Monday, June 19, 2017

Sometimes a Big Mouth Can Be a Good Thing

Having a Great Crime - Wish You Were Here - A Sandi Webster Mystery (ebook version) will be free on on Friday, June 23, 2017 through Saturday, June 24, 2017.

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I was talking to a friend recently, also a writer, and we talked about – what else – books. We also talked about promoting said books and creating a buzz, something I’ve posted about in the past. Today I’m focusing on readers, not writers. Yes, most writers are also readers.

I firmly believe word-of-mouth is the best advertising. Think about it. How many times have you read a book or watched a television show because a relative or friend, or maybe a neighbor, said it was the best thing since sliced bread? They’re enthusiastic and want to share their excitement with you.

Let’s say you recently read a book that you truly enjoyed. Did you tell anyone about it? Here’s something I read, but at the moment I can’t recall where. Think about how many people you know. We’ll use the number fifty for today, including friends, relatives and acquaintances. You’ve read a book that was both entertaining and memorable. Now imagine you tell every one of those fifty people about the book. They read the book and enjoyed it as much as you did, and they tell every one of the fifty people they know about the book. That fifty reads the book and ends up telling all of their connections, and on and on and on. The word spreads like wildfire.

By the end of the week (or month or two) the author’s name could become a household word. I’ve read some really good books because of word-of-mouth. Honestly? I’d never heard of some of the authors until a friend told me about them.  Rhys Bowen is one of those authors and I can’t get enough of her books now. I heard about her through word-of-mouth.

Authors can be a Big Mouth about their own books, but unfortunately sometimes that can get old quickly. We do what we can to get the word out, from personal appearances to book signings to any event we can attend. We post on the Internet in as many places as possible. We talk to total strangers and find out we may have something in common with them. We make new friends along the way. Okay, I have to admit that I’m not above asking a clerk at the store or the receptionist in an office if they enjoy reading mysteries. If they do, I usually give them a promotional item with my website address on it.

A lot of personal connections happen at conferences. Many attendees go home and tell their relatives, neighbors and friends about what fun it was to meet a real live author. There are a few people I’ve stayed in touch with, and I’ve enjoyed the interaction.

I’m no different than anyone else. When I go to writers events I come home and talk about the people I’ve met and things I saw and heard. I can remember a few times when I’d come home and my husband’s eyes would glaze over, so I’d turn to someone else and repeat the stories. I’m excited, and without meaning to, I’m creating a buzz.

I’ve met some famous authors, which is exciting, and I’ve also met some relatively unknown or new authors whom I liked, and I soon found myself trying one of their books. They were enthusiastic and friendly, and that’s what generally makes me take a look at their work. (Don’t forget, readers, that there are conferences who welcome readers as well as authors.)

Let’s not forget reviews. If you really enjoy a book, write a review. It’s just another form of word-of-mouth. In the case of a review, you’re blabbing to strangers. It still creates a buzz, although I’ve heard that some people won’t even bother to read reviews. Personally, I tend to check them out. I’ve even read a few books that got bad reviews. The storyline sounded good, even if the review didn’t. So far, I haven’t been disappointed.

As a reader, what do you think about creating a buzz? Do you have a big mouth? Can you recommend a good book? I love it when I set a book aside and sigh, thinking how much I enjoyed it and what a satisfying ending the author created.

Until next week, if you’ve read a good book, start buzzing about it. Tell a friend, and have fun connecting with other readers.

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If the idea of an elderly “hit woman,” the mob and a little humor appeals to you, you might give Black Butterfly – A Bogeyman Mystery a try.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Murder in the First...

…chapter, that is. I once talked to an author who said someone told her you have to write a murder into the first chapter of your book or the story won’t make it. The comments was also made that a mystery isn’t a mystery unless there’s a dead body in it. These comments made me sit down and think about writing. There’s no formula for a mystery other than the story the writer wants to tell.

Many mysteries need to build up to the crime. You can open the book with the murder, but many times you then have to tell a back story. Why did this crime happen? What led up to it? Who was the victim? Do I, as a reader, even care about the victim? I certainly haven’t learned much about him or her if they were killed in the first chapter. What made this person tick? Why would someone murder this person?

Many television shows seem to begin with the dead body, and then the investigator(s) have to learn the back story through leads and clues. They need to keep the viewing audience glued to the screen. Books can keep you interested by carefully laying the groundwork for what’s to come. Each chapter can include a cliffhanger at the end to keep the reader guessing and interested, even if the murder doesn’t happen up front.

Some victims are actually a bad person to begin with. By building up to the death, you can create a very unlikable victim – or you can make him sympathetic because he had a horrible background which molded him into a bad guy. Some people are victims of circumstance.

Other victims are good people. Maybe someone was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a reader, I’d like to know how that person ended up in the wrong place, and why he or she had to die. I’ve heard people say there are no coincidences. I don’t believe that. Sometimes things just happen, for no apparent reason (like in wrong place, wrong time). There are all kinds of scenarios.

Then we come to the comment that a mystery isn’t a mystery unless there’s a murder. Not so, I guarantee you. I’ve read some great mysteries where no one was killed. A missing person can be a mystery. The neighbor in a book might think that Fred Smith from down the street is acting suspicious – and his wife hasn’t been seen in two weeks. So maybe the neighbor sets out to see if Fred murdered his wife and buried her body in the backyard. It makes sense to the neighbor because she never did like Fred anyway. He always came across as an off-putting man.

Sometimes suspicious acts can be misconstrued because that’s what the observer wants to see, and in that scenario lies a mystery. It could turn out that Fred is hard of hearing, or painfully shy, and this makes him come across differently than he really is. And it could also turn out that his wife left suddenly, during the night, to take care of a sick relative. In the meantime, it was a mystery until the facts were revealed. The snoopy neighbor is either going to be embarrassed for her suspicions, or she’ll feel good that she found out the truth.

Just to add a twist, what if the neighbor began digging around in the neighbor’s backyard and found bones that had been buried there for a very long time, as in an historical murder that happened long before Fred was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes? A twist always adds to the fun.

With all of this said, I have to admit that a few authors have hooked me in the first paragraph or two with a dead body, but not often. You can hook a reader without a corpse, too.

So, if you enjoy a good mystery, don’t worry about when the person dies, or when the body is discovered, and don’t worry if there isn’t a body. Just enjoy the trip that takes you from Chapter One to The End, whether you’re the reader or the writer.

Until next time, I hope you have a good week and that no bodies show up in your neighbor’s backyard.

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Give them a try, please. They might surprise you.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Marcia Rosen, Guest Author

My guest this week is Marcia Rosen, who's offering some advice about marketing our books. Marcia writes the "Dying to Be Beautiful Mystery" series as M. Glenda Rosen. I haven't read her books yet, but I hope to soon. They sound fascinating. Welcome, Marcia!

What’s Best For You?

As authors, we are inundated with marketing options and opportunities to sell our books. Many are not worth the time or money. Sometimes it feels like we’re being asked to sell our souls in order to sell our books. That’s never a good idea!
Book marketing strategies are an ever-changing challenge for authors, with traditional options available such as book signings to today’s endless array of social media offerings.
It is most helpful to have a marketing plan, your personal roadmap, for promoting and selling your books. To reach a wide and diverse audience, most traditional and self-publishers will agree: You need to market your book.    
No matter how wonderful, interesting and compelling your book might be, you still have to let the reading world know it exists!
            It would be difficult and costly to pursue all of the marketing options available to you, especially since new ones appear practically daily. The choices should depend on what you may be willing to do from the perspective of time, energy and costs. Select ones you consider the most practical, plausible and affordable for you.
Ask others, trust your own instincts while valuing others’ experiences.

Branding yourself as an author—highlighting the types of books you write—can help you increase book sales. Create a campaign message and write a synopsis of your book tailored for marketing and PR activities in order to create buzz about your book.

Book Marketing Tips

Determine your goals and vision
Know your reader markets
Be as specific as possible
Know what options and opportunities are available
Be organized: Keep an ongoing calendar
Plan ahead
Promote your next book prior to publication, especially if the book is part of a series
Be flexible: Add new ideas as your marketing campaign progresses
Keep track of your actions and responses
Note best and worse marketing actions
Avoid expensive actions with proven little response
Be cautious: Ask other writers what works for them
Attend one or two writers’ conferences a year
Ask people to review your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads
Be willing to ask for help and support

For list of suggested resources email:

                                                                        Marcia Rosen

Thank you for some sound advice, Marcia. I  hope you'll return soon!

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Standing in the Argonne Forest - 1918

In June of 1918 my grandmother was in an industrial accident and lost her arm from just below the elbow. Not long after that, she married my grandfather. You might wonder why I’m telling you this. In honor of Memorial Day I’m going to share two letters with you that were written by a young private in the Army who was a pen pal of my grandmother. I thought about editing them because there are a couple of personal comments, but decided you might like to read them as written.

This young man was stationed in France, and I’m presenting you with his letters exactly as they were written, commas, periods, no periods, misspellings and all. These letters are a small piece of history, and I’m thrilled that my grandmother never threw anything away.

Thanks to these letters, for one brief moment I stood with a young soldier in the Argonne Forest on Armistice Day on November 11, 1918 (now known as Veterans Day). Yes, this is Memorial Day, and I’m remembering those who served our country. David was one of them.

“Nov. 12, 1918

Dear Dolly,

I received your letter yesterday and was very, very sorry to hear of your terrible misfortune. Peace articles were signed yesterday and hostilities ceased at eleven oclock. We are in the Argonne Forest on the ground that the Germans have just left and will be glad to get back out of the lines again where you can see a civilian. And hope to be on the way home soon. I consider myself very lucky to come out of this great war as well as I am. The guns were firing yesterday right up till two minutes to eleven. Last night we held a clebration of our own the air was ful of star shells and rockets and flares which the Germans left behind. It was like a fourth of July celebration.

Tonight it is the same when a star shell is up you can read a news paper by the light. Well I have had a touch of gas in fact several kinds, tear gas, sneezing gas, clorine and several kinds and been under shell fire a great bit and now it is all over and every soldier has a big smile on his face. I must congratulate you on your marriage and I hope you live happy and I wish you the best of luck. I must close now as it is getting late so I will close now.

As ever your friend

D.B. Gordon
Co. D 16th Engrs. Ry

“Consenvoye, France
Dec, 7, 1918

Dear Dolly,

I received your letter today and was much pleased to hear from you. I am sorry that I have not any more pictures but if I ever get out of “No Mans Land” and get back to civilization I will have some more taken. I expect to get a furlough in a few days as soon as the bunch now out get back. It must be rather dead at home with all the chuches, Theaters and everything closed. Things are worse than that up here where we are all the towns and villiages are almost leveled and no civilians are back here yet. I would like to get back in the S.O.S.

The French Girls are very good looking and they are also very polite and friendly to us. If you see a French farmer Girl on Sunday when she is dressed up you would think she came right from Paris. And when you would see the same girl during the week working on the farm you would not recognize her. France is a very beautiful country and has a lovely climate similar to your state [Southern California] in some parts. We have had no snow here yet and it is quite warm during the day. Of course the rainy season is very disagreeable to us as we have to be out in it all the time. This part of the country that has been fought over there is nothing not a tree but what is dead and most of them broken and the ground is so full of shell holes that you cant go out after dark without falling in a couple of dozen of them and most of them are full of water. There is thousands of German helmets around here, we have one for a wash basin. I would like to bring lots of stuff home but I am afraid we wont be able to carry heavy junk such as helmets. I have lots of German buttons and decorations Well if I get my furlough I will send you some cards. I must close now as it is getting late

Your friend


D.B. Gordon
Co D. 16th Engrs (Ry)

P.S. This is German stationary I am using that I picked up in a German hospital.”

My grandmother had several photos of military men, but I have no idea which one is David, so I’m not including a photo. Use your imagination.

Until next time, I’m remembering military personnel throughout the years with admiration.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Nervous Laughter and Alfred Hitchcock

The other day I watched a rerun of an old Dick Cavett Show. His guest was Alfred Hitchcock, and it was a wonderful interview.

I’m probably one of only a few who’d never heard Mr. Hitchcock interviewed. He had an understated and droll wit, and I found myself laughing at his comments. I love a dry humor.

What amazed me is the insight he had into people and what makes them tick. For instance, he talked about fear and that people love to be frightened. He was right. He used a roller coaster ride as an example. People ride up and down at extreme angles and scream throughout the entire ride. When they get off? They’re laughing and giggling. 

Yes, people love to be frightened. Why else would they enjoy reading about haunted houses, ghosts and monsters, and secret rooms? Why else would they watch a horror movie and find themselves talking to the television, saying, “Don’t open that door!” “Don’t go outside alone!”

One time my mother was home alone and there was a scary movie on TV that she wanted to watch. So she called me on the phone and had me turn it on, and then she wouldn’t hang up until the movie was over. I had to laugh at that one, and so did she.

We write mysteries. We’re not directors or actors. However, we can write scenes that will keep the reading audience on the edge of their seats. Interestingly, we can write suspenseful and frightening scenes that will make the reader laugh, regardless of whether it’s nervous laughter or humorous giggling. Our characters can feel the fear that makes them giggle, just like real honest-to-goodness people, and we can include this trait in their reactions.

Like many people, I have a fear of spiders. I once lived in a very old house with a black widow issue. I was cleaning the entryway floor and wearing slippers, and all of a sudden a black widow dropped from the ceiling onto the toe of my slipper. I kicked, trying to throw it off, but as I backed up it followed me. I was being stalked by a black widow! And I started to laugh. I laughed so hard that I cried. Maybe it was really hysteria. Anyway, I finally realized that the spider had attached itself to my slipper with a web, and when I moved, it moved with me. That poor ol’ spider ended up as nothing but a grease spot on the floor. After all, I had two slippers. Maybe it’s not a good idea to mess with someone who’s scared.

Mr. Hitchcock also explained how certain scenes were filmed in his movies. I guess you’d have to call the procedure early special effects. We can include special effects in our books, too, through descriptions.

Remember the shower scene in Psycho? I know a couple of women who, to this day, won’t take a shower. Hitchcock knew how to terrify viewers.

Years ago I read a book written by an author who happened to use the area where I lived as her location. Because I recognized the places and streets she described in her book, it frightened me. It was familiar and scary, and it was about a serial killer who was stalking the small town where I lived. Maybe that’s one of the keys – using a location people can relate to.

Scenes that are too graphic generally don’t make me laugh. It’s the anticipation leading up to a frightening event that can make me chuckle nervously. I have to admit that I’ve read stories in the newspaper that were so bizarre and terrifying that they made me laugh.

How about you? Does fear make you laugh? Did Alfred Hitchcock know how to push your buttons?

Until next time, I hope you have a carefree week with no black widows or monsters to worry about.

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