Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Paperback Writer...by Cathy Ace


WILDCARD: This being an “extra” week in our schedule, we’re all taking the chance to talk about what’s on our “Criminal Minds” at the moment. 
 
For me, that’s paperbacks!
 
On November 1st the paperback edition of my fourth WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR is released. The book was first published in the UK as a hardcover in October 2017, then as a hardcover and e-book in Canada and the USA in January 2018. The paperback has been available in the UK for a couple of months, and now it’s finally available in Canada and the USA. 


What does this mean to me – and to you? Well, it’s inevitable that buying a hardcover isn’t for everyone; the format is expensive, and I am a reader as well as an author and realize only too well how we all try to get maximum bang for our hard-earned bucks, even when it comes to book purchasing. 


My well-traveled Kindle!
I like printed books. But I am also practical and, when I travel, I enjoy the freedom of being able to have dozens of books with me on my Kindle. I also have a Kobo reader because that’s how I can access e-books from the Canadian library system, where books are only available in e-pub format, not as .mobis that can be sent to a Kindle. Yes, this means carrying two devices, but needs must. And, yes, I also read on my phone.
When a hardcover is in the market, a publisher will keep the price of the digital version of the book high – that’s because they want eager readers to pay top dollar, quite literally, to be able to read the book as soon as it’s published. 


One of my local libraries
Both I, and every other author, is delighted when avid readers do this, but we also know there are some for whom this stage of purchasing isn’t a reality. That’s where libraries come in; they can buy a few copies of a hardcover, which will have a longer usage life than a paperback, and those who want to read a book when it’s first published – and are able to access a library – have the chance to do so through that channel.


When the paperback is published it is made available at a lower price point than the hardcover, AND the price of the digital versions of the book usually also drop; that’s because the publisher realizes readers will now be comparing the price of the digital version with that of the paperback, not the hardcover. 

With Mum, at my childhood library in Brynhyfryd in 2018, with a display of some of my hardcovers and paperbacks
 

So tomorrow’s a Big Day for THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR; it’s the day when those who haven’t been able to stretch to the hardcover, or the higher initial price of the digital version, will now find lower price points available to allow them to buy the book and read it. Paperbacks and the paperback-phase e-version sales are critical for authors – it’s these sales figures which greatly impact the likelihood of a publisher being prepared to sign a contract for another book in a series. So yes, it’s also a Big Day for me, as an author. 

Mum in Swansea library with my first ever paperback - in 2012

 But I’m not nervous – I keep reminding myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that readers will find my work through word of mouth recommendations, reviews and rating on amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and Kobo. And that means all I can do is to tell you the book’s now available at more affordable price points, to whet your appetite with a few of the reviews it’s received, and to remind you that it was shortlisted for the 2018 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery. Oh - and beg you for reviews! Please.

Now comes the blatant promotion of this particular book...


“The four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency return in a modern-day British whodunit that’s as charming as it is entertaining…Good fun, with memorable characters, an imaginative plot, and a satisfying ending.” Booklist



“Ace’s amiable fourth mystery featuring the four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency…cozy fans will find plenty to like…” Publishers’ Weekly



“Ace spiffs up the standard village cozy with a set of sleuths worth a second look.” Kirkus Reviews



“I very much enjoyed this novel; the people here felt like old friends I was catching up with after having been apart for a while. And the mystery itself was intriguing – I enjoyed watching the women pick it apart and put the clues together.” Amanda Bishop, Reviewer (Net Galley)



British atmosphere aplenty, croquet, village life, investigations, and intrigue, all balled up in a beautifully presented cozy-plus novel.” Ellie Reads



...as with each book in this series, threaded among the murder and thugs and racing against the next disaster is the witty dialogue and humor that makes reading these books so much fun.K. Reel

I'd be honored if you'd consider reading my work! Find out all about it by clicking on the link: http://www.cathyace.com/

 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Developing Ideas into Books


Taking an idea from “tickle” to full-fledged story. Terry Shames

We have a “free” week to write about what we want, so I am writing about developing ideas.

Writers know that ideas are thick on the ground. In fact, some of our friends roll their eyes when something odd happens because they know we are thinking, “Hmmm, good idea for a mystery.” But not every idea is a “good” one. I once had a friend say to me, “I have an idea for a book, and I’ll give it to you. I don’t need any credit or anything. I’d just like to see it written.” I asked her to tell me the story. She said, “Well, there’s this man sitting on a plane and he’s thinking about his life.” Okay. And? “That’s it,” she said.



I’m quite certain that she had other vague thoughts about it--how old the man was; why he was musing about his life; whether he was young or old; a bad person reconsidering, or a good person who had made a mistake--but she didn’t know how to articulate them. She didn’t realize that the man had to have a background and some characteristics that made him and his situation interesting. It had to have a plot. The story had to have a reason for telling it. Was it a cautionary tale? A thriller that begins with a man on a plane destined for trouble? Was the plane going to be sabotaged? Was it a story of a man on the verge of great understanding that would leave to change? Was there someone on the plane following him? Would he meet someone that would change his life?

Note the most common characteristic of the questions: Change. In the beginning of a book, there is the “usual” for a character.  Soon something happens to send the character outside the usual—a death, a birth, an accident, meeting someone who sparks a change. The rest of the book is about either getting back to normal, or evolving to a new normal.

The initial job of a writer is to take the germ of an idea and kick it around (either mentally or on paper) to see if it has possibilities. This is often the stage where ideas die. The author can’t think of a compelling event that might interest readers. Or they think of a good plot, but no characters step up to populate the idea. Or the author realizes the idea will require a lot more knowledge and research than she wants to put into it-- she doesn’t feel like it’s her story to tell.

Sometimes the second an idea springs to mind, it’s complete with characters, setting, and plot. It’s rare, but it does happen. Those times are golden. But that’s not the usual. More often, there’s the tickle of an idea that keeps nudging an author, but it takes work to flesh it out. You have to keep thinking, “Who is this person? What does she want? What’s her personality like? What are her relationships? What’s going to happen to kick her out of her “usual?” What will she have to do to either change, or get back to normal? Who will help her, or will she have to go it alone? What’s her attitude during her ordeal? Does it change? Was she weak and at the end of the book she’ll be strong? Will she break under pressure? Does she have other people to consider—elderly parents, children, some other dependent? And these questions are just about the protagonist. You have to ask the same questions about the antagonist. You have to ask questions about the plot. What sets it in motion? How is it going to proceed so that it will maintain interest? How will the plot and characters interact? What will be the resolution—if there is one? And finally, where will all this take place?

Even after the author has fleshed out an idea—plot, characters, setting—he still has to  figure out of a story has “legs.” Is it going to hold readers’ interest? Is it a timeworn plot that he doesn’t have a new slant on? Is it a story worth spending several months to live with? Sometimes the answer is no, even if you think it’s a good idea. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t come alive.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’m moving forward on the germ of a story that has plagued me for years, and I’m having trouble getting started. Because it’s a domestic thriller, I thought it would be important to plot it out. And that’s where I got stuck. I could not think of a plot to fit the situation that intrigued me. Finally I went to a writer’s workshop recently, where one of the speakers made me realize I could just start writing. So that’s what I’m doing.

“Winging it” may mean I’ll write 100 pages of wasted words that eventually go nowhere. Or it may mean throwing out 100 pages when the plot finally reveals itself. But I’m finding great satisfaction in pushing the main character into situations she isn’t comfortable with and watching her grow into my story. I don’t have an answer ready for who she is and how she will respond, but I’m beginning to learn her. Meanwhile, another couple of characters have started to stretch their limbs, as if they’ve been hibernating in my brain, and saying, “Look at me. Look at what I’m up to.”

Gradually, gradually I’m beginning to feel as if the story will take shape. At some point I’ll have to start answering all my questions, but for now I’m trying not to be impatient, trying to really explore each scene, even though I know I’m writing things that will never make it into the final book. I feel as if I’m reading the book at the same time I’m writing it. Stay tuned. I may hit a wall, but I hope not. I hope eventually I’ll start to feel that familiar excitement when the story begs to be told and I know I can tell it.


Happy Halloween, Everyone 



A Library of Crime Fiction Classics

 - from Susan

We Minds get to go free-form this week. I would like to answer a question I got at a book event recently. The audience member asked, “Can you share three crime fiction books you think newcomers to the genre should read?” Because my brain tends to freeze when I’m put on the spot, and because I have more time to think when I’m writing it down, I’m expanding it to ten books, which is way easier than three and allows me to focus on different kinds of crime fiction. Of course I will leave out your favorites, the ones my fellow Minds and other readers will insist be on any list, so please chime in.

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky. Perhaps the original psychological thriller. Why would someone commit a crime? What would be his internal rationale? How would he cope with the knowledge he had committed a crime? For a no-holes-barred voyage into the mind of a murderer, this is a classic, disturbing and intense. 

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie, a devilishly clever whodunit that is a showpiece on how to carry off a murder mystery plot that confounds the reader and yet offers carefully placed and disguised clues. And, of course, it features that Belgian detective for the ages, Hercule Poirot.

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett is as good as any to introduce readers to the noir side of modern crime fiction, one in which the protagonist and crime solver is a wounded/jaded person beset by internal demons even as he (mostly) calls on a moral core to right wrongs.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, would be my choice as an introduction to the modern psychological thriller. We see into Tom Ripley’s head as he goes about stealing the identity of a man he likes (loves?) and falls deeper and deeper into his own instability. 

The Hot Rock, by Donald Westlake is the first in his humorous caper series starring a criminal named Dortmunder, who is doomed to perpetual failure in his escapades. I read it decades ago and remember laughing out loud many times. Capers don’t have to be funny, but the sub-genre is one of my favorites. It’s chess with guns, ransom notes, and explosives.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarre, has to be on any list for readers who want to experience the quality in crime fiction. Lots of authors write wonderful spy/espionage stories, but for me this one, with all of the ambiguity and double dealing and cynical governments, is the very best. 

Danny Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings, by our own Minds contributor Catriona McPherson, is a historical murder mystery within the classic mystery series genre. I picked this because seldom have I read a more compelling use of setting from another period in history - Scotland in the 1930s. All of the trappings of the mystery genre are there and intertwine easily in what reads like the gloomiest place on earth. 

I’m cheating for the rest of my list because the closer I get to what’s being published in this new golden age of crime fiction the harder it is to choose among them. There are terrific novels by women featuring women protagonists who may or may not be what are called 'reliable narrators' (something Agatha Christie did way back when). 

There are exciting crime fiction stories by writers of color and LGBTQ authors who are bringing new voices and perspectives into the genre and enriching it greatly. 

There are novels that sit only partway in the genre as they incorporate homicide into larger plots and themes, societal, psychological, political. 

There are the other authors in Criminal Minds, each of whom has her or his special talent and take on crime fiction and does it well. 

So much to read…


And a short bit of BSP: 

The first series, the Dani O'Rourke Mysteries, is in the style of the traditional murder mystery, with a smart amateur detective able to see things the police don't understand.

My second series is a bit more cozy but the novels are really about how people co-exist in small societies when trouble strikes. 



Friday, October 26, 2018

"Where we're going, we don't need roads."

"To Busboys and Poets, Marty! To save a career!"

Time travel, into the past, I'm really not the one to ask about. I'm not sure where I'm going where my fortunes aren't the best moving forward from right now. I'll tell you what I see and how I see it.

I have a copy of an old Chester Himes first edition of IF HE HOLLERS LET HIM GO from Doubleday, back in the 1950s, Elliot Caprice's time period in The Tales Of..." If you flip it over, there are so many books by black fiction authors, it feels conspicuous. So many names, and a major publishing house, all cashing in on black folk's desire to read and write. I know black folk read books today the way black folk read them then, which is why Doubleday marketed Negro authors such as Ellison, Baldwin, and Himes, aggressively. They were also bullish on Bucklin Moon, an author of black stories who himself was not black (and the world didn't stop spinning, egads,) the one who saw Richard Stark in Donald Westlake and saw Parker as a hero rather than a villain. An author/editor who wrote primarily in a black American literary voice gave all you white boys Westlake and Parker. Macklemore, basically, was a shepherd for black voices who gave us a bunch of angry black men.  No angry black women, but well, publishing does like its traditions.

Pick yourselves up off the floor and we'll continue.

Now, this is the 1950s, where white folks are supposed to hate black folk, but frickin' Doubleday is all up in the book business for black folk, and white folks who want to read about black Americans doing American things are how they're making their money, otherwise why put James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison in your stable, because they're both primadonnas. Incredible works of American literary import were edited and shepherded by white folks. Weren't the 50s supposed to be worse for me? As a man with agency and autonomy, sure. As an author, I would be stuck in a quandary. As a man, no thanks.

So what if I didn't' go anywhere? How does my own time period appear to me as an author?

The barriers to entry in publishing have never been lower due to the commoditization of the means of production. This usually happens when foreign interests in American consumer goods drive production demand and control products because they make everything somewhere other than where we purchase it. The closer a business entity is to the means of production, the more control it has over distribution.

Whoa, that's a mouthful, but put simply, since capitalism thrives upon disposable income for their sales, and communist nations as production partners, everyone can publish a book. With Amazon, everyone can sell direct. There is no differentiation between, say, Danny Gardner's A NEGRO AND AN OFAY and Down & Out Books' A NEGRO AND AN OFAY to the bookstores that report into Bookscan and the New York Times. Hilariously, I went out of my way to make the world see I'm not self-published, just for it to not matter to the biggest core consumer I have: black American readers who are underserved by publishing, followed by poor white folks, all of whom are served by the same basic educational system. They have the most disposable income of anyone, but no editor in America figures selling books to black and poor folk is worth the bottom line. And they're the bosses. Except WalMart sells more books than just about anyone, same as everything else.

If you're wondering when the last time a market space was this crowded with producers, it was in personal computing in the mid-90s. Dell Computer Company rolled out their first IBM clones without IBM. I'm old enough to remember buying stock in Dell in the beginning as my first play around purchase day-trading. The bigger computer companies began to mass produce in China, opening the door for all the larger producers to start firing and dismissing all their brilliant folks in cost savings moves any corporation lusts for. Everyone ejected from the computer industry's supply chain found at least some aspect of productivity with Dell Computer, who is now the biggest pure computing company in America. Pure-play computing, too. Unlike Apple, they didn't bifurcate into a consumer electronics firm and a forgotten professional computing vendor (servers, production systems, point of sale systems, etc. - read these as IMPRINTS, if you will.)

They sell computers like New York used to sell books. So maybe I'd go back to the 90s, but I'm not exactly a silicon valley billionaire yet, much as I'm not selling nearly as many books as I can, because of arguments about race in the rooms I can't get into.

If I use this time machine, I have to go forward, because the past isn't so lovely for me in society and business alike. So if I hop in and abscond to a better era for me, what's that look like?

1. The name on the front of the book is the only one that truly matters, although the publisher's imprint on the spine is really important too, IF said publisher is active in my community, same as Bucklin Moon, the renowned author and editor in the 1950s who was as white as a snowflake, but gave the world beautiful black books and frickin' Donald Westlake.

2. The author is the one selling said books to their own community. If said author is a member of several different communities, as in my case, then the publisher that wants to make money off books markets to said communities according to the strengths of the book in that market, and several markets are a good thing, not a bad thing, because more work means more money to black folk and poor folk. Today, in actual and virtual New York, if a book requires more work to put in on the street, that means do not publish.

Can't imagine Bucklin Moon figured Chester Himes an easy author to publish. Yet according to Bronzeville Books' Associate Publisher Erin Mitchell, he still sells more than any of us. I'll let y'all figure out how I took that bit of information after spending money to look legit to the rest of you. Chester Himes would have shot up a panel had he attended one at all, and he still outsells all of us mild-mannered types unto death. In the hood, this is the point where someone puts their lips to the side of their face and goes, "Pffffft..."

3. Books and entertainment will no longer exist in separate pipelines but merge their individual production processes to reach readers in all the ways consumers demand. This isn't hard. Someone just has to be honest about how lopsided Hollywood profits from adaptations of New York publishing's products are. The literary agencies have retooled to get in that business around the same time Fuse Literary found their footing.  Some market indications are too strong to ignore.

4. Opportunity follows the supply chain and not the perception of quality which is centralized to the folks who always lose the most money on a book, even when authors and television producers reap riches. No editor at any publishing house in America can tell me they know the first thing about selling books to 40M black folk in America, and millions more around the world. They'd rather spend a lot of time and money convincing us no market exists. They have to do that because poor, unwashed people in communist countries print the books now. International print runs are coming from Chinese printing facilities in Nigeria, on the continent of Africa. Let poor black folk print the books but don't sell them any books they want to read sounds about right. Sounds real 50s, except in the 50s, New York sold black books to EVERYONE.

Please keep in mind that Barnes & Noble are retooling yet again, and away from crime-mystery-thriller regardless of what they say, as they need space to sell diapers and toys and clothes with all the baby books. None of your mean, murder books will be anywhere on the baby floor. I bet you'll be able to get some sort of spa treatment or take a class or have a community meeting in a Barnes and Noble within ten years. And our books won't be there, same as mine aren't there now, although last Erin and Tom checked, 7000 of them are in some warehouse in Tennessee because the IngramSpark ordering algorithm just straight snapped. Again, my nerdy day job makes me know about algorithms. Somewhere, Ingram's dataset believes it has 7000 copies of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY in a warehouse where black folk and poor folk are concentrated.

Y'all can power down the Criminal Minds time machine. It's feeling like I'm here at the right time.

***

For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.