a police officer Continue reading “9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching”

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