Monday, April 21, 2008

Controversial Subjects by Peter Nennhaus

Suppose you wish to compose a writing on a contentious or controversial subject. Perhaps you have unconventional ideas in religion or about your own country, thoughts you know may be seen as offensive by some readers. How would you approach it?

First of all, you must be convinced of the correctness of your thesis and your right to express it. Next, it is helpful to be tactful about it and express your ideas the way a friend speaks, one who does neither lecture nor reprimand, but rather who gives advice to his brother and tries to convince rather than rebuke. Thirdly, do your research before you speak up. That would certainly include the honest assessment of your opponents’ views. If possible, seek to discuss the subject first with those who think differently, for a serious dialogue is likely to make you improve your own thoughts. I like such a discussion better than a debate, as a debate is dishonest. It is a one-upmanship type of contest aimed at finding not necessarily the truth but the winner, as we witness presently in the political debates in an election campaign. In other words, I personally prefer such a writing to be done in a spirit of honesty and goodwill. Not that such goodwill will forestall angry counter-attacks, for sure enough they will be launched at you. But, again like in political debates, it resembles the difference between a dirty campaign and a nasty campaign.

Being controversial will only rarely lead to universal acclaim, if ever, but fear not, you will have left a mark that others may carry further. Thinking outside the box may certainly lead to ridicule, but it is the basis for progress, too. Without it we would have never built a computer or walked on the moon.

For more info on Peter's book go to his website.

Story Behind the Stories – by Jason M. Waltz, Managing Editor, Flashing Swords Press

Just what did it take to find, bind, and mind the twenty-one entries that create The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure (RotS)? Nothing more than access to a remaining inventory of accepted stories, a couple years’ worth of reviewing and critiquing, a remembered blog post, and an expectant boss.

Did we have a theme in mind? Not from the start. The concept of publishing an anthology arose as a vehicle for returning to glory some stories accepted by the previous incarnation of Flashing Swords Magazine that had not received the attention they deserved. Once we agreed on this option, well, the anthology required a creator. As Managing Editor, Kelly chose me.

Doing so created our first dilemma. Or my first dilemma I should say. Though I eagerly accepted the role and the responsibility, I was the lone newbie in the group. The person with less than one year’s experience as an editor. The only person without a publishing history. Who was I to orchestrate this thing?

Simply the guy my exceptional boss allowed me to be.

The summary of what I went through to bring RotS to the masses is too long to recount here. Simply told, once assigned, I bent to my task with a passion. I tracked down authors with tales I’d read long ago and asked them for those titles. I recalled an accomplished author’s blogging wisdom and asked him for it. I learned a lot about editing and publishing, working with authors and artists, design and layout – and more design and layout! – before finally being content. Could I have done better? Absolutely – but I’m damn proud of the final result as it is.

Theme, you ask? Why, I only required each tale to rock me in some fashion and contain a figure heroic . . . or able to be heroic. All the RotS tales have a character filling that heroic role: some obviously, some by default, some in denial, and some not quite apparent – but still with that character who has the opportunity, no matter how slim, to be heroic.I wanted slam-bam adventure while simultaneously giving readers that heroic figure all of us look for. He didn’t have to be the biggest guy, the baddest guy, the smartest guy, or even a guy. I wanted, really, heroic attitude more than anything else, coupled with action-adventure that made readers sit up in their seats and pay attention.I think I captured what I sought. I don't think anyone can read this anthology lying in bed an evening. If you can, I didn't do my job.

Return now to the days of true adventure! Join fierce warriors in savage battles of survival and supremacy as they face hordes of vile foes, vie against inner demons, or struggle before onslaughts of both. Enter the halls of heroic fantasy in awe and marvel at the deeds of the mighty. Close upon the heels of Howard's Conan, Moorcock's Elric, and Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser come Ehart's Ninshi, Heath's Brom, and Hawkes' Kabar. Unsheathe your sword and follow in their steps if you dare!

Get your copy of this great anthology at The Return of the Sword

Friday, April 18, 2008

Establishing a Brand Name by Theresa Chaze

Most writers think their work is done once the manuscript has been sent to the printer; it is the reason that so many books fail to live up to their potential. Even with a PR team or a traditional publishing house working back up, the bulk of the marketing and promotions is still the writer's responsibility and obligation. No one else knows the book’s potential or the uniqueness of the work better than the writer does.

PR and publishing marketing teams divide their attention among all their clients. However, their limited time and resources are given first to those authors and books that show the most potential. Therefore, it is up to the author to establish a brand name with the primary target market that will be easily expandable into the general readership. In many ways, publishing is just like finding any other job--in order to get a job you have to have experience; in order to get experience you have to have a job. In publishing, in order to be successful you have to have readers; in order to gain a readership you have to be successful.

By definition, a brand name is the general field or focus the product. Who does the product appeal to and why? For writers, it would be the genre. Although genres are intertwined, most books are labeled with one primary. It is the core the author works from not only when writing, but also for the marketing plan. It is this structure that allows the readership to know what to expect when they open the book. Stephen King’s novels are primarily horror, while Stephen Hawking is non-fiction physics. If the branding is effective, it will not only creating a niche market for the work, but for the author as well.

A major mistake most authors make is limiting their promotions to just their work. By creating bridges to similar topics or causes, the author expands their target readership to those who have similar interests but who would not normally read the genre. By allow the reader to see the back story behind the development or to get to know the person behind the work, the author creates more of a buzz.

If the author's blog is solely focused on promoting the book, it will rapidly become boring and will loose readership. However, if it also includes posts about the author's activities and interests, it will diversify the SEO keywords and expand who will be drawn to the blog. A fiction author cannot only write about her or his specific genre, but she or he can also generalize about related topics. A science fiction author could very easily talk about new technologies, NASA, research projects or write reviews of other science fiction novels. In addition, if an author is involved with social issues or caused, writing about these topics will not only make the author a real person, but also catch the search engines attention on those topics as well.

Home sites are different. Although they can have the blog listed, most author's sites focus entirely on the author and her or his work. Stephen King's site contains:

His works
Future works
Message Board

The last two listings contain more diverse information that Stephen King fans would find interesting. His page is continually updated and expanded with new information. By keeping it fresh, it insures return visitors as well as new ones, which have found the site through the search engines. The message board makes the site interactive, giving the fans an active role. Readers and fans cannot only ask questions of King but each other as well, which once again increases the number of times individuals return to the site.

In order for a book to be successful, the marketing plan needs to be kept current. Stagnation on any level can cause a good book to become lost in the sea of new releases. To continue the analogy, promoting a book needs to be like waves rolling onto the coast; even during calm seas, one wave is always followed by another, which keeps the shore continually saturated. Book promotions are the same. In order to keep the interest of fans and expand the readership, promotional material must remain fresh and constant. One wave of press release or ads, no matter how effective, will soon dry up if it isn’t quickly followed up by another new wave.

From Blank Page to Book Shelves--How to Successfully Create and Market Your Book explains not only more about marketing and promotion, but also has tips about writing and publishing. Currently, my ebook is available as an Amazon Kindle or on my website, for $7.00. Copies bought on the author's site are accompanied by a 345 page listing of over 2000 independent bookstores.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Anatomy of a Cozy Mystery by Bernadette Steele

A cozy murder mystery is a story that features an amateur sleuth and that takes place in a narrow setting such as a house, building or small community. When I was a child, I discovered the cozy murder mystery by watching the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries on television. I have always enjoyed murder mystery books, movies and television shows of any kind but my favorite has always been the cozy murder mystery featuring an amateur sleuth because I could always relate to the character, and I was able to imagine myself in a similar situation.
Because some people in the literary world look down on the cozy mystery because it is the type of book that will never win a Pulitzer Prize, the level of detail and skill required to write a cozy is not appreciated.

Although there is no official format for a cozy mystery, there are several best practices that can be gleaned from past works, and they are:

· Decide on the title of your cozy mystery

A great title will compel readers to pick up your book. It will also provide you with direction during the writing process. It is easier to become attached to something that has an identity. Thus, when your cozy mystery has a title, it will become a living and breathing entity for you.

· Know the ending of your cozy mystery and who committed the crime

Knowing the ending and the culprit at the beginning will help you to develop the plot and the characters.

· Define your clues and where they will be placed in the story
· Decide what information will be foreshadowed, will serve as red herrings and constitute clues.
· Create a sleuth that is:
1. An amateur and not a professional crime solver
2. Has an interesting occupation
3. Has the ability to travel widely and meet a variety of people
4. Gets involved in complicated personal relationships
5. Humanized with faults that are socially acceptable and that she needs to struggle with internally

· Develop a plot that:

1. Contains a well-designed plot that presents an intellectual puzzle for the reader and that provides the answer at the end of the book
2. Has the sleuth uncover the criminal through the emotional or intellectual examination of the scene, suspects and clues
3. Takes place close to home or within a confined community in which the victim, suspects and sleuth all know one another
4. Discreetly depicts violence
5. Discreetly depicts sex in romantic entanglements
· Create supporting characters who are:
1. Motivated by human traits of greed, jealously or revenge
2. Eccentric, exasperating or entertaining

A cozy is not about murder but rather it is an examination of human frailty presented as a brain stimulating puzzle where in the end the main character and justice prevail.

You can visit Bernadette at her website to learn more about her and her writing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tips to Organize Your Poetic Writing Life by Charlotte Barnes

(1) Always keep paper or a tape recorder handy to capture inspiration. Many a grand idea has been lost in the dark of night!
(2) Simplify your life. Remove physical and emotional clutter.
(3) Set clear, specific goals, such as ten poems in ten days, etc.
(4) Listen to motivational CD’s to help counteract negativity.
(5) Reward yourself when milestones are reached.
(6) Set boundaries—say “no.”
(7) Have a writing area or room and make it known when you want no disturbances.
(8) Organize your poems into categories such as “Poems to Definitely Keep,” “Possibilities—Need Work,” or “Trash.”
(9) Use an accordion file or other filing system—just for poetry.
(10) Share your poetry with supportive friends.

You can visit her website at or her blog at

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's the Characters by David H. Brown

For us fiction writers our characters most often come from real life. So how do we fictionalize them? Much of my personal writing in HONOR DUE is autobiographical in nature and reflects the folks I've known who have made an impression on me. It sure helps to have lived a varied life and paid attention to the people in it.

From being the son of missionary parents with a lot of travel around the Ring of Fire parts of the world and with Uncle Sam-- all over Europe and the Middle East before 2 tours in Vietnam, I've been a jack of all trades in everything from day laborer hauling railroad ties off ship at Seward, Alaska to the Director of Security for Loomis when anti-hijacking measures went into effect back in '73. Also drove Armored Car, joined the Anchorage Police force and worked undercover for drugs and vice. The list goes on: Professional Trapper; Dog Sledder; Homesteader; Truck Driver; General Contractor; Minister; Editor; Writer; Speaker; Restaurateur; Movie Producer; Antique Restoration Specialist; Personal Care Worker (which my wife wrote about in her own book "STANDING THE WATCH: The Greatest Gift" which will be out in May); PC Repair Specialist; Computer Instructor; Book Reviewer; Webmaster and Web Designer.

Many of the editors and authors I've known over the years told me to write what I know. So I do. The rub is how to create fictional characters out of all that.

Sometimes it's easy. I start with the memory of a certain person. An image or caricature will appear in my mind's eye. Physical traits will be exaggerated or diminished. A voice softened or given more bluster. Eye color or motion is brought into focus. 'As his soft voice spoke those cruel words, his empty blue eyes flitted about like a termite taking wing on a hot summer day.' Voila! A character is born, needing only to be filled out. In most cases the original person wouldn't recognize themselves.

Other characters come from an amalgamation. If the character is to be strong, I pull those points from several people I remember place them into a setting and fit them together. Weak, then the opposite.

One thing I find tremendously helpful is opening a file on each character and spending time with them. Putting in a few hours or several days with each in the setting in which I wish to be. I build out their physical characteristics, language, type of work they do, who their family relations are, where they live, even to their clothes and the kind of food they like. I talk to them, make up regular conversations with them about their lives. (Pssst... never do this out loud.) I think of the process much like building an intelligence dossier on a subject. I do this until that character is as real to me as the family that lives down the road or the girl I've watched grow up who now works at the deli counter. When I reach the point where I'm going to put them in the story, I usually really like or detest them, in which case I kill them. Either way I know the reader is going to feel much the same way... at least I hope so.

Remember, it's fiction and we're all members in good standing in the Liars Club of Writing. However, much is real and believable, and that I try to always keep in mind.

Find out more about David and Honor Due at his website.