Monday, July 30, 2018

Websites for Authors

Terry Shames here. This week we are discussing our websites—how they work as a business tool and how we decided upon content, design and tone.

Long before I was published, I heeded advice to have a website all ready to go when I did get published. I hired a popular website designer who was expensive, but responsive to her clients’ needs. Here are a few things I wanted:

1)    The designer’s look was a little romantic for my taste and I told her I wanted a clean look. I wanted the tone to be conversational and professional.
2)    My sister is an artist, and I wanted her art to be part of the visuals.
3)    I wanted visitors to be able to find sections easily.
4)    I wanted a separate section for photographs.

It must have worked pretty well, because someone writing an article about good websites wanted to feature mine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t published yet, and they wanted to feature only published authors.

The only problem I had with the site was that I could not make changes myself—they had to be done by the web designer's team. Not only did that mean I had to lay out the edits carefully, but I had to pay for the updates.

Fast forward to last year. My son is in music marketing and he told me the look of my website was dated and that he could do a new one for me that would look fresh and new, and that I could revise myself. He made a few suggestions that I was a little hesitant about, but they turned out to be very workable. For example, he thought I should not have a separate heading for photographs, but instead write blog posts and put the photographs in the post. That’s the only part that has not worked for me—and that is my fault, not the design fault. One of my goals is to get used to posting a blog with photos.

I love the look of the new website. It’s clean and uncluttered, and easy to negotiate. I also like how easy it is to update.

As a marketing tool, it’s among the best resources available. When someone goes to your website she should be able to read descriptions of your books, short stories, and articles, including review excerpts and “buy” links. The visitor should be able to find out about events you will be participating in; read a biography; see some photos; link to your blog, both personal and professional (7CriminalMinds); and get in contact with you. The name of your agent should be on your contact page as well, for media, editors or publisher who might want to discuss professional opportunities. It should also be very easy to sign up for your newsletter. The website went live in February, and since then I have almost doubled the number of newsletter subscribers.

When I write emails, both professional and personal, in the signature line I direct people to the website. I’m proud of the website and I often get emails from fans via the contact page.

One thing I really like is being able to update things myself. Being able to do it myself means I don’t have to do double the work. I can go straight to the website and play it by ear. The only drawback? The same as with having someone else do it: I have to remember to update!

Here's a link to the website:

In other news, I’d like readers to know that I have a short story in Unloaded 2, Edited by Eric Beetner, out July 16. The story, “You Kill Me,” was mentioned in the Publishers Weekly review.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Man Behind the Curtain

Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

This is definitely something I can relate to. And no, I don’t read the same. 

I’ve been writing one thing or another for most of my adult life. First screenplays, then some non-fiction, then stories and novels. And for all these types of writing working “behind the scenes,” so to speak, has skewed the way I watch a movie or read.

It’s kind of like seeing the little man behind the big curtain in The Wizard of Oz. On a different level, it’s like the old saw about sausage making, they may taste good but do you really want to see how they’re made? Or seeing how a magician does a trick—it just sort of loses its magic. Things lose their majesty when you see the little man behind the curtain or know how a story is put together.

So, when I’m watching a movie or reading a book I’m often thinking about all those things that go into the making of it, structure, dialogue, foreshadowing, character arc, etc. Of course, some stories do things differently, like Pulp Fiction, where things are out of sequence, but if you put it together in sequence even that pretty much follows the infamous Three Act Structure.

My mom read a lot and we would discuss books often. A lot of times she would enjoy something and I wouldn’t, because I was seeing the skeleton beneath the surface with all its flaws. She would say she just read for pleasure. Well, I read for pleasure and escape too…but while I’m doing that I often can’t help but notice the structural elements beneath the “skin”.

For example, while I think The Da Vinci code is a fun book and a fun ride, I think it’s very poorly written. And that affected how I liked it overall and whether I chose to read anymore of Dan Brown’s works. But for my mom it was just a fun ride.

Making it even harder is when I personally know the author/writer of something. Then I see them behind the characters and sometimes that makes it hard to separate the two. I know when I write there’s a little of me in some characters and some of me in all characters and everything (pretty much) is based on my life experience or at least filtered through it. So when I know the writer I see them in what they’re writing and that, too, can make it difficult to suspend disbelief, but I’m getting better at it. I’m pretty guarded, but people who know me well say they see a lot of me in the things I write, and how could it be otherwise? Though they haven’t said if it affects how they view the finished product.

So, if something really sweeps me up, whether a book or a movie, and I don’t see the nuts and bolts holding it together, then it’s magic. Raymond Chandler does that. When I read him I get totally lost in the story, the characters and his remarkable description that takes me back to another time and place. And I forget that I’m reading a book because I’m there, with those people, in those locations. Another book that totally swept me up was The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, which I’ve probably mentioned before. The story of a young soldier waiting for something momentous to happen—waiting and waiting and waiting, like so many of us do. Also, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. I’m there. At the Huntington Beach pier, feeling the sting of the saltwater, hearing the rev of motorcycles and I don’t see the girders holding up the story. The same goes for The Count of Monte Cristo, my favorite revenge story and I love revenge stories—who doesn’t want to see justice done? And my favorite book of all, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. When I read that I’m transported to that post World War I era. I’m absorbed—so absorbed I’m not thinking about all the ingredients that go into the pie. And there’re many other books that will carry me away like that. But unfortunately there’s also many books whose skeletons show through the story and when I’m paying attention to that I know I’m not really enjoying them.

I’m always hoping a book will carry me away so I forget my surroundings, forget my little troubles and get wrapped up in the story and characters. That’s what I’m hoping for when I crack the cover. And when it happens it’s sublime. What about you?


Broken Windows – Sequel to my #Shamus-winning White Heat drops 9/10/18. A labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate. #writers #mystery #amreading #thriller #novels  

Available for pre-order now on Amazon.

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Shell Game

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

By Catriona

I'm sitting in Jess Lourey's house in Minneapolis right now, with Terri Bischoff here too, and we're carving out an answer together.

Yes. That's the short version. 

But there's a longer version. There's an inevitable loss of innocence once you've learned how a book is put together: the bones and musculature; the shading and highlights; this metaphor is a mess.

It's not a bad thing. I like to see how someone else moves the cups whether or not I can track the ball. And every so often someone else finds the perfect way to express something you've been struggling with.  For example, I was trying to say that a group of people who had all shared a stressful experience in the past found it tough to hang out because that shared past could always intrude. I wrote and deleted and wrote and deleted and then read Laurie King in A Grave Talent saying "A memory swept into the room". GAAAHHHH. A memory swept into the room!  Exactly. 

There are a lot of beloved writers who do things better than I do but so accessibly I can hope to get there if I work hard and pay attention. Nick Hornby, Stephen King and Kate Atkinson inspire me. If I could write a Hornby-esque relationship, a Kingly description or an Atkinsonian one-liner I'd be very happy. And if I ever write an argument as well as Joy Fielding does, I'm going to buy myself a box of doughnuts.

But then there are the books you read and the fact that you're also a writer is irrelevant. Genius books. Books where the writing is so far above anything you could ever do that there's no point paying special attention. I would put Anne Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood in that category. Jessie would add Daniel Woodrell.  I wouldn't argue with that.

I would no more feel envious of them than I would of Chopin or Caravaggio, Usein Bolt or Simone Biles. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A lesson Cathy Ace

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

I can absolutely relate to this, because I now read in two very different ways…and this might be a controversial take on the topic.

I find that if I enjoy a book (be it in the crime genre or my preferred sub-genre of traditional crime), I can still disappear into it and read it as I always have read, for pure pleasure. On the other hand, if I find the book in question isn’t quite what I'd hoped it would be, I pull it apart as I go and find all the clangers, annoyances, and pitfalls I can, mark them up and try to learn from them. 

I know that might sound awful, but those who follow this blog will – by now – know I use it almost as my confessional, so I’m just being honest. 

You’d think I’d say that life’s too short to read a book I’m not enjoying, but I try to learn all the time, so, yes, analyzing what doesn’t work for me is – I think – important. Do I try to analyze what does work for me in the books I enjoy? Yes, I do that too, but only during a second reading. 

Before I was a writer (as in a published novelist) I wouldn’t have bothered finishing a book I wasn’t enjoying, and I wouldn’t probably have read a book I enjoy a second time, immediately. Now I do. So that's a big change. I need to learn, and I think there's only an upside because of the different way I now read. 

However, I admit I read fewer books now than I used to, overall, because I'm finishing more of those I would otherwise have set aside, and am re-reading those I enjoy PDQ. And there are SO MANY books I want to's a bit of a problem in that respect.

I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope it's paying off, though that would be down to me being able to implement what I learn - so there's that...which means I have to keep trying/writing. 

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION WARNING: Please consider reading my books? You can find out about them at my website: CLICK HERE

Monday, July 23, 2018

Show me the bones

Q: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons? 
- from Susan

A: Good question and my answer is sometimes, depends. If I’m reading narrowly within my genre – a traditional mystery – yes, I read differently most of the time. I can’t help it. I am alert to the red herrings and buried clues, to the too casual way something is dropped into the story and then ignored for the rest of the book until the ultimate scene and revelation. I am paying writerly attention to character arcs and secondary plot devices, and am conscious of the places where the author is pulling it off or where she’s too obvious. One thing that bothers me is where I see slackness, paragraphs that go nowhere, don’t add even peripheral value but may be there to stall while the writer digs around for what to do next, or are just adding padding to a light manuscript.

Once in a while now, a writer of traditionals will grab me with a great story – be it leisurely or fast-paced – and not let go. Excellent writing, sly humor, a character who is too wonderful to take my eyes off, a setting that is alive and breathing. These are the gems I hope for every time I buy a book and open it to page one. When that happens, I’m into the book and don’t have any desire to step out of it to look at the craft. The craft disappears into the product.

It’s easier for me to set aside my writing hat when I’m reading thrillers or psychological suspense or most police procedurals because the form is different enough that I can’t anticipate what might come next. I imagine, though, that if I wrote those, I’d soon have the same experience of looking at how the writer is doing it.

Pro or con? Both. I learn from the good and from the not so good books. As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my own work, to make the next book better than the last. Because the outstanding novels I read shut my critical brain off, I can enjoy them wholeheartedly, so I don’t think I’m missing anything.

One reason I read other kinds of fiction and read a fair amount of non-fiction is precisely because I will take it as is. I may critique the ideas or the literary value or the prose itself, but at least I won’t be peeking under the hood to see how the engine works.

BSP: My latest traditional mystery just came out and is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. I’ve been having a great time at bookstore events, sharing the stage with Cara Black, who writes about a part of France – Paris – as different from my rural village as it cane be. But still, Vive le France!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Going Up?

From Jim

Is it a part of an author’s responsibility to develop a good “elevator pitch”? If so, why; if not, why not? Any advice for those trying to develop a good/better one?

If you believe writers, the two hardest things they do are writing a synopsis and crafting an elevator pitch.

The inherent problem with elevator pitches is that there’s little time to describe your book. Therefore, you probably won’t be able to give a complete rundown of the plot and characters. What you must do is grab the interest of your trapped audience.

I don’t have an elevator pitch for any of my books, but this week’s topic inspired me to give it a shot. Here goes.

Book 1
January 1960. Newspaper reporter Ellie Stone, returns to her childhood home after her estranged father, a university professor, is attacked during an apparent burglary. Questioning the randomness of the assault, Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation. Her investigation offers her both a chance at redemption in her father’s eyes and the risk of losing him forever.

Book 2
NO STONE UNTURNED (2015 Anthony Award finalist)
Thanksgiving 1960. A society girl found dead in the woods. Three little oil spots on the dirt road. A Dr Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave. And a young female reporter, armed with nothing but a camera. Wading through a voyeuristic tangle of small-town secrets and big university grudges, Ellie makes some desperate enemies who want her off the case. Dead if necessary.

Book 3
STONE COLD DEAD (2016 Anthony, Barry, Lefty Award finalist)
January 1961. A child’s life is precious. Unless she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. A fifteen-year-old girl disappears from the school parking lot. The police assume she’s a runaway, so, without options, the girl’s mother turns to reporter Ellie Stone for help. Stone Cold Dead takes Ellie on a chilling journey to a place of uncertainty, loss, teenage passion, and vulnerability—a place where Ellie’s questions are unwanted and her life is in danger.

Book 4
HEART OF STONE (2017 Anthony and Macavity Award Winner; Edgar and Lefty Finalist)
August 1961. In the waning days of a lazy lakeside holiday, two men plummet to their deaths in an apparent diving accident. The two victims, one, a stranger to the lake and, the other, a teenaged boy from a nearby music camp didn’t know each other. But that’s only the first clue something’s amiss. Wading into a slippery morass of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, rabid John Birchers, and charismatic evangelicals, Ellie must navigate old grudges and Cold War passions, lost ideals and betrayed loves. Her difficult questions put her in jeopardy. But this time, it’s her heart that’s at risk.

Book 5
CAST THE FIRST STONE (2018 Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Award finalist)
February 1962. Local boy Tony Eberle lands a big role in a Hollywood movie, but he vanishes just when it’s time for his closeup. His agent is stumped, the director is apoplectic, and the producer is dead. Murdered. Reporter Ellie Stone is dispatched to Los Angeles for the story. There she unearths secrets no one wants revealed. But before she can solve the murder, she must locate Tony Eberle.

Book 6 
August 1962. A double murder, committed on a ghostly stud farm in the dead of night, leads reporter Ellie down a haunted path, just a stone’s throw from the glamour of Saratoga Springs, to a place where dangerous men don’t like to lose. Unraveling secrets from the past–crushing failure and heartless betrayal–she’s learning that arson can be cold revenge.

And why not a couple of short stories? These should be even shorter. I’m going to go with a single sentence for each.

“Pan Paniscus”
A mischievous bonobo named Bingo escapes from the zoo and embarks on a collision course with tragedy.

—UNLOADED Vol. 2, July 2018 

“Who Is Stuart Bridge?”
A deathbed confession reveals a long-buried crime no one wants to remember.


I’m not sure if these are any good. The truest test is whether they sparked your interest. All suggestions are welcome.