Linda S. Browning—Rediscovering the Writer’s Life

Guest post by Linda S. Browning

[Linda S. Browning]I started writing fiction again following retirement. I wrote constantly as a teen. When life interfered and required I get a job to pay my own bills, I worked in office management and later in geriatric social work. In 2012 I discovered a writing contest sponsored by MaryChris Bradley at Buddhapuss Ink, a publishing company in New Jersey. I wrote a comedic mystery that runs two widowed heroines, Leslie and Belinda, triumphantly ragged. The short story was entitled “No Wake” and won first place in Mystery Times Ten 2013. Published in the book of the same name, “No Wake” was well received, and I signed with the publisher to write at least three eBooks for the Leslie & Belinda Mystery series.

The first book in the series is entitled Daredevil and is available at Amazon. The short story, “No Wake,” is reprinted as the lead-in for Daredevil. When asked about the characters and the stories, I often tell people they are like Murder She Wrote meets Laverne & Shirley, a cozy nonsense mystery action series. The second eBook in the series will be out by mid-summer. In Shanghaied the two friends and Riff-Raff become embroiled in another mystery seemingly connected by coincidental events; mystery + adventure = a Leslie & Belinda Mystery.

Do the author a favor and write a review following the read on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other reviewing site you may prefer. I will be so very grateful.

Book Blurb

[Daredevil Cover]

Move over, Miss Marple; step aside, Jessica Fletcher—there’s a new gal on the case, well, two gals, that is. This pair of sassy, senior sleuths, Leslie and Belinda, are on the hunt for a missing girl; and it leads them on a crazy chase through a dark graveyard with Leslie’s eight-pound-dog, Riff-Raff, right in the middle of all the action. Buckle up and keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

When the granddaughter of a deceased church member goes missing, the two best friends are determined to solve the mystery and rescue the young woman. It seems no one, including the girl’s father, is all that concerned by her vanishing act, but this pair just know something’s amiss. Throw in one wandering bear, a flirtatious undertaker, a dustup with a TBI agent, an overweight corpse, and a trip to the Dollar Store for stakeout supplies and you have all the ingredients for one wild adventure. Sticky situations and comedic antics abound when these meddling senior citizens let their curiosity get the better of them.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
Linda S. Browning was born in 1952 to a stay-at-home mom and a civil servant father. For twenty years she worked for the State of Michigan. Relocating to Tennessee in 1989, her career continued in the Social Work profession. She resides in a retirement community in Middle Tennessee with her husband of forty years, a thirty (plus)-year-old Amazon parrot and an eighteen-year-old Finch. You can find Linda on Twitter, on Facebook and at her website, lindabrowning.net.

Send to Kindle

Rebecca Scarberry—Where I Get My Storylines

Guest post by Rebecca Scarberry

[Rebecca Scarberry]In 2011, before I self-published any of my books, I struggled with the editing of my first novel. An editor told me I needed to practice writing. Author Seumas Gallacher told me about two short story contests I could enter. He said it would provide me with some good writing practice. This sounded like a great idea. I immediately went out on my front porch with a pad of paper and a pencil.

I sat there wondering what sort of short stories people might find interesting. According to the contest rules, the stories could only be 1,500 words long. I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Suddenly, a red-winged blackbird landed on my porch bannister and stared at me for the longest time. His beady black eyes made me think about my older cousin Johnny’s birds. When I was five years old he used to raise carrier pigeons, and showed me how well they could deliver messages. I immediately started writing Messages from Henry, a mystery for young adults. Henry is a carrier pigeon, trying to save his owner from death by the hands of her kidnapper.

After I wrote Messages from Henry, I started writing Rag Doll, a crime drama for adults. Ever since I moved to Arkansas in 2007, I’ve been eager to search for gems/diamonds in the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Therefore, I decided to write a twisted little mystery about a murder in the diamond park. There are many twists in the story, and readers are warned not to rush through this book. They need to pay attention for the ending has a huge twist.

After entering both of the short stories in two different contests, I posted the stories on my blog. So many authors suggested I lengthen the stories and publish them. They gave me many examples as to how I should do this. Therefore, I lengthened both of them and sent them to many beta readers. I also went to a local library with printed copies of Messages from Henry and asked many young adults to read it and tell me if they liked it. They loved it and this gave me the encouragement I needed to continue editing the book.

It took Seumas Gallacher months to talk me into self-publishing Messages from Henry, and I’m so glad he did. Six months later, I self-published Rag Doll. Both of these very short books are free samples of my writing capabilities, and continue to receive rave reviews.

In June 2013, while my husband was driving down a busy city street, I looked out the passenger side window and saw a big red beach ball rolling along the curb next to our vehicle. The wind had blown the ball out of a large wire container, in front of the general store. It continued rolling next to our vehicle for a quarter of a mile. When Rick saw the ball he told me I should write a story about the ball. When we got home, I quickly jotted down an outline. Weeks later, while I was writing Jumper, I decided to write the sequel to Messages from Henry since the book was so popular. I wanted the novel to be set in England. I’ve never been there, so I asked several British authors if they’d like to collaborate. Three of them wanted to do this. I chose author Francis Potts. He’s the author of the novel entitled Flying Lessons and five other books. We published Where Love Takes You on December 15, 2013. The novel has received all five star reviews so far.

After self-publishing four volumes of Jumper (illustrated children’s series in eBook and print), I wrote the script for one episode of Jumper. I wrote the script because many parents told me their children love Jumper and want him on television in an animated cartoon. I’m currently in touch with the Public Broadcasting Service’s producer of children’s programming in Virginia.

By the way, I never published the first novel I wrote in 2007.

Book Blurb

[Messages from Henry Cover]

Messages from Henry is a highly original young adult novella about a very unlikely hero, a homing pigeon. Henry is trying to save his owner from death by the hands of her kidnapper. It’s a mystery thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, rooting Henry on, and praying for Evelyn’s safe return.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
Rebecca Scarberry was born and raised on the southern coast of California. She lives on a very secluded non-working farm in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas with her husband and four cats. She has devoted the last five years to her love of writing fiction.

She has published seven books in four different genres: mystery/suspense, romance, crime drama, and a series of children’s picture books. She has written the script for one episode of her Jumper series of children’s books. She will soon be sending the script to several television producers who’ve asked to read it. Writing for young children is her most current passion. You can find Rebecca on Twitter, at her publisher’s website, and at her Amazon author page.

Send to Kindle

FUTURE CRIMES—Buy This Book!

Okay, you can read a bunch of reviews about how scary and real this book is—about how it will open your eyes to what is really going on in cyber-hell, and how we’re probably all going to die, broke, exposed and asking for our mommies. But I decided to go in a different direction with this review. Yes, this book scared the crap out of me with its thorough exploration of the Dark Net and all of the sleazy characters who inhabit it. And yes, we do have a lot to fear regarding our computers, smart phones and wearables, which I am henceforth referring to as “hackables.”

But as an author who is interested in dark things, I found this book to be extremely valuable as a reference guide on how the bad guys—whether individuals or nation states—actually get away with so much. For me, that’s the real value of Future Crimes. So if you are an author who likes to write thrillers and who wants to accurately depict just how things work in the darkest regions of the Internet, then buy this book. Just do it.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Future Crimes Cover]

Technological advances have benefited our world in immeasurable ways, but there is an ominous flip side: our technology can be turned against us. Hackers can activate baby monitors to spy on families, thieves are analyzing social media posts to plot home invasions, and stalkers are exploiting the GPS on smart phones to track their victims’ every move. We all know today’s criminals can steal identities, drain online bank accounts, and wipe out computer servers, but that’s just the beginning. To date, no computer has been created that could not be hacked—a sobering fact given our radical dependence on these machines for everything from our nation’s power grid to air traffic control to financial services.

Yet, as ubiquitous as technology seems today, just over the horizon is a tidal wave of scientific progress that will leave our heads spinning. If today’s Internet is the size of a golf ball, tomorrow’s will be the size of the sun. Welcome to the Internet of Things, a living, breathing, global information grid where every physical object will be online. But with greater connections come greater risks. Implantable medical devices such as pacemakers can be hacked to deliver a lethal jolt of electricity and a car’s brakes can be disabled at high speed from miles away. Meanwhile, 3-D printers can produce AK-47s, bioterrorists can download the recipe for Spanish flu, and cartels are using fleets of drones to ferry drugs across borders.

With explosive insights based upon a career in law enforcement and counterterrorism, Marc Goodman takes readers on a vivid journey through the darkest recesses of the Internet. Reading like science fiction, but based in science fact, Future Crimes explores how bad actors are primed to hijack the technologies of tomorrow, including robotics, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. These fields hold the power to create a world of unprecedented abundance and prosperity. But the technological bedrock upon which we are building our common future is deeply unstable and, like a house of cards, can come crashing down at any moment.

Future Crimes provides a mind-blowing glimpse into the dark side of technological innovation and the unintended consequences of our connected world. Goodman offers a way out with clear steps we must take to survive the progress unfolding before us. Provocative, thrilling, and ultimately empowering, Future Crimes will serve as an urgent call to action that shows how we can take back control over our own devices and harness technology’s tremendous power for the betterment of humanity—before it’s too late.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other Amazon reviews here.

Send to Kindle

Jessica Knauss—Turning Dreams Into Stories

[Jessica Knauss]Guest post by Jessica Knauss

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I have a little book of jagged pencil lines in which, at four or five, I imitated what I thought the printed page looked like because I was so frustrated with not having been taught to write yet. Nothing makes me happier than writing stories. I get inspiration from the most unexpected places, and maybe that’s what makes them so unpredictable and so hard to categorize.

I’ve discussed before the fruitfulness of staying in bed after the alarm to remember dreams and see if any scenes come out of them, but I’ve also made stories out of things I’ve overheard on the subway, that friends have told me, or that I’ve tasted at breakfast. I recently won a prize for a strangely dark story based on a photograph of a beach house. All these stories had to end up somewhere, and many have been published. I’ve now gathered all my published stories and the best of the ones that haven’t yet seen the light of day into Unpredictable Worlds.

Book Blurb

[Unpredictable Worlds Cover]

A teacher controls her students with an edible microchip. A reporter turns into a rhinoceros. A couple’s efforts to eat local go frighteningly awry. If you’re looking to be surprised, puzzled, or just plain entertained, pick up this omnibus. There’s something for everyone.

More than twenty years in the making, Unpredictable Worlds contains all of Jessica Knauss’s published and prize-winning short fiction as of March 2015 and a few of her best stories never before seen in print or eBook. Zany plots and outrageous characters will stretch your belief and tug at your heart.

WARNING: These stories contain exaggeration, elision, and disregard for “the real world.” Some even exhibit a tone of blatant optimism. However, they respect human speech patterns, admire good grammar, and hold proper punctuation in the highest regard.

“What She Lacked” Excerpt
Please enjoy an excerpt from “What She Lacked,” my favorite story that has never been published before.

After months of searching, I followed my instinct to Manhattan. I didn’t find my twin sister Dulcy so much by her presence as by the void she created in the commotion surrounding her. On my second morning there, she was standing in the middle of the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, surrounded by a wave of powerwalking natives and gawk-walking tourists and endless shouts to “Get out of the *ing way!” or to “Shove over!”

The cops in Boston had been singularly unhelpful and told me they were going to close the case. “It’s policy, ma’am. If we have no leads on a case for a certain amount of time, we have to move on,” said the stern leader.

One earnest officer took me into confidence and whispered, “Pretty girls have been disappearing lately and we haven’t found any of them.”

“Am I at risk?” I had asked, figuring that if my identical twin had disappeared, I, too, would be the kidnapper’s type.

“No,” he said, too quickly. “You graduated from Harvard.”

Like most twentysomethings in Boston, I had more university degrees than life experience. But I’d had to complete the last one, in Library Science, in order to get any job at all in that market choked with able young college grads. “So?”

“Only pretty girls without degrees have been disappearing.”

So now he thought he was a profiler. It was like something from a formulaic TV show. But he was right in that, although my sister had applied to all the good drama schools in the country, nothing had worked out for her in the end. She was living with our parents because the money a person can earn from acting in commercials and student films is small and unstable. But over the years, she put a lot of speaking roles under her belt and was sure this, unlike all the other years when she’d said the same thing, was her breakthrough year. I chalked up the cops’ surrender to the fact that none of them were twins and accessed my twinly intuition—or just some solid logic—and reasoned that she must have gone to New York to increase her chances. Rather than waiting for her to call me with the news that she had been cast as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, I asked for some time off work at the library and headed out in hopes of seeing her name on the marquee myself.

I swam against the current of foot traffic and finally stood before my sister, who made no sign that she saw me. One of her eyelids was relaxed over her eye while the other flickered nervously over an orb that seemed to see nothing. A trickle of sweat appeared at her brow, but it was no wonder because it was the middle of June and she was wearing what she had been when she’d disappeared: a long wool coat complete with a Burberry scarf. The coat displayed rips and tears at every angle and swaths of caked mud across the back. Her hair, usually coiffed to perfection and shellacked to a hard sheen, floated wildly in the gusts from passing cars, trucks, and people, each with their distinct noises. Perhaps most disturbing of all, she was showing roots. My hand went to my own straight, uncolored blonde locks in the inexorable act of comparison I’d made my whole life. This was the first time I had ever come out ahead, so the panic inside me grew. The rude shouting hadn’t stopped, occasionally punctuated with, “Is she okay?” I tried to break through the din, grabbing her by the shoulders and saying, calmly and slowly, “Dulcy. Dulcy, are you in there?”

Both of her eyelids snapped open. “Christabel.” The name of our favorite literary heroine as children flowed from her lips as if she were casually conversing at a dinner party.

“No, it’s Fran. I’m your sister Fran.” […]

About the Author
Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss is a New Englander by design. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in Medieval Spanish Literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. She has published fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in numerous venues. Her acclaimed novella about a woman’s awakening through sleeping in trees, Tree/House, is also currently available, and her contemporary paranormal Awash in Talent is coming soon. Bagwyn Books will publish her medieval epic Seven Noble Knights in late 2016. Get updates on her writing at her blog: jessicaknauss.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.

Unpredictable Worlds releases for Kindle on May 15 with a softcover edition available the same day. Unpredictable Worlds is already available for preorder for only 99 cents. Once it’s out there in the world, the price will go up, so save at least 66% now and have this strangely amazing book delivered to your device on release day.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

Send to Kindle

“The Laptev Virus”—A Worthy Successor to “The Andromeda Strain”

Okay, let’s get to the point. I thought The Laptev Virus is a great read. For me, this is a solid sci-fi story rooted in actual science. As an author, I like to come up with some pretty bizarre situations myself. And usually I find myself making everything up—taking care to at least make the premise believable so as not to lose the reader. But it’s refreshing to read a story written by a scientist. This author not only has a wonderful imagination, but she has the scientific chops to back up what she’s selling. And trust me, when it comes to megaviruses, it ain’t pretty, folks.

Michael Crichton, an author who was also a physician and had a wicked imagination, was great at combining real-world science with entertaining fiction. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed The Andromeda Strain so much—both the book and the movie. To me, the key to any memorable story is that it must be plausible. And like Crichton’s work, The Laptev Virus challenges the reader. There’s a lot of technical jargon in the book, but it serves a purpose. As an example, I am now terrified of cats!

So if you like sci-fi backed by solid research, then I can heartily recommend this book.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[The Laptev Virus Cover]

In this hard sci-fi techno thriller, scientists have recently discovered the existence of megaviruses: viruses up to a thousand times larger than any viruses that we have known before. What if one of these newly found viruses was a human pathogen? Christy Esmahan’s fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, begins with the discovery of just such a virus in the Laptev Sea basin by a company drilling for oil. Investigators in Houston race against the ticking clock of the short Arctic summer to discover a way to protect workers from the virus before competitors drain the basin of its rich resources…and before anyone else dies from the hemorrhagic fever that the Laptev virus causes.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other Amazon reviews here.

Send to Kindle

“Tales to Count On”—Subtle Humor Flavored with Dread

I love this collection of stories! And I especially appreciate that the author is as comfortable in the past as she is in the present. Two of my favorites are “Him” and “The Map Room.” The writing is precise and well researched—two qualities that as both a writer and reader I value tremendously. And the tone … What to say about that? For me, the best way to describe this author’s voice is, subtle humor flavored with dread—a little like some of the best ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. Reading each story is like finishing a nice cup of tea, only to discover something unsettling at the bottom. If you are looking for the fun and the unusual, I recommend this collection. Oh, and don’t forget the tea.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Tales to Count On Cover]

Curl up and enter the eclectic world of S. R. Mallery, where sad meets bizarre and deception meets humor; where history meets revenge and magic meets gothic. Whether it’s 500 words or 5,000, these TALES TO COUNT ON, which include a battered women’s shelter, childhood memories, Venetian love, magic photographs, PTDS fallout, sisters’ tricks, WWII spies, the French Revolution, evil vaudevillians, and celebrity woes, will remind you that in the end, nothing is ever what it seems.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other Amazon reviews here.

Send to Kindle

Writers, Start Building Your Brand Early!

Photo Courtesy of Tony Harrison via Creative Commons
[Race Car]One of the great challenges for an indie author is dividing time between actual writing and marketing. And I would argue that the same goes for writers who are as yet unpublished. Sometimes, I like to think about giants like Joyce, Fitzgerald and Nabokov. How did those guys do it? Most likely, not at all—or very little. The work spoke for itself. But, hey, we’re talking about us. What are we supposed to do?

If I had to pick one person from history to travel forward in time and demonstrate how it’s done, it would have to be Mark Twain. That guy knew brand, and I’m sure he would do very well using Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Can you imagine? Here are a few of his most famous quotes. And look—they fit so nicely into 140 characters!

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Truman Capote was another famous author who truly understood brand. How about this tweetable quote:

Fame is only good for one thing—they will cash your check in a small town.

Getting It Right
Okay, back to Twain. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the first thing he did was to fix his name. Mark Twain has a nice resonance, doesn’t it? It’s easy to remember and it fits nicely on a book cover. I’m not sure that’s what he was going for, but it certainly turned out well for him. Stephen King is another one. And he was lucky enough to come into the world with that moniker. Yay, Steve!

We all know Mark Twain as a writer, humorist, traveler, public speaker and general troublemaker. He had an amazing wit, and could really lay into someone around topics he was passionate about. I don’t know that he had a publicist, but it seems to me he was very conscious of his image—I don’t believe they called it “brand” in those days. We are all familiar with the wild shock of white hair, the white linen suit and the ever-present cigar. In my opinion, Mark Twain was a marketing genius.

Shy Will Get You Bupkes
I’ve met many writers over the years, and I will tell you that most are not comfortable in the spotlight. They are card-carrying introverts who love working behind the scenes, writing great stories which—if they’re lucky—get turned into movies.

If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I am an extrovert. I like being out and about, meeting people and engaging in interesting discussions. That’s just me. But I don’t think I would be comfortable being on the talk show circuit, delivering pithy one-liners in front of a studio audience. I’m better in small groups.

Which leads me to Brand. Many of the more seasoned authors out there know all about this. But there are those like you who are just getting started—who want to understand what it takes to not only write well but market well. As an aside, I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m happy to share what I know.

What is Brand Anyway?
Brand is rather a hard thing to define. I’ll use this definition from Merriam-Webster:

A class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer.

Now let’s modify the definition to apply to authors:

A collection of writings identified by name as the product of a single author.

How about James Patterson? You have only to utter his name, and book titles and scenes play out in your head. Never mind that he has a writer factory churning out books, he definitely gets brand, my friend.

When you do it right, here is what happens. Not only is your name recognizable but the name itself becomes embedded in the culture on a global scale. Kind of like Kleenex. How many people say, “Can you hand me a tissue?” More often it’s, “Have you got a Kleenex?” The same can be said for Xerox and Coke.

There’s a huge responsibility that comes with this identification, though. Call me crazy but I think the Kleenex Corporation wants to ensure that when you think of their products, you picture nice, soft little squares of heaven—scented and unscented—that will make you feel better, especially when you have a cold.

Getting back to authors. When you think of horror, what is the first name that comes to mind? Stephen King, right? Of course. He has spent decades building his brand. His name is synonymous with horror. Can we all hope to achieve that kind of brand recognition? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a nice living. People who love Stephen King don’t just read him. They read H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub and many others. It’s a huge playground.

Being Vigilant 24×7
So what does building your brand mean? For me, it’s awareness. I try to be thoughtful about everything I post. I don’t always succeed. But being aware is important because what gets out into the Internet stays forever. So no drunk tweeting, no profanity and no mean-spirited troll attacks on others. A good general rule is to always take the high road.

Linking your digital assets is important as well. There should be a synergy among the various digital destinations you have out there. Make sure your bio and headshot are uniform across the various social media sites. And use hyperlinks to cross-reference the other sites. This also helps with SEO, which is another topic entirely.

Here’s a quick tip to get you started. Want to know what not to do on Twitter? Don’t create a Twitter account, leave the default image and expect to get followers. I mean, seriously? Who in the world is going to follow an egg? Also don’t create some arcane Twitter handle with no description. People want to know something about you. Tell them. Remember, you are building your brand, and it’s supposed to stand out from everything else out there. More importantly, it’s supposed to mean something.

I’ll leave you with this post by Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia.com, “Branding for Writers: An Essential Step to Building Your Author Platform.” In it, he states:

This may sound basic, but many writers have a hard time embracing [their] identity. They see themselves as a writer only after the definitions of their day job, role in their family, etc. When speaking about your work, own that identity of being a writer.

Can’t get any clearer than that. You can write and publish all you want, but if you don’t pay attention to your brand you will have a tough time convincing people to buy your books. Best of luck in all your endeavors.

Send to Kindle

Want to Write Well? Learn to Research

Photo Courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons
[New York Public Library]As writers, we like to pride ourselves on our ability to turn a phrase. And after having written for a while, we find that we’ve developed our own style—our own voice. But the best writing in the world can be ruined if we haven’t researched a topic properly. The cold blade of Truth will cut through our words and leave a wreckage of pretty ideas that, though appealing, make the reader want to scream. There’s a wonderful moment in Woody Allen’s film ‘Sleeper’ where the Diane Keaton character has written a poem (heavily influenced by McKuen) about a butterfly’s metamorphosis. The only problem is, she gets it wrong, with the thing ending up as a caterpillar. Awkward …

Some time ago I read a book that was, for the most part, enjoyable. The plot was taut, the characters real. And I probably would have given the author an excellent review, until I came to the part where he described the protagonist attending Mass. Now, I am Catholic and I know what a Mass looks like when I see it. And his description landed pretty far from the truth—to the point where I would have thrown the book across the room had it not been downloaded to my Kindle. Just imagine your readers tossing your book aside in disgust when they come across something they know to be patently false. Yeah, awkward.

A bad piece of writing advice goes like this: “Write what you know.” Well, here’s what the author Joe Haldeman has to say about that:

Bad books on writing tell you to “write what you know,” a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.

The point is this—if you are a horror, fantasy or sci-fi writer, then obviously you cannot write what you know. You are creating worlds that don’t exist, for crying out loud. But that doesn’t obviate the need for some solid research. You need to describe places and things, and how stuff works. But here’s the beauty part—most of the time, all you need is a great Internet connection.

Learn to Become Self-sufficient
I am a member of several online groups catering to authors. And nothing gets me more wound up than someone posting a question like this: “If my character gets shot, how long will it take for him to bleed out?” I have three little words for you, Mr. Lazy-ass writer: Look it up! Here’s a better question: “I’ve been researching gunshot wounds, and there seems to be a discrepancy on how long it actually takes for a person to bleed out, depending on where they were shot. If my character takes a bullet in the abdomen, what do you think is a safe estimate to make my story believable?”

Now, that’s a great question. The author has taken the time to do the research herself, and she’s also told us what she learned. Finally, she’s made her question very specific. A gold star for you!

Wikipedia is Good But …
Look, I am as guilty of this as the next guy. I use Wikipedia prodigiously. The key is to not treat this well-known site like Encyclopædia Britannica. Typically, when I find something of interest in Wikipedia, I also check one or two other sites to see if they are saying the same thing. If so, then I’m pretty confident that what I’m reading is accurate.

Another great source of information—especially when you are writing about how things work—is YouTube. It’s utterly amazing the stuff people post there! Want to know how to assemble or disassemble a particular weapon? Need to know what the inside of a morgue looks like? More than likely, there’s a video that will show you. Related to that are television shows. Many of the better ones hire real-world consultants who advise the writer and director on how something actual works. I recently finished watching the brilliant new Amazon series ‘Bosch’ (based on the Michael Connelly books), and I have to believe these guys know what they are doing.

The other thing to check for accurate writing is online product catalogues. I am currently completing my horror-thriller trilogy, THE DEAD SERIES, and all of the books reference weapons, both large and small. There are gun shops in my immediate area, but they don’t necessarily carry RPGs and Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns. Both YouTube and online gun catalogs have proven invaluable.

The Joy of Research
In my view, research should not be burdensome. I’m the kind of person who likes to learn new things. So, the fact that I have to stop the creative process momentarily and look something up doesn’t bother me. Now, I may not get everything right. I’m not a trained doctor, soldier or police officer. So I may find things that are technically accurate, but would never work in real life because those people just don’t do it that way. Think ‘Bosch.’ And if I get something wrong, I always appreciate a reader contacting me and telling me so I can fix it.

Writing is not just about creativity and a command of the language. It’s about discipline. And doing research is a very disciplined way to approach your craft. Oh, and here is a link to a post about gunshot wounds and bleeding. In case, you know, someone in your story just got shot.

Send to Kindle

Authors and Goodreads

Photo Courtesy of Chris Dunn
[Cracked Matador]Sometimes, it’s hard being an author and a marketer. We want to spend all our time on our passion, which is writing. But in order to create awareness for the purpose of gaining more readers, we also need to market ourselves. Yikes! And we do this typically on two main platforms—Twitter and Facebook. But there’s another platform we seem to gravitate toward, and that’s Goodreads.

Goodreads started out as an independent platform devoted to readers—people who love good books and want to discuss them with folks who share their interests. Some time ago, Amazon took notice of the large membership and decided to purchase them. Now, as a destination, not much has changed. You can still add books that you have read or want to read to your shelves. You can create lists, and you can join lively discussion groups. To me, Goodreads is like a gigantic online book club. Except you don’t meet at peoples’ houses, and there are no Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Readers vs. Authors
Here’s where things get interesting, though. Goodreads also allows authors to join and, further, to identify themselves as authors, with their own profiles. My guess is, Goodreads did this primarily so they could entice authors to purchase advertising. I’m not sure how effective that is, and after having participated in Goodreads as an author for the past two years or so (you can check out my profile here), I’ve come to a startling conclusion.

Authors should stay the hell away from Goodreads.

Now, I realize that some of you will be upset with me. What does this idiot mean, stay away? Okay, so I didn’t want you to take me literally—I was trying to make a point. What I actually meant was, in my opinion authors should not attempt to promote themselves in Goodreads. At all. It would be like me showing up at your Wednesday night book club meeting, hawking my horror-thriller novels to your unsuspecting guests and tippling the Merlot when you weren’t looking. First of all, I wasn’t invited. Secondly, how did I get a key to your house?

The Well-behaved Author
Goodreads should be a place for readers, not writers. I think authors should have the ability to maintain author profiles there, but it should be purely for the purpose of interacting with fans who want to ask us questions. Goodreads features a wonderful section in the author profile called “Ask the Author.” Readers can post their questions, and authors can reply. I’ve done this myself, and I really enjoy it. You can check out my Q&As here. And if readers want to know more about the kinds of books I write, they should visit my website.

Well, what about reviews? Authors read too, you know. And if I really like a book, I want to tell the world—just like any other reader. I see nothing wrong with authors posting reviews on Goodreads. I’m not even sure my reviews carry any more weight than some of the best book bloggers out there.

So, what do you think? Should authors be active participants in Goodreads?

Note: This video is hilarious, but it’s NSFW.

Send to Kindle

Gilligan’s Zombie Island

Photo Courtesy of IMDb
[Gilligan’s Island Poster]So, I’ve been thinking about that old TV show, ‘Gilligan’s Island’—don’t ask me why. Writers do that sometimes. Anything to occupy our minds so we don’t have to sit down and actually write. Anyway, I’ve been thinking it’s time for a reboot. Only now, instead of concentrating on a small band of survivors simply stuck on island with no way to escape—never mind that you’ve got a Professor who supposedly can invent anything out of coconuts and vines, but cannot seem to fix the friggin’ SS Minnow …

Getting back to my idea. I’ve decided it would be cool if you added zombies. So now, these guys are stuck there. But instead of being undone by their own petty fighting and incompetence (mostly on the part of Gilligan himself), they have to fend off the skin-crawling, slavering advances of the undead. Wouldn’t that make for a great show? Of course, it would.

First off, though, the eternal question—namely, who really would survive in a zombie apocalypse? I can tell you right now, the Howells are out. What, Mrs. Howell is going to hit some dead sailor dripping with gore with her purse? The old man is going to break out a 9 iron and hit the rotting thing in the face? And by the way, why did those two even pack all that stuff for a one-day trip?

The professor is a given. He is pretty smart, though naïve. And what about Skipper? Sure. Why? Because, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, he has skills. Same goes for Mary Ann. I mean, come on, she grew up on a farm. She knows how to grow food, cook and keep livestock. Maybe should could capture a few wild boars and raise them for meat.

Now, Ginger. Yes, she’s beautiful. But in a zombie apocalypse, beauty will not help, my friend. Not unless you plan on seducing the zombie. So she’s out. And here’s my thought about her character. I think in this reboot that I am already casting, you need to replace her character with a slacker played by Aubrey Plaza. Can you imagine it? Every time a zombie takes a hunk out of someone, she’s off making these caustic remarks like a one-woman Greek chorus. Yes, the more I think about it, Aubrey Plaza would be awesome.

That leaves Gilligan himself. Okay, the guy is a boob. He has no skills and no brains. He’s a mouth-breather from way back who should have been dead a long time ago. But you know what? He’s lucky. So, I say keep the schlemiel—the show will work better.

And like the old show, every once in a while you can have over-the-hill guest stars like Erik Estrada and Loni Anderson land on the island and get eaten while Aubrey Plaza provides the sarcastic commentary. Hey, this thing practically writes itself!

So what would you like to see in this new show? Anyone? I’ll be standing by, awaiting your comments.

Send to Kindle