Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hard work and blind luck

by Dietrich

Do you strive to earn income on your writing from other than royalties on books sales? If so, what additional income sources do you pursue?

I don’t have a grand plan for earning extra income outside of book royalties, I just try to write a good book, and maybe count on some blind luck. And while money’s a great motivator, I try not to let it be the carrot at the end of the stick. 

Submitting short stories to paying markets, looking for gun-for-hire freelance work, editing and seeking out paying speaking engagements at festivals or writing groups can generate income. There are online directories like Duotrope that offers a searchable database for the short story marketplace, giving all kinds of info and submission details. Also submitting short stories for awards and prizes is another way. Writer’s Digest is another online source for writing markets that’s worth checking out.

When a new release comes out, there’s the book launch, appearances at book festivals and a book tour. Also reading events, writers’ panels, interviews, and speaking engagements. They don’t all pay, but they’re good opportunities to promote both writer and the work.

There are other things that can help gain some exposure: websites, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, ads, although results are hard if not impossible to track. And there’s social media. For me, social media can sometimes seem more of a curse, like when I should be writing instead of tweeting. And there’s Goodreads which is about all things books and allows for reviews and book giveaways. There are publicists for hire, and marketing services that can be found online that offer help for writers wanting to gain exposure.  

I host regular Noir at the Bar events here in Vancouver. Besides selling a few books, its a great reading event and a chance to meet with other writers and some avid readers. This is my fourth year hosting the event, with the next one coming up next Wednesday, and I’m organizing the first one in Seaside CA this October, tying it in with my upcoming book tour for Zero Avenue (there, I plugged both event and book). Noir at the Bar events are popping up all over, and if you haven’t been to one, check it out.  

Annual conferences like Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Crimefest, Thrillerfest, Theakson Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival are a great way to meet readers as well as other writers. These events are a lot of fun, and people who write gruesome shit tend to be the nicest and most supportive people you’ll ever meet. It’s one industry where there’s a lot of support from your piers. And I’ve met some terrific writers just standing at a Bouchercon bar (now that I think of it, that’s where I met some of the writers on this blog). We obviously share a similar approach to promoting our books, with drink in hand. Cheers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Connie di Marco: In a Stew About Promotion ;-)

Paul here. Today I’d like to welcome Connie di Marco, author, actress and super souper. As Connie di Marco she writes the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink, featuring San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Writing as Connie Archer, she’s also the author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Her excerpts and recipes are featured in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. She has appeared in numerous television and film roles under her professional name and lives in Los Angeles with her family and a constantly talking cat. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. You can visit her at www.ConniediMarco.com or www.ConnieArcherMysteries.com.

And now I have to worry that she’ll get even with me (see her post below) and slip a Mickey into my soup. So before that can happen, take it away, Connie:



With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?  

Oh, why do you have to ask this question??? I wish I could answer and offer some brilliant ideas! I have my friend Paul Marks to blame thank for inviting me over today, and for that I’ll get even with him. I will. 

See, I never even thought about being a writer, much less a marketer. I was busy doing all kinds of other things in life, but after years of being a devotée of mysteries and thrillers, and out of sheer creative frustration, I decided I would try to write a mystery and hopefully be traditionally published . . . someday . . . maybe. It wasn’t a burning obsession. Not really. 

Little did I realize that actually getting published would be like falling into the front seat of a roller coaster just as it was about to take off. I had barely enough time to get a website up and running when my agent called and said, “Well, you know you’ll have to blog and do giveaways and maybe write some magazine articles . . .” I freaked. 

I thought, I wrote a book! What else could I possibly have to say? 

Luckily for me, my very first book, A Spoonful of Murder, was a blessed little thing and when a senior editor at my publishing house two months after its release said, “Your book is in its third printing!” wine glass in hand, I was smart enough to shut my mouth for once and just nod. I was about to ask, “Is that good?” (I guess it was. That editor seemed impressed.) That’s how little I knew about the business of selling books. 

At the same time, everyone was warning me about the dreaded “sophomore effect,” so as time went on I figured I better get off my lazy (computer chair) and do something to keep sales up. That’s when I discovered I wasn’t too bad at running off at the mouth, er, blogging. So I did all the things that writers do – blog tours, interviews, library panels, book events, conferences, giveaways, you name it. But did I have a clue as to what was actually working, i.e., getting attention, selling books? Nope. And I still don’t know. 

At least with my first series, the Soup Lover’s Mysteries, I had a brand – soup! On blog tours I gifted crockpots and soup bowls to lucky winners. I gave out bookmarks at polling tables on voting days, and . . . I thought this was truly inspired (maybe a little embarrassing), I went to Costco and Target and Walgreens, any place that sold books, and inserted my bookmarks into every mystery, cozy, thriller and cookbook I could find. I thought, Why not? I’m not stealing anything. It’s a gift. Right? 

I haven’t as yet come up with any really unique ideas for my new series, the Zodiac Mysteries. Not
yet, but I hope inspiration will strike. I could offer a giveaway of an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco where my astrologer protagonist solves city crimes, but it’s a wee bit out of my marketing budget. Maybe I could limit it to people who live between Oakland and Yountville? 

The deeper question here is how do we catch and harness that lightning bolt of . . . What? Success? Fame? Where publishers are beating on our front door and offering more and more bucks? 

When Anne Cleeves’ publisher released her first Vera book, pre-internet, it was overlooked and not even listed in the publisher’s catalogue. The series went nowhere. She kept writing. Fifteen years later, a producer in the UK found a Vera book in a charity shop and fell in love with Cleeves’ creation. 

Harrison Ford was once asked how he had achieved success in his career. He replied that he must have had ‘cultural utility.’ That answer gave me pause for thought. Is it that simple? Is there a face, a book, an idea whose time has finally arrived? Something that sparks notice or notoriety? As writers, how do we catch that pipeline wave (I’m mixing metaphors here) or even recognize that it’s on its way? Or more importantly, do we even want to be concerned with such things? Because then we’re writing for the marketplace, not from our hearts. 

We work in isolation, often oblivious to current trends. And everyone, even publishers are taken by surprise when a zeitgeist appears. Should we worry about that? Try to catch that wave? Or just write the best book we can and pour our heart and soul into it?

Five years later, I still ruminate over all those questions. But to be perfectly honest, after eight books, I’m a little tuckered out. I’m sick of marketing. I realize I hate Facebook. I don’t even know how to find the ‘pokes.’ 

Help Leslie Scaggs and Joy Meier celebrate their birthdays.
I don’t know them! Go away!!! 

And Twitter. 

Do you know Harriet Walker, Ellen Gillis and LynDee Stephens? 
Hell, no!

Yes, I do tweet. Or as Stephen Colbert once famously said, “I have twotted.” 

I hate LinkedIn even more, it nags you mercilessly.

Connie, people are looking at your LinkedIn profile.
Tell them to f&*$% . . . 

So – do I have any bright ideas? Something that will sell tons of books? Nope. I wish I did because if there were some magic bullet, believe me I would use it. I’m back to square one. I guess the best and only thing we can all do is write the next book, and continue to Tweet, blog, post on FB, get to conferences, be interviewed and dust off our psyches and just keep on keepin’ on. 

But the most important thing is to write the next book and make sure it’s a really good one! And who knows? Maybe that next one will get zapped by the lightning bolt of great success. 

***

Thanks, Connie and good luck!

***

And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is coming out in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magaine, on sale at newsstands starting April 25th. Or click here to buy online starting 4/25.


***

Anthony Nominations close in about 2 weeks. Which is 2 weeks in which you can still read my story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” from the 12/16 Ellery Queen. And which was voted #1 in Ellery Queen’s Readers Poll for 2016. It’s available FREE on my website along with “Nature of the Beast,” published on David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp, and “Deserted Cities of the Heart,” published in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir. All from 2016 and all eligible. Click here to read them for free.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Scot in Trouble Up a Tree.

“With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?”  by Catriona

Yesterday Cathy looked at the all-important jacket image - the first thing a potential reader sees. Today I'm going to move on to the next step we take when we try to decide whether or not buy a book . . . the words.

Not, you understand, the words the writer works on, hones, edits and polishes for months and years but the words on the outside: the title, slugline, blurb, puff, and flap copy.
And slug, blurb, puff, flap is how it feels sometimes. The couple of hundred words that go on the cover are some of my least favourite writing.

I've got three books coming out in the next year or so:

One title gave me no bother at all. I needed something that said "Macbeth" and my mother-in-law, simply by throwing herself to the ground, breaking her ankle and spending a few boring days stuck in hospital with nothing better to do, came up with it.  Thank you, Nan.  

But there's a lot more than just the title on the jacket:
You'll have to zoom in on this!
And every word has been batted back and forth on email about a dozen times.  Oy.

Another book was called HANG MY HAT! all the time I was writing it but it's SCOT FREE now. Is that better? You tell me. It's got an extra identifier "A Last Ditch Mystery" (My heroine lives in the fragrantly named Last Ditch Motel) and a slugline too "The lighter side of the dark underbelly of the California Dream".  

This cover hasn't been revealed to the world yet, unfortunately. It's a belter. With different textures. First book I've ever had with different textures.  The teaser synopsis? Different editor, Same number of emails.

Book 3's got a slugline too "Draw me a house, a tree and a person and I'll tell you who are inside". Or "deep inside" or "deep down inside" or just "who you are". And it's got an identifier: "a novel of suspense".  (It's also got a different title in the UK: THE WEIGHT OF ANGELS. )


But both books have the same teaser. And even more emails to get it up and running.

So here they are - the three hard-won paragraphs of copy that will, fingers crossed, get readers salivating. And never mind the thousands of books others published, I'm just happy that at least these three don't all sound the same.  I hope. 

"The body found in a muddy grave across the street is just the latest horror threatening to tear apart Aly McGovern’s life seam by seam. She knows Angelo, her brooding teenage son, is keeping secrets. She fears he's in danger too. But her new job at the psychiatric hospital, the job her husband pushed her into, is using up everything she's got every day.  She can try to ignore the sounds that surely can't really be there. And she can try to trust the doctors who can't be as dark as they seem. But can Aly hold herself, her life and her family together without getting blood on her hands?"

"Lexy Campbell fell in love and left her native Scotland for a golden life in California – hitched to a hunk, building her marriage counseling practice, living the dream. Six months later she’s divorced, broke and headed home. There’s just one last thing. Lexy’s only client – sweet little old Mrs Bombarro – is in jail for murdering her husband and Lexy knows the cops have got it wrong. All she needs is a few days to prove it and somewhere cheap to sleep at night. But checking into the Last Ditch Motel brings a whole world of trouble along with its huge slice of life."

"Fair is foul and foul is fair when aristocratic private detective Dandy Gilver arrives at Castle Bewer, at midsummer 1934, to solve the tangled mystery of a missing man, a lost ruby and a family curse. The Bewer family's latest wheeze to keep the wolf from the door is turning the castle keep into a theatre. While a motley band of players rehearse Macbeth, the Bewers themselves prepare lectures, their faithful servants set up a tearoom, and the guest wings fill with rich American ladies seeking culture. Meanwhile, Dandy and her sidekick Alec Osborne begin to unravel the many secrets of the Bewers and find that, despite the witches, murders and ghosts onstage, it's behind the scenes where the darkest deeds are done."

Hmmmm - or do they?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Promises, promises...Cathy Ace



“With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?”

To catch the eye of a reader, you have to know your reader! Just as when fishing you have to have the right bait for the fish you’re trying to catch, I’ve always thought of the cover of a book as being that bait. Unlike when fishing, you don’t want to hook the reader with the promise of a great meal then drag them out of the water and batter them to death – no, really, you don’t! – what you want to do is to get them interested enough in the overall proposition of your book then actually give them what you’ve promised them.

The photo we use on our Facebook page
So, for me, the book cover – which includes the visuals, the typesetting, the title of the book and the jacket notes – is where it all begins (and, sometimes, if it’s wrong, it can be where it all ends). I understand that, these days, the way in which a potential reader is first exposed to this might not be on a bookshelf but in the virtual world of online communication and that’s where an author has a role to play in making their book “visible”. Thus, standing out from the crowd begins with the offer encapsulated in the exterior of the book, and how an author can get that seen by potential readers.
Artwork, typesetting, the title and the back-cover blurb will all appeal, or turn off, a reader almost at first glance. I know it does with me – there are certain types of cover design I "expect" to conceal a book that’s of a type that won’t appeal to me, which is why I think this is such a critical aspect of beginning the appeal to the reader. 

I write two series of books and each series has a “Title framework”: all the Cait Morgan Mysteries are “The Corpse with the…..” and then follows something valuable and a body part – eg: The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, Golden Nose, Emerald Thumb etc; all my WISE Enquiries Agency mysteries are “The Case of the…..” two words that are alliterative, the second describing a person – eg: The Case of the Dotty Dowager, Missing Morris Dancer, Curious Cook. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say it’s taken quite a bit of work on my part to get this to be accepted by publishers, and to then get it to “stick”. To me (with a marketing communications background) it seems obvious that offering a promise that is easily recognizable is critical in such a busy marketplace. And it starts with a title – which might be all that a potential reader sees in a headline, or on a list of forthcoming publications, for example.

Beyond this, there’s then the style and content of the cover art. For my Cait Morgan Mysteries – each of which is set in a different country – my publisher agreed to feature a “landmark” or a “defining image” of the country in question on each cover…I wanted the books to look like retro travel posters because, although the setting for the books is contemporary, they are very much in the traditional “Golden Age” vein in terms of structure. The designer was able to select a typeface that hints at the 1930s without being a pastiche, added a “ageing” effect, and we were off! 
Each book like a vintage travel poster - inviting readers to take a trip and meet a corpse!

For my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, which are centered upon a Welsh stately home, it was decided that such a building would always feature on the cover, because it is a defining aspect of each story and would appeal to those looking for a link with “all things Downton” – again, these are contemporary tales, but there’s an inevitable recognition of the “Upstairs, Downstairs” life within the home of a titled family, and that’s what this visual recognizes, and promises.

Yes - you'll visit a stately home in these books and you'll help solve a puzzling, probably quite cozy case

 I am delighted that the covers of both of my series offer what I believe they deliver. 

Then – how to bring these images and promises to the point where they are, in fact, in front of the eyes of readers and potential readers? Well, that’s where the job of planning and implementing a strategic promotional plan comes into play. I use Facebook, Twitter, I write blogs on a regular basis (like this one) and also write guest blog posts on other sites. I’ll run competitions, I have my own bi-monthly newsletter (you can sign up for it at my website) and I have my website. It’s all about getting the word out, getting the visual promise onto the screens people are looking at…and hopefully, thereby, onto their “Consider To Buy/Borrow” list, then their “To Be Read” pile, then – one day, I hope – onto their “Can’t Wait For The Next One” list.  

The overall promise connected with my name

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: http://cathyace.com/  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

So. Many. Books.

"With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?"


This week I am grateful to fellow Canadian crime writer SG Wong for stepping in to share her perspective on the topic of the week.
SG Wong writes the Lola Starke series of novels and the Crescent City short stories, written in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective genre, with two-fingers’ worth of noir and a liberal sprinkling of magic and ghosts thrown in for good measure.
SG:

Someone once referred to me as an “award loser.” She wasn’t wrong.

Does that mean I should be using that phrase as an attention-grabber? It’s accurate, after all, and truth in advertising is still an ethical standard these days. Plus, it’s eye-catching for its unusual phrasing; just think of all those seemingly dime-a-dozen “Award-winning” whozits who also publish books. Hmm, maybe I should plaster it on my website and all those bios I send out for speaking gigs and public appearances. Ooh, I know: I can use it as my banner on my Amazon author listing…

The topic of “discoverability” is something akin to kryptonite for many authors, I think. It certainly has a soupçon of “fatal weakness” for me in that I still haven’t quite hit on the formula that yields me thousands of purchases on release day. And do you know? I just saw an author celebrated for his millionth download on Amazon—of one book. Honestly, I’m happy for him; let’s celebrate each other’s successes! Still, I couldn’t bear to click and read more about it. I smelled too much of my own failure lurking in that post. (I know, I know: “failure” and “success” are just placeholder labels, contrived to help us keep score.)

The truth is that many of us struggle every day—every other day, if we’re lucky—to be both artist and business person. We may feel confidence in our art, ie., our writing (c’mon, admit it: this happens), but many of us flounder at getting our books noticed. Which isn’t to say they get read or reviewed, or even purchased.

I’m an indie author. I’m accountable for every aspect of my book production, as creative director and entrepreneurial lead. I spend a lot of my work time on marketing. Indeed, isn’t that what I’m doing right now, writing this guest post? Why else would I expose my professional kryptonite to a group of virtual and literal strangers, for nothing more than the ephemeral promise of exposure?

Well, because why not?

I’ve been an indie for just over 3 years and the best advice I can give anyone, self-publishing or otherwise, is to experiment. Be brave. Be curious. (Also, fiscally responsible. More on that later.) See what other authors are doing; consider if it would work for you. And by that last, I mean, are you comfortable doing it? I don’t mean could it work for you because just about anything has that potential. Ask yourself, does it hit the sweet spot of (interesting) x (conceivable) within the framework of your career?

For example, blog tours are excellent for introducing ourselves and our latest release to a wider range of readers than our own blog audience already covers. They also help us build relationships with bloggers and other authors; an online version of professional networking.

But I don’t do blog tours. I think they’re neat; I just don’t want to spend the time and energy whipping up 500-word posts for two weeks’ worth of stops. Notice I wrote “don’t” rather than “can’t.” For many reasons, my family and volunteering obligations among them, I’d rather spend that time elsewhere. That’s what works for me. It’s a choice I’ve made, mindful of what I may be giving up and mindful of what I gain.

I’ve tried a lot of things to whip up discoverability for my books. (Non sequitor alert: you can always tell a business-y term by its utter inelegance.) I have online sales pages on multiple platforms. I’ve purchased featured placement and limited-time deals. I’ve offered my ebooks for free to the US library system. I’ve recruited generous social media influencers to hype my new release.

I’ve attended free webinars. I’ve purchased online courses. I’ve learned about building email subscriber lists and using Facebook ads and writing PR releases. I’ve joined private FB author promo groups and binders full of women writers. I pay annual fees to professional orgs like Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime and my provincial writers guild. I tweet and post and snap photos and pin images. I ask people to share my stuff. I ask for reviews.

And I continue to submit my work to awards competitions. Yes, awards noms are marketing, win or lose. As an indie author, I also have to consider how to finance all of my own experiments. So, that takes some adulting, too. Just because I’d like to enter my novel in three categories in the IPPY Awards, doesn’t mean that US$55-95 per novel per category (plus shipping) is a good use of my budget. So it’s a balancing act, too: choosing marketing initiatives that have the best chance of yielding something positive.

Here’s what I’ve learned about all of this: it can be been exhausting, emotionally and mentally and physically.

But only if I view each effort as a make-or-break moment in the trajectory of my so-called success—or as another chance to fail.

We can’t all be million-sellers out of the gate. I bet the million-seller I read about isn’t; I suspect he’s been at it for a while. I know that booksellers must needs protect their shelf space with tight schedules and a gimlet eye on sales numbers. As we already know, there are SO. MANY. books getting published online every day, in a panoply of tastes and quality. There are a gazillion factors utterly out of our control when it comes to selling books.

I have no idea what will rocket my novel up “above the fray.” Honest. No idea. But, really, it’s not anything I can control anyway. Other than putting myself and my work out there, that is. We can’t win a race we don’t enter, right?

However, I know how to research, how to be curious. I know what I’m comfortable trying. I know when it’s time to move out of my comfort zone, too; ie., how to be brave. And I only know all that because I’ve been willing to experiment—and to cut myself slack when things absolutely do not work out the way I want. (Ask me about the social media campaign for my release last Fall. Wait; don’t.)

So, I keep entering the race. I show up. I write and publish. I connect with readers and other authors. I organize events. I sign up for events. I contribute to my writing community, whether in-person or online. I do my best to stop second-guessing if I’m doing marketing the so-called “right way.”

Curiosity. Courage. Resilience.

They may not have boosted my discoverability much so far, but I can always count on them to keep me going when “failure” becomes a burden instead of a chance to try something new.


RM:  Thank you, SG! 

I'm sure it helps to have beautiful covers like these, too.... Learn more about SG and her work at http://www.sgwong.com.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making Your Book Stand Out

Q: With thousands of new titles being published every day, what do you do to try to raise your new book above the fray and catch the eye of readers?

- from Susan

A: Anything and everything as long as it isn’t annoying, offensive, or negative.

Shameless promotion: my granddaughter displaying my previous book in 2016.


Really, I have no expert advice or magic tricks and I’m not sure who has them. This question has come up in one form or another before, and I’m no wiser now than when I first answered it.

1. Write the very best – the very best – book you can, not thinking about what will sell but being deeply engaged with your characters and the story.

2. Find a publisher – and this isn’t easy, I know – who “gets” what you’re trying to say and loves the manuscript. Negotiate, push, do what you have to because if the publisher isn’t actively rooting for your success, getting the book into bookstores and online, it’s hard to make it happen on your own.

3. Let your Facebook and Twitter followers feel your genuine excitement about the book, share interesting bits about the setting, the plot, characteristics of your cast, but don’t just post verbiage – make it count. Don’t overdo it. And never, never post your book news in all caps. Side note: I created a Pinterest page for my French village mystery and to my surprise a fair number of people are ‘grabbing’ and re-posting my images.

4. Related to that, think carefully about newsletters and e-blasts. I just did one email – the only one I will do – to let people know about my launch party for Love & Death in Burgundy. (May 13 at 4 o’clock – you’re invited if you live anywhere near Book Passage in Corte Madera CA.) 
Shameless promotion: my new book, the first in my French Village mysteries.

I read a few newsletters from fellow authors because I know I will only hear from them 2-3 times a year and they make sure there’s interesting material in their newsletters. Jane Cleland and Tim Hallinan are two such smart authors.

5. Say “yes” to every invitation you can to talk with readers and writers. If you’re face-to-face with people, you’ll be able to focus on what they really want to know about you and your book. If you treat them like friends, they are likely to become friends and will happily promote your books to others.

I’m sure there’s more and better advice my fellow Minds will post this week. If you’re a reader and want to chime in, please do. We’d all like to hear what gets your attention in this sea of new books every year.






Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Crime novels to transport the reader

by Dietrich Kalteis
Many readers like to travel vicariously with a good book without having to move from the comfort of their armchair. Are there any crime novels that you particularly enjoyed that transported you to a place or time you had wanted to visit?

A good crime novel transports me, whether to another place and time and into some character’s world. Good writing does that, it draws you in and creates that world. Even a story set in my hometown needs to do that. Sam Wiebe’s Last of the Independents set in my home town is a good example.

And there are plenty of crime novels set in places I haven’t been or in other times in history. When it’s done right, the words on the page paint a picture and draw me in and transport me. And in a crime novel, there’s the thrill of experiencing what the story’s characters go through, things most of us would never do, a little like living on the edge without paying any of the consequences.

I recently reread Elmore Leonard’s Djibouti, one of his last about a film maker named Dara Barr, her grip Xavier LeBo and some happy-go-lucky pirates, al-Qaida terrorists and a Texas billionaire and his elephant gun. It’s often hilarious through Elmore Leonard’s quirky characters and sharp dialog. The story takes the reader around the waters of the Horn of Africa as Dara and Xavier get caught up in an attempt to blow up a hijacked tanker filled with enough liquified natural gas to take out the African city the book’s named after.  
 
Then there’s the classic Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, set in Moscow toward the end of the soviet era. An excellent thriller that transports the readers, following chief inspector Arkady Renko through the streets and squad rooms of Moscow as he tries to solve the murder case of three corpses found in an amusement park. I’ve never been to Moscow, but this book makes it real and brings the setting to life because the writing is so convincing.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett takes the reader back to 1940 just ahead of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. A German spy in England, Henry Faber is called The Needle and obtains crucial information about the Allied offensive. Allied counter-intelligence came up with a scheme to convince the Germans the D-Day landings would occur in Calais. When the Needle finds out the landings will happen at Normandy, he tries to get the news to his command. He becomes a hunted man by the British, and must go on the run across Northern England and to Aberdeen, Scotland where he tries to rendevous with a U-Boat. This book just doesn’t let up as the Needle tries to escape.
 
James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice was published back in ’34, and has been turned to film a couple of times as well. It’s a story of lust, murder and betrayal that holds up and takes the reader back in time, tells of a drifter named Frank Chambers who stops at some out of the way California diner and ends up working there. When Frank falls for Cora, the owner’s wife, they start an affair and plot to kill her husband. After they succeed, the police suspect them, and Cora gives Frank up for a lighter sentence. When the case falls apart, Frank and Cora try to reconcile, but in Cain fashion, there’s no neat ending in store for either one.

My next one’s called Zero Avenue, due out in October. It’s about Frankie del Rey, a promising musician and leader of the punk band Waves of Nausea. Frankie makes ends meet by running dope for a local gangster. She falls for club owner, Johnny Falco. When he finds out from Ernie, the Waves’ bass player, about the gangster’s pot fields out by Zero Avenue along the U.S. border, Johnny rips off one of the fields in hopes of keeping the doors to his struggling club open. And he might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for Ernie finding out what he did and trying to rip off one of the fields on his own. Ernie gets caught and the trail leads back to Johnny and Frankie. The story is set during the early days of the punk rock scene in Vancouver. I had a great time reliving the music and researching the bands and music of that time, most of which was pretty obscure.

I’ve written stories set in different times and places, from dustbowl Kansas to San Francisco at the time of the big earthquake, and I like the fact-finding that gives me all the bits and pieces to make these settings come to life. I love a story that transports me, so I guess it’s natural that I’d enjoy creating them.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Truth, Justice and the Crime Writing Way!

What prompted you to become a writer of crime fiction?

by Paul D. Marks

Uh, time to delve into that whole Pandora’s Box of psychopathology that makes me, uh, me. And that made me want to become a writer of crime fiction. But we won’t delve too deep. You never know what you might find down in the depths.

So, what prompted me to write crime fiction: I write it so I can kill people...on the page that I can't kill in real life...........

Related to that is the desire to see justice served as it so often isn’t in real life. That said, in much of what I write there are no neat bow-tied endings. And even when parts of the stories are tied up other parts are left open-ended. Kind of like life. So, justice is often served on some level, but maybe not neatly and maybe not legal justice, but some kind of street justice. Unless it’s a totally noir tale where there truly might not be justice, at least not in terms of how we normally think of it.

Writing crime fiction also gives me a way to comment on things that I want to comment on. Also to explore different points of view about those things, via various characters, including those that might not necessarily jibe with my own thoughts. Kind of like when you did debates in school and you had to take the other side of the issue, whether you agreed with it or not.

And, as RM said earlier in the week, “With crime fiction I get to write about people in trouble, not just criminals and victims, but the people who happen to be police officers as well.” It's so true, and crime fiction is about so much more than whodunit. It's about all the people affected by the crime. As such, it gives us a vehicle to explore the human condition (now that sounds pretty hifalutin) but in a structured story with a plot that keeps us interested (hopefully) and moving forward.

But ultimately I want to entertain. I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t want to beat on a dead Sturges, but the Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels makes the point very well about entertaining. It’s the story of a film director who makes movies like Ants in Your Plants of 1939. But he thinks it’s light and silly junk. He wants to make the ponderous message movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. But through his adventures he learns that what people really want is to laugh – and to be entertained.

White Heat on Amazon
Now, there’s not generally a lot of yucks in crime fiction, though there are some exceptions. But the best crime fiction is entertaining first. Sam Goldwyn famously might have said, if I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union. Which is not to say that crime writing can’t have a message, just to say that it shouldn’t hit you over the head. The best writing makes you think, but it doesn’t tell you what to think. A crime writer can illuminate aspects of society, good and bad, without being preachy or moralistic. My novel White Heat deals with race and racism in the form of a fast-paced, intense mystery thriller. And while I hope I make some points about those subjects, my first goal is to entertain. The sequel to White Heat, which may actually see the light of day one of these days, does the same thing about another pressing issue of life today.

And, of course, I enjoy reading crime fiction and watching crime-related movies. As I’ve stated here before, I’m a “movie guy,” and I came to a lot of crime fiction via the movies. Anyone who knows me knows I love film noir and in that genre there are few heroes, at least of the conventional variety. I’ve done a lot of different types of writing, mainstream, humorous/satire, screenplays of various genres. But crime writing/fiction and noir allow me to explore what good and evil are and where the boundaries between them are sometimes blurred.

So there you have it, now I can stuff the bats back into the belfry and close the lid to Pandora’s Box. Why do you write crime fiction?

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And now for some refreshingly new BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is coming out in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magaine, on sale at newsstands starting April 25th. Or click here to buy online.



And I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. If you’d like to read it (and maybe consider it for other awards) you can read it free on my website: http://pauldmarks.com/stories/