NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Friday, May 30, 2014

Increasing Paranoia, Shopping, Cold Pursuit and a $25 GC!

Do you ever freak out? I used to think I was a really grounded and possibly normal individual, and then I had kids. Slowly over the years I have discovered that I've become more and more of a fear-monster. My bravery and spirit-for-adventure have been eroded and corroded to dust. I can't even climb a ladder or watch a horror movie any more. Maybe it isn't having kids. Maybe it's being a writer with our insane imaginations. For example, last time I took the kids to the mall I was kicking myself for not having a zombie apocalypse meeting spot. We had our usual meeting spot at our pre-arranged time and location, but not one for an unexpected zombie invasion. I actually worried about this. Should we head for the car or take advantage of possible looting opportunities at Pier 1? Next time I'll be prepared.

Some days I hate to be me. If I'm this crazy at forty-six, ninety is going to be a blast :) What about you--are you getting braver or more of a wuss as time goes on?

It was my writerly imagination that spawned the premise for my next release (Monday!!!). Another nightmare scenario in the mall--crikey, maybe I just hate shopping. Here's the blurb. (Check out the end of this post for a giveaway) I hope you enjoy!


Single mom Vivi Vincent is thrust into her worst nightmare when she’s trapped inside a mall during a terror attack along with her eight-year-old son. With the help of Jed Brennan, an FBI special agent on enforced leave, Vivi and her son survive the assault. But the danger is far from over. 
Vivi’s son may have witnessed critical details of the terrorists’ future plans and is targeted for death, but he’s mute, and he’s traumatized. Still someone launches a strike against the FBI’s safe house, and Jed fears the bad guys have an inside man. No longer knowing who to trust, he hides mother and son in a log cabin deep in the heart of the Wisconsin Northwoods. There Jed and Vivi try to figure out how to unlock the information inside her son’s head. What they don’t bargain for is the red-hot attraction that flares between them, or the extent of the sinister plot that threatens to rip apart not only any chance of happiness they might have together, but also the very fabric of American society.


I also have a rafflecopter contest going on for a $25 GC and some ebooks if you want to check it out! Click the link! a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five Reasons to Read a Romantic Suspense or Mystery E-book

Five Reasons to read a Romantic Suspense or Mystery E-book

1. It’s a safe way to explore those murderous tendencies
2. You’re less likely to get in trouble with the law
3. A great way to test your puzzle solving skills
4. Share the excitement but not the danger
5. There’s romance along with the danger

Convinced?

Enter our contest and enjoy the benefits of reading a wonderful romantic suspense or mystery by a Not Your Usual Suspects author. Complete the rafflecopter below and go into a draw to win a romantic suspense or mystery e-book.

Do you have any reasons to add to my list above?

a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 26, 2014

IN HONOR OF COURAGE AND SACRIFICE MEMORIAL DAY



    The American Cemetery  Italy

     Memorial Day or Declaration Day began after the Civil War—a war that claimed more lives than any conflict in the history of the United States—when the people of the nation wanted to honor their dead. May 30, 1868 was designated by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. “Designated for the strewing of flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” May 30 was chosen because there was no specific encounter on that day.
     Countless books have been published about war—strategy, battle, valor, pain, and suffering, the devastation of the minds and bodies of those who serve. Novels, biographies, histories, poetry and yes...mysteries have all been written.
     The first documented manuscript, titled The Art of War, written in 400 BC—by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and philosopher—advised the use of deception as an instrument of conflict. The book includes a chapter on counter-intelligence. “All war,” Sun Tzu wrote, “is based on deception.”
     Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell is a non-fiction account about a reconnaissance mission that took place on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Luttrell was the only survivor. His story relates the courage of the team, the enormity of the team’s loss, and their love of country during a modern war.
     Shakespeare focused on war with his Henry VI Trilogy about England’s fight to preserve its jurisdiction over French territories expanded by Henry V. His plays sought to maintain the glory of English heroes and the reputation of their kingdom.
     Napoleon’s victories in Western Europe threatened Russia and Russia countered by declaring war against France. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace envisioned characters who struggled to uphold their principles and compassion in the presence of death and disappointment.
     Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front takes place during the First World War. Paul Baumer, a young, enthusiastic man of nineteen enlists with a number of his friends in the German army after hearing loyal, patriotic speeches by their teacher. The fighting on the French front disillusions the men who suffer wounds, trauma and fear and no longer consider war glorious and just. They have come to believe their adversaries are human beings and that war make enemies of people who have no grudge against one another.
     Published in 1948 when he was twenty-five—The Naked and the Dead was Norman Mailer’s first novel—and judged one of the finest novels written about World War II. The book was based on his own experiences serving as a rifleman in the pacific. It tells about the lives of 13 soldiers stationed in the Pacific. The Armies of the Night, written about the Washington Peace March of 1967 won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
     James R. Jones enlisted in the United States Army in 1939 and served before and during World War II, first in Hawaii on Oahu, then in combat on Guadalcanal where he was wounded in action. He wrote a trilogy based on his experiences beginning with his first novel, From Here to Eternity written in 1951. The Thin Red Line followed his experiences on Guadalcanal and the source for Whistle, published posthumously was about his hospital stay.
     Sand Queen by Helen Benedict is a novel that focuses on the confrontations that faced women in the military during warfare in Iraq. Benedict also penned The Lonely Soldiers a non-fiction account of women serving in that country. A woman with a small number of other women in her unit often fights isolation, and sexual harassment, PTSD—the psychological effects of war that can take a horrific toll on the life of any service man or woman—as well as the enemy.
     Many books have been written by mystery writers—a large number take place before and during the Second World War and focus on spies. One best seller is Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. The book begins in 1938, when Frederick Stahl, a Viennese-born American film star is sent to Paris to make a film titled “Après la Guerre.” Stahl becomes involved in espionage—both the Nazis and the American Embassy intend to use him.      Billy Boyle by James R. Benn in his World War II mysteries— is a story of a selfish, egotistical smart aleck who changes into an unenthusiastic man of courage.      
     “In Flanders Fields,” the most memorable poem written about war was composed by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon and poet, in 1915. Serving with the Canadian army in Ypres, attached to 1st field Army Brigade, he treated the wounded and dying during that terrible battle from hell. The fighting continued for seventeen days.
     A former student and friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer killed on May 2 of 1915 was buried in a small cemetery close to McCrae’s dressing station. McCrae performed the funeral ceremony. He could see Helmer’s grave and the wild poppies that grew in ditches in that part of Europe and began to deal with his grief by composing a poem that he later discarded. A fellow officer found it and sent it to newspapers in England. Punch published the poem on December 8, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The lark, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

     The National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000. The resolution asks citizens to observe a moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time in memory of those who gave their lives.
     May they rest in peace.

 
    

Friday, May 23, 2014

Is Heathcliff In Here?



Writers are often asked what is more important, character or plot?  In other words, are novels character-driven or plot-driven?  I guess there’s a reason for the question, but it seems to me the answer is always the same: Character is the whole monte.  Without a character, be it a volcano, a fish, a mermaid or a cowboy on a horse, there is no plot.  Character causes action.  Ergo question irrelevant.  Pretty basic writing 101.  And timeless in its logic.

            Regarding this subject, one of the legends I’ve most enjoyed reading is the (possibly apocryphal) story concerning Emily Bronte.  When asked how such a sheltered, proper young woman, a governess and daughter of a clergyman, could possibly have created a character with the wild passion and force of Heathcliff, she replied, “I am Heathcliff.” 

Don’t you love it?  She’d bonded totally with her creation.  Maybe when she sat down to write on the moors, in the family outhouse (there was an outhouse) or on a wooden chair in her cold, fireless room, she went into the zone of imagining, loving, and becoming her character.  She entered Heathcliff’s head and heart.  As the ink bled onto the paper, they lived and longed and suffered as one. 

While kneeling at the feet of Emily Bronte’s genius, I strive, like most writers, to reach that same deep zone of togetherness with my characters.  At the moment, for example, Deva Dunne, the amateur sleuth in my Murders by Design Mystery Series and I have bonded though she’s younger and has better legs.  But these are superficial differences.  In our hearts, we are one and share the same pen.   And not incidentally, together we have just completed number five in our cozy mystery series, The Design Is Murder.  It’s due out in November, and we’re both really looking forward to it!


The first four in Jean Harrington’s Naples-set, light-hearted mysteries featuring amateur sleuth interior designer Deva Dunne and studly Detective Rossi as her go-to hero are available on Amazon as e-books for your Kindle, Nook and iPad. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MIlitary Heroines


I write about extraordinary women and the men they love. Military heroines.  Women at the top of their field in a man’s world. They don’t want a man to take care of them they want a man who will accept them for who they are and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their adventures. I’m frequently asked why I write military stories and more to the point why are my heroines the ones in the military.

            Well, I come from a family, who over the years, have served in every branch of the service in every conflict since WWI. I have ancestors who served in British conflicts back to the early 1800’s. Two great, great, great, great uncles were in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Thomas Dunn, a corporal, and Alexander James Dunn, a lieutenant were members of the 11th Hussars, a British Army unit. Lieutenant Dunn was killed in the battle. Corporal Dunn was one of the fabled survivors.

            I have stories of family in WWI but no proof.  SO, fast forward to the next war to end all wars and I have many, many relatives who served. Some weren’t even in the military. Half of my family lives in Florida. Have since the early 1920s. An uncle owned several shrimp boats. One day, after the start of WWII, some scary guys in suits and uniforms showed up and said his boats were needed to protect the east coast from U-boats. There was no please. No thank you. No payment. All his boats were taken and he never got them back. He never complained. He was proud he could help.

            My daddy trained Coast Guard recruits in Florida and Washington State, and patrolled in the North Atlantic riding shotgun for convoys.  

            Another Uncle was a Navy ace in that war and in Korea.

            One uncle, on the other side of my family, was home in December 1941 for 30 days of leave before he was to report to his next duty. His next duty? The USS Arizona in Hawaii.

            My husband’s uncle served in Germany.

            Hubs was a Marine and served in Vietnam.

            One son was with the first Marines into Bagdad in the Iraq war.

            There are many others but I think you get the point. The military in is my DNA.

           
            The next question is why write military heroines? I feel like the women in the service of this country are under appreciated.

             George Washington credits winning the war against England to six colonial spies who risked their lives to bring him information. One of them was a woman whose name has never been discovered.

            Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for her efforts during the Civil War. Her name was deleted from the Medal of Honor Roll in 1917. She was asked to return the medal and refused, wearing it every day until she died.

                              Agnes Meyer Driscoll known as Madame X, an American cryptanalyst for the U.S. Navy during World War I was a brilliant code breaker.

            During WWII over 1000 women in this country flew every type of military aircraft, ferrying them to military bases and departure points. They were test pilots and towed targets to give gunners training. Their service wasn’t recognized until the 70s 

            I have a special place in my heart for the nurses who took care of those who fought in Vietnam.

            The person who is credited with finding the terrorist leader who ordered the 9/11 attacks (I refuse to say his name) is a woman.      

My question is: why don’t we have more books with military heroines?

 
My new book, Point of No Return, is about a female Marine Corps Intelligence officer. She is smart, tough and a patriot.  http://amzn.com/B00IO262K8

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/point-of-no-return-rita-henuber/1118742387?ean=2940149533251

 
A hot sexy prequel, No Holding Back, is free and tells how my hero and heroine met.  http://amzn.com/B00IO1XFO0

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-holding-back-rita-henuber/1118860752?ean=2940045726443

 

This coming Monday is Memorial Day in the US. 
A day to remember all who are serving and have served in the Armed Forces.  A time to thank them for their service. Many of us already thank those we see in uniform. But I ask you to take the time to look around at family and friends and thank those who are no longer in uniform for their service.

Semper Fi     Semper Paratus

 

 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Prioritizing: How Do You Do It?

Prioritizing. How do you do it?

Seriously. I'm asking how you do it. If you thought this was a "how to" on how to prioritize, you can skip the post. Haha. But just so you don't go away empty handed, here's a beautiful pic of a La Jolla sunset. Hubby and I just celebrated (early) our 25th anniversary (and yes, I'm working).

And here's the day after:
Now on to the matter at hand!

Lately, I've found myself completely underwater with all kinds of work. I have the day job which takes an unusual amount of time. Then I have the writing job, which fills in much of the rest. Oh, but wait. I also have a husband, daughter and two dogs (and a house) who expect me to take care of them too. (And yes, I'm including the house since it's woefully in need of a cleaning.)

So the big question is: Who comes first? Yes, the daughter is 17 and capable of handling much on her own, but she's in the tough year of college hunting and applications and still needs her mom. The dogs definitely need me as does the house. Where do I start? Who wins me how much of the time?

Trust me, the house has taken the biggest back seat, but at some point, I HAVE to clean it. LOL. Do meals bite the dust and I just become the Sandwich Queen?

I'm really curious how people manage their time between two jobs and family. Help a girl out. I need tips. (I'm feeling a lot like Jess St. John in Against The Wall.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Signs, Convergence, Turning Points & Writing

 

A few weeks ago I was with a group of friends at a race track, and we were getting to watch the simulcast of the Kentucky Derby when tragedy struck. An elderly woman at the table next to ours was chatting with one lady in our group when she dropped dead.  Literally.

Our waitress told us the woman had been battling cancer and this was her first outing in a while. The family were regulars and she loved coming to the track. I took comfort from that information.  The woman was enjoying a relaxing afternoon with her family and friends, doing what she loved to do. Later we learned she suffered a brain aneurism.   

 But the incident’s been sticking with me.  This year I haven’t been writing for all sorts of reasons and excuses.  Then Mother’s Day arrived, and I spent the day with other friends who have also lost their mothers.  We recounted favorite tales about our moms, and I was reminded how much my mother believed in my writing.  She was my biggest fan, and I knew she would grieve that I wasn’t writing.

On the heels of Mother’s Day is my birthday this weekend and later this year I’ll be celebrating my 25th anniversary with the company I work for.   Hmm.  I think life’s trying to tell me something and the lines are converging.

My takeaways?  Life is short; I’ve forgotten to write for the sheer joy of writing; I’m at a turning point.

So this week I’ve been cleaning and organizing the house, trying to bring order to my personal space. I’ve placed a photo of Mom on the table where I usually write.  Come tomorrow my birthday gift to myself will be to put my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard with no plan or forethought.  What comes out may be garbage, but I decided I’m not going to care so long as there are words on the pages.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve always said I’ve never wanted to live life with regrets.  It’s just too damn short.  When you hit a dry or uncertain spell, what do you draw on for motivation?
Carol Stephenson
Justice At All Costs
Website; Facebook; Twitter

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PLOTTER OR PANTSER OR HYBRID -- WHAT'S YOUR STYLE?


Ever wonder what style of writer you are?  As a reader, have you asked yourself, gee, I wonder where they came up with that idea?  Everybody seems to have their own technique or ritual or personal voodoo they go through before they start a new book.  Here are a few. 

PLOTTER:  A writer who needs to know from beginning to end exactly what is going to happen in the story.  This seems to be especially important when you're writing mysteries or suspense.  After all, you need to know who the hero and heroine are as well as the villain.  You need to have a firm grasp on what needs to happen each step of the way, where to lay the foundation of the story, exactly where to feather in all the red herrings to keep the reader on their toes.  And you especially need to know exactly when, where, why and how the "big black moment" takes place, because that's where you wrap up everything with a nice big bow and can finally write the end.  Plotters have been known to write up complete character descriptions for each person in the book, detailed maps of the city/town/village where they story takes place.  Any and all details that are important to their story all get written down.  We may even write a long synopsis of the entire story, pages and pages of outline, before the first word ever appears on the actual manuscript page.

PANTSER:  A pantser is a writer who is the complete opposite of a plotter in every way.  A pantser doesn't write down an outline or a synopsis before they start.  They basically don't have a clue where the story is going to go.  Instead, they sit down at their keyboard (or pull out their writing pad) and away they go.  They fly by the seat of their pants—hence the name pantser.  A kernel of an idea will begin the pantser writer on their trek, and like the reader, they don't know where the story will take them until they've written it.  It can make for a bumpy but oh-so-worth-it ride.

HYBRID:   A hybrid writer is generally a combination of the two types listed above.  They need to know the basics or bones of the story and the story line before they start.  They know the main characters; the hero, heroine, and the villain and probably know where they need to end up.  With a much smaller amount of foreknowledge, the hybrid writer weaves the basic structure they've constructed from a few known facts and begins their travels along the path to a completed story, very similar to the pantser writer.  Some structure goes a long way to keeping the hybrid write on track, too.  

I'll admit, I'm a hybrid writer.  Especially with my romantic suspense, I find it imperative that I know a fair amount about my main characters, and where I want their journey to take them.  I have a general outline of the very beginning of the action, a few key points that need to happen, and what the big climax of the mystery/suspense/resolution is.  The rest is written wherever the characters lead.  And believe me they can lead to some really unexpected places.  J 

So, what type of writer are you – a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid.  Or do you have a completely different that you use.  I'd love to hear how you get from the beginning to the end.

Kathy's latest book, Connor's Gamble, a romantic suspense is available now.

CONNOR'S GAMBLE BUY LINKS: 





Monday, May 12, 2014

Character Surprise

It's finally spring here in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. New life abounds – the geese
and ducks with their babies and the fresh green of new leaves.

There's lots of work required at the tree farm – setting up the irrigation system, grading and filling low spots in the access roads, as well as waiting for this year's new seedlings to arrive.

After a long grey winter where many things shuffled creativity to the side, writing has re-bounded with my shiny new story. Not only is it a lighter book, it's the first time I've deliberately planned to write a series. Like the farm, writing—especially writing a series—requires building the infrastructure and then adding and deleting—grading and planting if you will—to strengthen plot and character. Simple and yet wonderfully complex.

About a year ago, I read a wonderful quote. Paraphrasing: Once you finish writing a book, you haven’t “learned” to write any book, you’ve learned to write the one you just wrote.

WIP  Which means the next one isn't necessarily “easier.” Some manuscripts seem to write themselves. Others constantly struggle—in concept, writing, revision, etc. Every book is different.

I'm at the delightful part of my new story, where anything is possible. Not only is the plot evolving, my characters make interesting announcements as they introduce themselves. Yesterday—Mother's Day—my main character abruptly told me why she divorced The Jerk. It wasn't just that he'd cheated on her. He'd done it deliberately, looking for a new wife, one who could have children. My heart twisted as the words appeared. I have two wonderful children and can only glimpse the pain of someone who can't have a child. While this isn't the focus of the story, I can see already that those experiences are going to shape who Keri is as a character and how she moves forward with her life.

So what about you, fellow authors? Do your characters surprise you with details that make you rethink the character, subplots or the plot itself?

What about you, fellow readers? (I don't know many authors who aren't readers.) Do you enjoy the layers that build a character or are you action oriented? As in, it's all about the plot? Or the characters?

Friday, May 9, 2014

SUPPORT YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR




Writers often work in solitude. We sit at our desks, fingers poised over the keyboard, taking thoughts from our heads (or thin air) and putting them to virtual paper. When our babies are finally ready to go out into the world to be published, we don’t want them out there all alone. We need support to help them thrive and grow.

I'm lucky. I have the best family and friends ever. My mom and dad literally bought boxes of my first book, handing them out to every single person they knew (or didn’t), from the hairdresser/barber to friends to the clerk at the grocery store. My siblings and friends also rallied around me, handing out flyers, bookmarks, and introducing my books to their books clubs and friends. At some point, most have used a combination of enthusiasm, persistence, and possibly guilt to spread the word of my novels. However, twenty years after publishing my first book, I’m still asked, “Julie, what can I do to help get word of your books out there?” Wow. I REALLY appreciate people asking me that.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have had a much different answer. The publishing landscape has changed dramatically since then. But thinking about it in today’s context, here are five simple things you can do to right now support your favorite author.

1.)  Buy the Book. It sounds simple and it is. Every book you buy helps the author stay motivated to write another one, and/or encourages the publisher to support the author. Numbers are everything in publishing and can make or break a writer either emotionally or financially.



2.)  Write a Review. It doesn’t have to be more than 1 sentence. Even a word will do. In the new virtual environment, reviews drive algorithms that help spread word of the book to other potential readers. Reviews have become so important that publishers are reminding authors on a regular basis to urge their readers to post them. It’s a hard pill to swallow for most of us authors to swallow. We have to overcome our shame and embarrassment of appearing too self-promotional and sincerely ask for help in this area. So, believe me, a review of ANY length means a LOT to an author, especially if we don't have to ask for it. If you are writing a review on Amazon, take a minute to “like” the author, too. These numbers also drive algorithms. For example, let me show you where that button is on my Amazon Author Page (ha, see how I snuck in no-so-indirect self-promotion?!). First log into your Amazon.com account. Then click HERE to go to my Author Page. In the upper right hand side you should see a little orange button that says “Like” with a thumbs up. Click on that. Done. It’s that simple. (Thanks!!) Now you can do it for your (other) favorite authors and I assure you, they will appreciate it.  :)

3.)  Share on Social Media. This is the new form of “word-of-mouth.” If you like a book, post a comment on your social media vehicle. Even better, add a link to the book where people can buy the book if they are intrigued by your comments. Word-of-mouth is vital to authors!

4.)   Gift Someone a Book: This is connected with #1. If you like the book and think your sister/grandmother/BFF/co-worker would like it, too, then gift it. Most books, especially e-books, are very affordable, intelligent and a thoughtful way to say thank you, happy birthday, or I’m thinking of you.

5.) Invite an Author to Speak or Blog:  This gives us much needed exposure to new and varied audiences. I’ve spoken at libraries, conferences, schools, book clubs, and people’s houses. You name it, I’ve probably been there talking about writing. Many authors are shy by nature, but ask us to talk about writing books, and you can’t shut us up!



Well, there you have it … my top five ways of helping your favorite author. Did I forget anything?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pirates, Shares and Thieves, or It’s Only an Ebook

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Not too long ago I and some other writers were told about the differences between piracy, filesharing and theft. I’m sure there are true and legal distinctions, but as far as I am concerned, taking/using/sharing/profiting from the work of another without compensation to the owner is stealing, no matter what kind of label or fancy definition is put on it.

Simply, as I understand it, a pirate is one who takes a digital copy of a book and puts it up on the web for free. Presumably they get their money from the advertising that invariably proliferates on the site. A fairly new wrinkle in this form of theft is that on some sites there are no books actually involved – the site is a ‘phishing’ site preying on the something-for-nothing crowd by getting their information (credit card and otherwise). I find this vaguely pleasurable – a kind of instant karma. Gotta love it!

File-sharers are just that. They get a digital book, then put it up for free on what are called torrent sites where anyone can download. Sometimes there are subscription fees which must be paid for access to the site – in other words, the reader has to pay money to be able to steal. The torrents are notoriously unresponsive to writer complaints, because they say as there are no books stored on their servers there is nothing they can do – the exchanges of books are done between individuals and the individual must be contacted directly. Of course, they have a policy not to release the names or addresses of the people who post on them.

When cornered, file-sharers claim they have done nothing wrong; people have always shared books. There are used bookstores. There are libraries. People pass on paper books to others once they’ve read them. This sounds like a reasonable excuse – until one realizes that paper books have a built-in limitation. Books get old and decay or even disintegrate. There are only a certain number of times they can be read. By contrast, a digital file can be copied almost ad infinitum with little or no loss of clarity.

Thieves are in it for the money only. They sell copies of stolen books for enticingly low prices. A new and distressing facet of this practice is that some writers are seeing digital copies of some of their older books being sold – books that were never released in electronic format. Apparently some enterprising scofflaws are finding early paper books by popular writers, scanning them and selling them as e-books.

Need I say that the authors, the creators of these books, receive nothing out of all this?

(Also, I hasten to say that none of my vitriol is aimed at those writers who put one of their own books up for free as a promotion on a legitimate sales venue or on their own website. Offering a book for free is a popular gimmick by which some writers swear, and I have no problem with it as long as it is the writer him/herself who does it. Their book, their choice.)

DRM (Digital Retail Management, I believe) was once believed to be the Great Hope against theft. What a joke! All it does is anger legitimate purchasers who have more than one type of device, and generally it can be removed by a smart ten year old in a couple of minutes.

Every few days on a writers’ e-list someone will post that they just found their books on such-and-such a site. Others go to look and, more often than not, their books are there too. There’s a flurry of DMCA notices (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)  and copyright infringement protests, outraged reports to publishers’ legal departments and – if the writer is lucky – the books come down. For a while. They seldom stay down. Some writers I know keep lists of sites and check them every week or so for violations.

There are those writers who say that taking the time to go after thieves is counterproductive, that it’s a form of free advertising, that people who steal books would never buy one anyway, so there’s no loss involved. They have the right to believe such things, but I disagree with every instance. Taking something without authorization and getting some form of gain from it without recompense to the owner/creator is theft, pure and simple, and theft should not be tolerated.

Yes, I am a hardnose. I believe in the law.

Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the laws don’t seem to care about us ‘It’s only an ebook’ is a phrase I’ve heard often. Only an ebook? Even if it were just a single ebook – which it never is – don’t these people care about principles? Imagine how the author who has labored months, perhaps years, to create that book, who has spent years learning her craft, feels when she learns (as happened to a friend of mine) that there have been 40,000 stolen downloads – 40,000 copies of her book stolen and she hasn’t received and won’t get a penny for her work.

When digital theft is discovered, unless the author has a powerful and responsive publisher with a big legal department, most if not all policing falls on her. She must first find if the site has a copyright infringement contact – or any kind of contact information at all. Then she must send a DMCA notice. Sometimes sites will have their own take-down forms that are so Byzantinely complex they are almost unusable. Sometimes the sites are offshore (China and Russia are two of the biggest offenders) and they just ignore everything. If things get too hot for the site, if there are too many take-down requests or if their ISP usage is threatened, many sites just close their doors and open up a couple of days later under another name and URL. The whole process of getting them shut down is rather like an obscene electronic version of whack-a-mole.

A good analogy would be someone stealing a loaf of bread from a grocery store and the police saying ‘hey, it’s only a loaf of bread – we can’t be bothered.’ Well, if Thief A got away with it, what if the rest of the alphabet gang think they can get away with it too? Pretty soon there’s a mass assault by thieves on loaf after loaf of bread, and the poor grocer is expected to take care of it himself – catch the thieves and, since the law is disinterested in punishing them, try to keep the thief from taking another loaf and then another on a regular basis.

It’s alarming that so many people regard anything on the internet as fair game. ‘Information should be free,’ they cry. Well, a book can be informative, but it is not information. It is a commodity, created through the work and sweat of an author, and stealing it is no different from carrying away a paperback from a brick and mortar store without paying. Digital is just a delivery system, not a license to steal.

What alarms me most, however, is the entitlement mentality of  some thieves. ‘It’s the writers’ own fault,’ one young man in a chat room cried indignantly. ‘I’d buy their books if they weren’t priced so high. My appetite for entertainment is so great that I simply can’t afford to buy everything I want.’

Wonder what happens when he gets hungry? Does he go into the grocery and take what he wants based on such startling illogic? Along more basic lines, has he never heard of living within his means? Nor, apparently, does he believe that the owner/creator has a right to charge what she wants for her work. The author and the marketplace should set the price – not the unbridled greed of some consumers.

Writers write books for any number of reasons – a message, a compulsion, a calling – but most of us work at writing like we work at day jobs. It is a profession, and one for which the author, like any other professional, should be compensated. The ideas of writing for no other reason than the sheer love of it, for the satisfaction of knowing people are reading and enjoying our words, that it is an intrinsic part of our profession for an artist to starve in a garret are pretty ridiculous. Writing is a profession, and professionals deserve to be paid for their work, not to have their works stolen without punishment.

One thing that these thieves have never realized – or do not want to accept – is that for most writers, for the good writers, for the popular writers, writing is a business, and that the purpose of a business is to make money in exchange for their work. Most professional writers don’t write for fame, or adulation or the knowledge that their words are being read by thousands of people. Those are nice perks, but they’re not the main reason. Writers write for money. It’s a job.

I have heard from many, many writers that if they can no longer make a decent return for their work, they won’t quit writing – they’ll just quit publishing. ‘I can always write for my own enjoyment. There are always other outlets for my writing; I don’t have to publish and watch my work being stolen. People don’t value what they don’t pay for.’ I’ve heard variants on all of these statements from more writers than you can count.

I wonder what will happen when theft is so overwhelming that the professional writers stop writing, leaving a vacuum filled with nothing but bad writers and wannabes. Will the thieves blame themselves? Of course not. ‘It’s only an ebook,’ as one thief said. ‘Writers are rich and I’m not. They should be glad people are reading their books. They’ll never miss just one ebook.’

Oh, yeah. And I’m so not going to get into those lower-than-the-low scum who copy a writer’s book, change a couple of names (maybe!) and then republish under their own name as their own work. My blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.

So what can be done about this, short of rewiring the brain of every ebook-stealing thief? The only thing I know is to keep after them. Complain. Even if the thieves are in a foreign country, usually the money passes through an American credit card or on-line payment company. Complain. Their sites are usually hosted by an ISP in this country. Complain. Send DMCAs. Complain. Report the offenders to the cybercrimes division of the FBI and any other law enforcement agency that might be appropriate. Complain. Sometimes you can find who owns the theft site (and be prepared for some surprises!) through Whois.com and other such sites. Complain. If you have a publisher, even a small one, send all the information, including specific URLs to them. Complain. Hire companies whose job it is to track down such theft and have them send the notices for you. Speak out!


Yes, writers shouldn’t have to do this. Writers should be writing books, not being forced into spending their time chasing thieves, but if we don’t do it, it won’t get done and the problem will only grow. This is a problem that affects everyone who wants to write or likes to read, and right now it seems the solution is in our hands.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What Would You Do?

While working on my latest Mindhunters book (Acceptable Risk), I knew the ins and outs of my heroine, since I'd been getting to know her for years. Catherine Montague has been the receptionist at my fictional organization, SSAM (The Society for the Study of the Aberrant Mind), since Book 1 (Only Fear). However, in Books 1-4, because Catherine was a minor character, my editor often had me cut physical or behavioral descriptions that detracted from the main characters, so Catherine was still a bit of an enigma to readers. This turned out to be a blessing as I began writing Book 5. The sparseness of description in previous books meant I could do anything with Catherine. She could be anybody.

So, of course I wanted her to be a surprise. I wanted my heroine to have a secret, and to be tormented by it because she’s been lying to the hero, a coworker with whom she’d fallen in love. 

But I also needed her to be a likable liar, so I gave her a strong motivation: her family. The betrayal she harbors runs deep—her behavior, her entire life until the point the book opens has been to repay what she’s seen as a family debt. But she’s come to the point in her life where she can no longer be untrue to herself…or to the hero she loves.

While working on this story, some interesting questions arose. What wouldn’t I sacrifice for my loved ones? What betrayals can I forgive, and why? What would be unforgivable? 

Today, Catherine's story (and her secret) is available to the world, and she can no longer hide. 

How do you feel about secrets? Are some betrayals unforgivable? What makes you more likely to be merciful?

ACCEPTABLE RISK

Book five of The Mindhunters

To repay a debt, resourceful receptionist Catherine Montague has been living a lie, and her secret betrayal eats at her conscience. She knows what she has to do to reclaim her life, but revealing the truth could mean losing everything, including the agent she’s fallen in love with.

For sexy ex-SEAL Max Sawyer, hunting killers gives him a sense of fulfillment he never would have found if he’d followed the path that was his birthright. However, when his latest mission goes horribly wrong, releasing a hardened criminal in Max’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas, it’ll take all of his charm to convince the beautiful and resilient Catherine to serve as a buffer between him and the painful ties from his past.

Amid a manhunt, the re-emergence of a serial killer, and the activity of an organized crime ring known as the Circle, Max and Catherine may be the only ones who can set things right again. That is, if Max can forgive Catherine for her deception before a killer claims her. But is mercy a risk he’s willing to take?


Thursday, May 1, 2014

I-Spy: How to Get an Audio Book Produced

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.



TODAY'S POST: I-Spy How to Get an Audio Book Produced ...





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Are you thinking of financing an audio book? You’re not alone. The two biggest areas of expansion for indie authors are foreign translations and audio books. Just about every author I know (who has managed to hang onto audio rights) is considering whether to invest in creating an audio catalog. Case in point, I started financing audio books from my backlist in May 2012. To date I’ve financed 22 titles through ACX (the Audio Creative Exchange) and sold over 11,000 units. I have no idea if that number is good or bad, but the productions have paid for themselves and earned a bit of profit as well -- every single one of them has been a bestseller in its genre -- so I consider the endeavor a success.


 I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I thought I’d share them you in today’s I-Spy segment.

First, so far I’ve only worked with ACX, so my experience is somewhat limited. ACX has a streamlined and simple process. There are definitely problems -- I have bitched long and loud on the topic of what I don’t like about ACX (including being unable to control pricing of a product I have paid to produce) but it’s still probably the most convenient and practical platform for getting an audio book made.


 Basically here’s what happens:


 1 - You claim the audio rights to one of your titles listed on Amazon (if you are not self-published, you need to be sure you still possess those audio rights).
 
2 - You decide whether you can afford to finance the production yourself (my preference) or you choose to do a royalty-share. A royalty share means you pay nothing up front, but you and the narrator split your royalties for the seven years ACX controls your audio book’s distribution.

3 - You complete the listing for your book on ACX, including uploading an audition script (more about that below).

4 - You start hunting for narrators. OR you can wait for narrators to approach you. (Because I write gay erotic romance, I let narrators read the description of my work and then determine whether they are comfortable trying out for the project.)
 
 5 - You listen to auditions, hire a narrator, work with the narrator to create the best possible audio book, approve the files for sale, and start collecting royalties.


Success or failure depends on choosing the right narrator. The right narrator is the key to everything. A good narrator can make or break your audio book. That said, the single most important element of a successful audio book is the book itself. A narrator has to have something to work with. While it’s tempting to believe that all genre fiction will do well in audio, the truth is, if your book doesn’t sell much in print/digital, it’s probably not going to do brilliantly in audio either. Even with a bestseller, you will sell only a fraction in audio what you do in digital and print. That’s the reality of the audio book market at this point in time. Choose your best selling title. Or your bestselling series -- and then start with Book 1.


 Your audition script should be short. No more than a couple of minutes long. A page, at most maybe a page and a half. Most of the time, you’ll know within a couple of seconds whether the voice is not a contender. But if the voice is close to what you’re looking for, you may need to ask for a second audition. Or you may need to hold off and listen to more auditions to be sure. Take your time. For the audition script you should choose a key scene from the book with a variety of characters. At the minimum it should be a scene with the two main characters. It’s helpful to give the narrator a couple of clues as to what’s going on in the scene and a general note on how people should sound. Like if the main character has a French accent, it would be useful to mention this BEFORE the narrator auditions.


 Next, you need to have a general idea of the type of voice you’re looking for. You can’t expect the narrator to define this for you. A French count does not sound like a cowboy. Are you looking for someone in their twenties? Because someone in his twenties doesn’t usually sound like someone in his forties. And an “articulate” twenty-year old doesn’t necessarily sound like an “street-smart” twenty-year old. You need to know what you’re looking for so you don’t waste anyone’s time. It’s helpful to listen to a variety of narrators -- especially of well-rated and popular books in your genre.

BE PICKY. Don’t be in a hurry to make your decision. Listen to a lot of narrators. The wrong voice is the kiss of death to an audio book.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. You’re not just hiring a voice. The narrator is responsible for producing your audio book, so you’re looking for more than an attractive voice. Ideally, you’re looking for a professional with a good track record.


 If you receive an audition you like, before you do anything else, go check out that narrator’s website, check them out on social media, and check them out on Audible.com to see what else they’ve successfully produced -- or at the very least, successfully narrated. You might consider contacting the last author who worked with the narrator: ask whether she brought the project in on time, whether he made corrections in a timely manner, whether he stayed in character or his accent began to slip. You’re signing up for a seven-year commitment. Be smart. We're all aware that book publishing is filled with starry-eyed hopefuls who at this very moment are writing their first book and dreaming of fame and fortune? Well, you’ve got the very same thing going on in audio book publishing. It’s okay to give an inexperienced narrator a shot, but make sure you’re going into it with your eyes wide open.


 Communicate with the narrators who try out for your projects. I am astounded by the number of narrators who thank me for taking the time to let them know they didn’t get the gig. Apparently not responding with a yes or no is a bad habit of a lot of authors. I don’t understand this because surely we know better than anyone how demoralizing it is to submit your best effort and then never hear anything back at all. Rejection is still better than dead silence. Take the time to drop everyone who tries out for your project a polite note thanking them for their time and talent.

Once you do settle on a narrator, make sure you get them whatever they need from you in a timely manner. If they send you a list asking how to pronounce words, or they need a different format for the script…whatever they need from you, get it to them in a timely fashion. Make the narrator’s job as easy as you can.


I believe in picking good narrators and then getting out of their way. I'm not a director and, just as I shake my head at narrators who offer writing advice -- "Don't use elaborate descriptions!" -- so too does the narrator resent the author who tries to pull a Cecil B. DeMille. Narration is an art. You have to give the artist room to move, to create.


 Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to leave your questions on the audio book process in the comment section below, and I’ll make a point of checking in regularly to answer them. Or if you’ve financed an audio book, feel free to share your experience with us.



Josh Lanyon is the author of Stranger on the Shore due out May 5th from Carina Press

Find Josh

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FUTURE POSTS will cover:


Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.

We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!
 


 


 


 


 


 


 


  


 

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