Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Off on a Holiday

We're leaving this ...

and this ...

for this ....

and this ...

because these two are finally getting hitched.

Smart son.

I'm doing a book signing May 8th at Save-On Bookstore in Kelowna, which means we won't be home until May 10th. If you're in the Kelowna area, please stop by. I'd love to chitchat.

Meanwhile, everybody stay safe, take care, and have a wonderful 3 weeks. I'll talk to you when I get back.

Meanwhile, if you're having trouble getting your head around Billy Bob Thorton's bizarre behaviour on Canadian talkshow QTV, ease up on the poor guy. It's not as if we didn't already know he was a bit strange.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


This week my guest blogger is Carola Dunn, author of the newly released Manna From Hades. Carola is a prolific writer who will take you on a journey you won't want to come home from. Enjoy...

My Life -- Backwards by Carola Dunn

My 50th book just came out, an exciting milestone. MANNA FROM HADES is also the first book in my new series of Cornish mysteries set in the 1960s/70s. My main character, Eleanor Trewynn, is a widow in her 60s. She and her husband travelled the world working for a big international charity. On his death Eleanor retired to a small fishing village in Cornwall, their home county, bought a cottage and turned the ground floor into a charity shop, while she and her West Highland terrier live in the flat above.

A second protagonist is Eleanor's niece, Megan Pencarrow, a detective sergeant with the local police at a time when few women were police officers and fewer still detectives. As well as prejudice, she has to cope with a grumpy, impatient superior, DI Scumble, and a suave ex-colleague from Scotland Yard. Other important characters who will reappear in future books in the series are the vicar's wife, kind and efficient but bossy, who runs the shop, and the artist who lives next door.

Eleanor's peaceful retirement is shattered when she finds the body of a scruffy youth in the shop's stockroom.

I've had a number of letters from readers of my previous books who are afraid my existing series is going to stop. Don't worry, Daisy Dalrymple's adventures continue. Set in England in the 1920s, the series now has 17 titles and the 18th, SHEER FOLLY, will be out in September.

If you're not familiar with Daisy, this is a good time to get to know her as the first 6 books have been reissued and are easily available from bookstores and online booksellers. Support the indies; go to your local mystery bookstore or the Independent Mystery Booksellers at http://www.mysterybooksellers.com/IMBA_Members.htm. (Several Daisy mysteries have been IMBA bestsellers. I hope this doesn't amount to conflict of interest?)

Daisy is a journalist, married to Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, whom she met in the first book, DEATH AT WENTWATER COURT, when she visited a stately home to write an article about it. A body in the skating lake is the first of many encounters with murder. Alec does his best to keep Daisy from interfering with his investigations, but somehow she always seems to acquire useful information about his suspects and then, of course, she can't help meddling.

The Daisy mysteries are basically nice, cheerful murder stories, but inevitably at that period the shadows of the first World War still fall across England. Daisy, in fact, lost her brother and her fiance in the war. In the course of her adventures, she meets people seriously affected by the war, whether physically or emotionally.

Perhaps this is why one reviewer says: "Dunn has a knack for writing meatier-than-usual cozies with strong female characters..." The most common adjective applied to my books by reviewers is, however, "charming"!

The rest of my 50 books are Regencies. They're all out of print now, but for ebook readers they're available at www.RegencyReads.com, in a wide variety of formats.

Since I seem to be moving backward in time, I might as well regress a little further. Before I started writing (ballpoint, longhand, at the kitchen table), I worked in market research, childcare, construction, building design, proofreading and writing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology. And before that, I met my then future, now ex-husband in Hawaii while on my way round the world. Having started in England, I got as far as Fiji, just past the International Date Line so half way around.

To finish off the reverse history, I was born and grew up in England, and to bring us back to the present, I now have two Californian grandchildren.

My website is www.geocities.com/CarolaDunn/
I blog Tuesdays on TheLadyKillers: http://tinyurl.com/66q19u

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, available at Amazon and from Second Wind Publishing, are Bertram’s first novels.

Our characters are more than just the creatures of our story world, they are the lens through which readers see into that world. It is possible to tell a story without using this lens, but the resulting story world can be gray and lifeless. Characters interacting with that world and each other give it color and life.

I learned this the hard way.

When I wrote the first draft of More Deaths Than One (and the second draft and the third) I had the hero Bob meandering around his world trying to unravel his past all by himself, and it was boring. Did I say boring? It was moribund. I could not make him come alive. He was dull rather than the mysterious character I wanted him to be, and even when the incredible information about him unfolded during the course of the novel, it too was uninteresting. No matter what I did, I could not make him or his past three-dimensional.

In desperation, I created a love interest for him. (It seems like an obvious solution, but originally I wanted him to be a loner.) When I began to see him through her eyes and her amazement, all of a sudden he burst into full color.

Using one character’s viewpoint to show another character also allows us to be enigmatic when it comes to characterization. If we as the author/narrator were to describe a character as being kind, he must be so. If another character describes him as being kind, he might be kind, but he also might be kind only to her and mean to everyone else, or he might be abusive to her and she interprets it as being kind because she is not used to having anyone pay attention to her. While learning about him through her eyes, we also learn about her.

In this same way, when we see the story world as the character sees it rather than how we as the creator of the world envisioned it, the scenery comes alive. The day might be bleak, but if the character sees this bleakness and thinks what a wonderful day it is, we learn about the weather, and we learn about her or him.

And we make the story world come alive for readers. We make readers a part of the story because they identify with the characters. They see the world through the characters’ eyes.



Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Santa Barbara Writers' Conference

Bob Zumwalt kindly agreed to share his experience of his first writers' conference. I've yet to attend a conference so I found his thoughts particularly interesting. I think you'll agree. Thanks, Bob.

Writers Conferences and Snake Oil Salesmen

In June 2001, I attended my first writers conference, a week-long affair in Santa Barbara. I'd recently finished my first novel and the conference organizer, former night club owner and author Barnaby Conrad, offered a glowing response to my advance submission. I was ready for the Yellow Brick Road. What I found was something much different, though I do understand Dorothy's sentiment that she was not in Kansas anymore.

What I learned that summer is that the business of writing has no parallel in the real world, except perhaps in the mercurial capriciousness of the art world -- particularly show business. Talent is a plus, though not essential, with marketability a far more weighty factor for success. During that first conference I learned about "platform" and "legs," which are quaint terms for personal characteristics and accomplishments that make you saleable. If you have those, you may well be able to market your grocery list. Familiar, I thought, straight out of Marketing 101. While the marketing workshops tell you this applies mostly to non-fiction endeavors, I suspect it is of almost equal importance to first-novel fiction, as well. Cosmic balance is not totally absent because a flashy platform seldom convinces the reader to buy that second book, if they fell asleep reading the first.

The Snake Oil

The publishing industry in the United States is a nineteenth-century dowager desperately trying to reinvent herself. But institutional inertia, like gravity for the well endowed debutante, has created a sorry sight. In economic terms, publishing is a restricted market because access to the top tier publishers is filtered through agents. And ingenious devils that they are, agents have found their own way to weed out supplicants. This leaves the writer with few options, but they are well addressed at conferences: panels of agents to answer questions, advance submissions to agents (for a fee,) and workshops on how to approach an agent. In the last couple years, short pitch sessions with agents have become the rage -- and of course workshops are available on how to be most effective in these encounters where every second counts. Considering the circus atmosphere, it's no wonder that people are looking for ways to circumvent the dowager and find different ways to get their wares to market.

The internet and e-commerce were still new for many people in 2001, but since then, we've seen Amazon come to dominate the book-selling world and even the delivery format of writing is changing with proliferation of IPods and cell phones with readable screens, and more recently the Kindle. The internet is becoming an alternative, not only to the conventional book store, but also the book itself. Slow on the uptake, conventional publishing is adapting by offering copy-protected digital delivery of some titles, but this positions previously-unpublished and unagented writers to capitalize on this egalitarian access to the market via the internet. Conference workshops devoted to self-publishing through conventional print-book means, print-on-demand, and electronic delivery have grown in number and credibility in concert with the internet's growing foothold on commerce. This February, in San Diego, I saw a breach in mainline publishing's well-fortified wall. An agent on one of the discussion panels said she would consider representation of a successful self-published title if it sold enough copies -- if the book, for instance, had sold well to a small demographic segment, but still had a waiting market with other significant demographics untapped. In 2001 this would have been heresy. Agents, true to form, follow the money.

Craft Still Happens

We writers spin our tales in a solitary fashion, and often have no clue how our work is perceived until some stranger sees it and comments on its malformation. Conferences still devote a good third or more of their time slots to read-and-critique workshops. Sign-up sheets circulate in the meeting places as people walk in the door. Workshop leaders with a reputation may end up with a list of readers too long to do them all justice. First chapters are customary for the critique, and time constraints prevent detailed analysis, so it comes down to listeners' first impressions. In spite of the kamikaze nature of these sessions, the more experienced can see problems and the talented listener might even suggest a cure. These clinics have the unwritten mandate to give the writer kind words. Fortunately, the emotional truth usually prevails -- if only through the critiquer's omissions -- and a writer experienced in deflecting flattery can spot it and come away with valuable useful information.

My favorite critiquer was a Hollywood screenwriter who billed his workshops with the question: "Where does the story start?" The logistics of getting my chapter read was messy, and there was no charity in this workshop leader's comments, but after several days of sitting through his classes I came away with concepts that added to my toolbox for story construction.

This February's conference in San Diego featured a psychologist who had written an amateur-detective mystery based on the shrink-helps-cops premise. His presentation revolved around personality types: how they function, what they are likely to do, and most importantly, what they would not do. He and I have corresponded since the conference on character motivation, and I've added one more reality check to my writing tool box: the reader needs to see why a character acts the way they do, and the need for laying the groundwork increases exponentially with odd-ball characters: that serial killer needs some serious back story to make him believable.

These conferences continue to have a lot in common with the old fashioned county fair -- or a trip to Oz. I haven't seen Barnaby Conrad for a couple years, and I wish him well. He appreciated the theatrics without being taken in by them. In that spirit, I return every year to get an update on the industry's trends and witness the erosion of the absolutes offered by the insiders. Good writing still happens, the tools to do it keep getting repackaged and retaught, and readers still read.