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. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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

NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dead End, Dead End, Dead End...

Way back in 2012, I signed a contract with Carina Press for books 6, 7 and 8 in my Dylan Scott series. The books were called Deadly Shadows, Fatal Vengeance and Dead Simple and, as I’ve never yet had a title queried, I considered these titles and not working titles.

So I began 2013 by knowing I had to finish Deadly Shadows (deadline, deadline, deadline … mutter, mutter, mutter) and knowing that I then had to write Fatal Vengeance and Dead Simple. 

Deadly Shadows was duly done and dusted - or written and edited - and hit the shelves in October. Meanwhile, I wrote Fatal Vengeance. It went through the usual development edits and lines edits, was scheduled for publication in July 2014, and all I was waiting for was the final copy-edits. I began writing Dead Simple.

And then - shock, horror. At the last minute, I was asked to change the title of Fatal Vengeance.

Some of the more savvy Carina authors will wonder what possessed me to even consider calling a book Fatal Vengeance. But that’s beside the point. I did. I lived with that title in my head for 18 months. And suddenly I had to dream up another title for it. I sent off several suggestions and it was finally agreed that the book will be called Dead End.

Dead End. And my brain has hit a dead end because I can’t grasp it at all. I firmly believe that, till the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, this book, to me, will be Fatal Vengeance.

Any suggestions as to how I might clear this mental block? Should I lie in a darkened room and chant "Dead End" as my personal mantra? Should I buy a nice shiny notepad and write out "Dead End" ten thousand times? And I have a favour to ask … in July, when I tell the world that it’s release day for Fatal Vengeance, would you please kick me where it hurts and remind me that I actually mean Dead End? Thank you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Boxed Sets, Anthologies and Collections

Is the “boxed set” marketing's new black?

The collections are everywhere. Some center on a holiday, a theme, the hero/heroine's profession. Others are linked more loosely. But they fill the Top 100 ranks of more than one genre category.

Some people decry them as yet another devaluation of the author’s material. This same argument, of course, was applied to the free book and is now targeted at the 99-cent price point. There is a valid point, that people who expect “free” aren't going to buy subsequent books, but over the past year, as the algorithms at Amazon moved away from counting free downloads and the “free days” offered less bounce, fewer people gave away books. And readers moved to the “new” darling, the 99-cent book.

Now the hot marketing device seems to be a collection of novels/novellas. While bundled products, buy-one-get-one-free, and other promotions have been around for ages, the collections are everywhere. The driving force, of course, is to obtain new readers. If author X has a story in the set, the reader may also sample (and read! And Love!) author Z, whose book is next in the collection.

Forgive me if this post rambles a bit. It's very late and I'd planned a different post for today.

Let me tell you the story of two anthologies.

The first, The Ultimate Mystery, Thriller, Horror Boxed Set, was released in early November 2013 by a group of independent authors. The stated goal of the group was gaining new readers, building on each other's networks. The group planned its release strategy, chose advertising, and actively promoted the collection's release. We communicated clearly with each other, shared results of each campaign. The set sold well and has remained #1 or #2 (yay! It's number 1 at Amazon this morning!) for nearly three months.

Then there is the set I planned today's post around. 

Love International Style was supposed to release on Monday. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc had the box set for presale – with the wrong cover – but Amazon didn't offer it until Monday morning, when apparently it was available for a couple of minutes. It was subsequently removed from sale, with no explanation. The authors who had banded together with other authors in the imprint and worked out a sales campaign were left standing with our mouths open when the book wasn't available on its stated date. All of this occurred with a deafening silence from the publisher. Emails received only a terse, "we're working on it." 

When the set still was unavailable this morning, with a heavy heart, I revised my planned post.

I won't bore you with all the other details, but communication appears to be a key element in the different results for the two anthologies. I hope we (the authors and the publisher) learn both what happened and how to keep a similar snafu from impeding another release.

A multi-part question for you – 

What's your opinion on boxed sets? Devaluing product? Gaining readers? 
Have you ever run into a situation where clear communication could've averted a mess?

Monday, January 27, 2014


I love books that make me laugh. If a writer can elicit a smile, chuckle or make me giggle out loud, I rate the book as a winner. Laughing makes me feel good. I like leaving a story with a smile on my face.

Writing humor, however, it is not an easy task. Those of us who write humorous novels must rely solely on the power of our words. Photos, actors and sound tracks are not available to bring our humor to life. We must craft the situations and reactions using just the right language and dialogue. Sometimes it works and other times (more often than not) the scene goes out the window.

I know I won’t always be able to make everyone laugh. After all, we each have a different idea of what’s funny. There are even people I refer to as "humor-challenged." So, I just have to go with what feels right. How do I use humor in my writing? I look for the humor in everyday life. People would rather laugh than cry when faced with difficult life experiences such as death, disease or hardship. I play off experiences I’ve had, nearly had, or have happened to a friend. Most importantly, I’m not afraid to laugh at myself. I find the best humor comes from within -- an honest, hair-brained moment I can share with others through the eyes of my fictional characters.

I filled my latest Lexi Carmichael mystery novel, No Place Like Rome, with lots of humorous situations. Lexi gets herself into the stickiest of situations and causes even more mayhem and chaos trying to get out of them. I know that if I can make myself laugh, that's half the battle.

Read more about NO PLACE LIKE ROME here.

Now the question is, how much do you love to laugh when reading?

Friday, January 24, 2014

NYUS Geocaching Challenge!

Pssst.  There is treasure hidden in your area. No, seriously. All you need is a phone and the coordinates. Technically, it’s not a treasure. It’s a cache.

This is real world Adventure Gaming—geocaching. And it’s right up a mystery story-teller’s alley.
What is Geocaching? 

So glad you asked! Here, the experts can tell you in 1:16 secs.

I’ve gone out with my kids and their cousins. And it is fun, inspiring, real-live mystery solving. 

With a GPSsensitive ap downloaded to my phone, we’ve used coordinates and clues to locate nearby caches—small containers of hidden treasure. In this case “treasure” is defined as typical kid detritus (a lego figure, one nickel, mardi gras beads, a dentist’s jeweled ring or a lick-on tattoo.)  

Back at the dawn of geocaching, people used to put cool stuff for grown-ups into cache boxes. I’ve heard tales of caches stuffed with books, CDs, lattes and smoked salmons. (The whole thing started in the Pacific Northwest.)

These days, times are lean. Sometimes all you find is one small pencil and a tiny notebook, for recording the day, time and details of your discovery. But the process is still pretty exciting.

Caches are often hidden in parks and forest preserves. Clues can be a single word or sometimes in code! Wandering about in a remote location, with one of my side-kicks (children) asking if this is safe, while the other one asks gotta any tasty snacks? feels pretty darn Nancy Drew. (Of course, my convertible is a big tan van, but other than that...)

Writing mysteries is one thing. But solving them is a whole ‘nother game. I've gotten lots of inspiration tromping about and figuring out clues. So—I challenge you, fellow NYUS! Hunt up a cache near you. Then write about your adventure on this blog. (You Canadians can wait until it’s not -40 below. Or find an indoor cache. Seriously. Practice safe geocaching, people.) 

I’ll surprise the first cache winner to describe their hunt with a double latte! (You’re on your own for the smoked salmon.) I may even surprise the rest of you with lattes, if the story is good.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


                 I’m sooooo behind in my reading. Best I can do these days is 3 books a week and I listen to 98% of my books. Yesterday I checked my TBR list. Eleven. ELEVEN. I’m trembling. I’ve never been this behind. What’s even worse is there are over 100 books on my wish list. A blanket of sadness has fallen over me as I realize there will be no way to read the hundreds of good books out there. I will unintentionally miss brilliant stories in many genres.  
                Recently I encountered three young ladies who are avid readers. They read every genre and an average of five books a weeks. They rarely watch TV.  Sigh. I so envy the young. I’m so old we called the Polar Vortex winter.  In my past there are many years I only read a couple of books a year. Imagine a flash bang of guilt being released here. To assuage my guilt I encourage people to look for new to them authors. Part of me is consoled with the knowledge my four children are avid readers. I like to think they’re taking up my slack. But geeze, so many books.
               How do you make decisions about what and where you read?  I asked this question in a group with several literary fiction and non-fiction writers and….eeep… was absolutely stunned by the amount of,  never romance and NEVER a self published book answers. BTW, I considered leaving the group but decided to stay and, shall we say, educate them on occasion.  I mention this because the three reader gals said they NEVER choose a book by the publisher. Only by the sample or blurb.  
Time for some questions. Do you read print, digital device, or listen? If you live in the snowmageddon and storm areas that frequently lose power, do you have a little generator dedicated to keeping your computer and reading devices alive?  How do you, strictly as a reader, find your next read? Word of mouth? Ads? And, sigh, how do you find the time to read your selected book treasures?
                Oh! One other thing for writers. Does reading inspire you to write?  It does for me. 
Rita writes thrillers with military heroines. Extraordinary women and the men they love.     

Monday, January 20, 2014

Season for Love?

Today I'm doing double duty since I'm also blogging at my own place You Heard It Here and I thought I'd make them intertwine. Because my daughter is experiencing the bitter cold of a Boston January while I sweat in the heat of a California winter, I thought I'd make my posts weather related. So the question is:

What season is best for love?

I pick winter! If it's freezing outside, you HAVE to cuddle with the one you love, right? (I guess you don't HAVE to, but the dog or cat cuddling only goes so far, am I right?)

And what's sexier than having multiple layers of clothes to slowly peel off until you get down to all that glorious skin?! Or how about walks in the snow or snowball fights to get the blood pumping before you... you know... get the blood pumping? Winter love means Eskimo kisses and hot chocolate. It means roasting s'mores in front of a toasty fireplaces to energize for a long night fooling around in that very same spot. <G> Winter love means cuddling up under heavy blankets and keeping the cold at bay with long make-out sessions and quiet minutes of nothing but touching.

Okay... really... I'm kind of wishing it wasn't so hot in Los Angeles. LOL. (Which reminds me, don't forget to drop by You Heard It Here to read the flip side.)

So which season do you want to love in? And I'll tack on another question here as well for all the writers in the house... Which season do you prefer WRITING love in?

Friday, January 17, 2014


     When I was in my teens, I studied Shakespeare with a teacher who read Hamlet to us, relished the monologues and as she read each word pronounced it “trippingly on her tongue.” This probably encouraged me first as a singer and later as a writer.
     Words and how they’re used may shape, enlighten, or defame. Influence elections. Judge human frailties.  Prod, push and urge fanaticism. Cause one nation to fight another. Incite murder. Words are debated, memorized, and changed as they pass from one generation to the next. Whispered, sung, and shouted. Sighed over and repeated when chosen to encourage love or lust. Thought about and constantly rewritten when used in fables, stories, plays, histories and religious texts.

     The Torah: The Five Books of Moses that Christians call The Old Testament is studied by Jews and Christians today. The New Testament is read by the faithful in many interpretations throughout the world—the King James Bible, from the year1611, one of the most popular. The Koran, the sacred text of Islam is believed to contain the revelations made by Allah to Mohammed.
     Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species explained the evolutionary process. Controversy followed and is still debated because it disagreed with the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Bible.
      Democracy, Capitalism, Socialism and Communism have many roots: The Republic written in 380 BC by Plato, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, and On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx brought about changes in government in many parts of the world. The words in these documents all reverberate in our day.
     Jacob Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives bringing attention to the poor in the United States. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir changed the lives of women. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl written by Harriet A. Jacobs under a pseudonym and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass focused on the lives of enslaved African Americans and led to the unforgettable words of Martin Luther King. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair—a novelist and social reformer—exposed the horrors of the Chicago meat packing industries and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson alerted the public to the dangers of environmental pollution.
     Shakespeare’s plays influenced our view of history and are still selling tickets today. (Personal note: When I saw Henry the Fifth at the Globe Theater in London, I found myself enthusiastically cheering for the English before the realization struck—I was an American and should have been cheering for the French who helped during our revolution.)
     Examine the ancient history of enemy warfare and learn about the first documented manuscript, titled The Art of War, written in 400 BC, by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and philosopher who 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.” Sound familiar?
     In the play Amadeus, the author Peter Shaffer, accuses Antonio Salieri, a court musician—who taught Beethoven Liszt and Schubert—of jealousy leading to the murder of Mozart. Didn’t happen but the power of Shaffer’s words persuaded many in the audience. John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a play about a priest who is suspected by a nun of molesting a child led to discussion by playgoers that sometimes lasted for days. Did he or didn’t he? The argument goes on. 
Courtesy of
      By the end of a narrative—document, biography, history, fiction—no matter the genre, a connection between the writer and reader will encourage conversations with others about motivations, the truth of what has been written, and what the story means to them—each takes something different away from the page. We may not write a book that will last through the ages, we may not become a 21st century Jane Austin or Charles Dickens but we can write books that will bring enjoyment, discovery, escape and the hunger for another manuscript.
Scene Stealer


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Solitary Occupation?

That’s the common perception of a writer’s chosen profession, but I’m not convinced it’s accurate anymore. Yes, it’s just me, a keyboard and my imagination, but there’s also a massive support system out there, albeit virtual, so you’re absolutely never alone. (No, I’m not hearing voices—cancel the men in white coats.) I’ve made more cyber friends, felt more love and generous support through the Internet than I would ever have thought possible. I mean, we’re all writers, and we’re indirectly in competition with one another, so why would anyone want to share their knowledge and expertise? Because authors are generous souls, understand the pitfalls and struggles it takes to become recognised, and because…well, because all decent people instinctively feel the need to offer a helping hand when asked, I suppose.

I wrote my first book using an electric typewriter, carbon paper, (remember that?), and endless pots of correction fluid. If I needed to do research I consulted an encyclopaedia or took myself off to the library. It was time-consuming, often frustrating, and you really had to want to do it—trust me on this. The book I produced was terrible, and never would have seen the light of publication, even if I’d had the remotest idea about how to go about submitting it. How I admire authors who went through the publication process in those days! Even so, I kept the book, unearthed it years later, and the plot formed part of one of my Regencies subsequently published by Robert Hale. Moral of the story, never throw anything away.

I took up writing again seriously about ten years ago. My how things had changed! Word processing revolutionised the typing process, and the internet was in its infancy. Nowadays I can do my research as I go along—just open another tab, consult the god Google, job done. Failing that, I post a question on one of the many authors’ loops I participate in, and hey-presto, an answer comes flying back through cyberspace at warp speed. Solitary? I don’t think so.

I spend literally half of every year continent-hopping, living out of a suitcase. Even as recently as five years ago, the thought of having to leave my precious research books behind brought me out in hives. Now I can find just about anything I need to know on-line.

Better yet, the publishing jungle has been stripped bare by those in the know, and no longer seems to be quite such a maze of don’t bother us unless you have an agent type responses. Times they are a-changing, with epublishing and self-publishing taking centre stage. Could the lunatics finally be in charge of the asylum? Are readers rather than publishers forcing the direction of the market? 50 Shades has made it acceptable to enjoy erotica rather than pretending to devour the entire shortlist for the Booker prize. Women enjoy reading about damaged zillionaires and S.E.X. Who would have thought it?  

These are uncertain times, with no one being sure where the industry will be in ten years’ time. What does it take to make it in this new revolution they call publishing? Wish I knew. All I can tell you is that it requires a hide like a rhinoceros to withstand some of the downright vicious reviews. (Didn’t the critics’ mothers teach them that if you have nothing nice to say, shut the hell up?). On the opposite side of the coin, receiving emails from readers saying how much pleasure they received from your scribbling reminds a writer why she does it.

Me, I’ve just dipped my toe into self-publishing, but I’m not ready to let my publishers go, either. Best of both worlds does it for me. I need my safety net, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I now have almost fifty published books to my credit. Yeah, I know, I need to get a life! I write regencies and contemporary romance under my own name, as well as a few marine crime mysteries. I also write erotica under a pen name, but I still don’t have the confidence to go it completely alone. Maybe when I reach book one hundred…



Monday, January 13, 2014

What Makes A Writer? Nature or Nurture?

by Janis Patterson
What makes a writer? Is it genetic? Or the way we are raised? Or something we choose that we feel we must follow? Or all of the above?

To begin with let me say I am the third generation of a wordsmith family. One grandfather was a small-town newspaper publisher in a time and place where that was a position of power. Both grandmothers were at one time teachers. My father was editor and/or publisher of several Texas newspapers, taught journalism at Texas A&M (he also separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline) and, with my mother started and owned one of the top 300 advertising agencies in the US. My mother was an English teacher, a play producer and a magazine columnist. I started working in the family agency when I was nine – as a stripper, no less. (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it is a great line to use at a cocktail party!) I graduated to writing copy when I was twelve.

Obviously I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything else but some variety of wordsmith!

But was it nature or nurture? Yes, our house was full of books. It still is. The Husband and I live in a house with two dedicated libraries and a hobby room with five enormous bookshelves. For that matter, little drifts of books stacked on the floor and almost every flat surface seem to breed in our house. But not all readers become writers, so I ask again, is it nature or nurture?

I don’t know, but the question did strike me a couple of days ago. I was going through some papers of my late father’s and there, between two of the radio scripts he had written long ago, was a copy of my birth announcement.

It’s a simple thing, a plain white piece of paper with black print with a left-hand fold so it opens like a book. On the cover is the image of a book with the title “Janis Susan – Announcing a New Edition – Best Book of the Year.” There is also a picture of a rather startlingly disgruntled looking stork in a top hat and glasses. I always wondered why he had such a peculiar look on his face.

Open the ‘book’ and it says “The Author and Publisher proudly announce the issuance of their 19XX (no, I’m not going to tell you the year!) edition entitled Janis Susan May.”

Below that, it says “Author – Donald W. May – Publisher – Aletha B. May.”

Below that it says “Publication Date – (the date of my birth) – DeLuxe Edition, with pink and white binding weighs X pounds X ounces (I’m not going to tell you that  either, then or now!). Cover jacket – white, removable. Reprints and Second Editions not available this year.”

See? I was doomed from the beginning. Nature or nurture makes no difference, for when one’s beginning of life is announced as a book, one really has no choice but to become a writer.

In the for what it’s worth department, my father did the announcement himself. He had a telling wit and I personally think the concept hilarious. My sentimentalist mother loathed it and, once recovered from her ordeal, sent out very proper handwritten announcements herself, probably confusing a lot of people as to whether the Mays had had one child or two.

Sometimes, knowing the many dichotomies of my nature, I wonder that myself. But then, I am a writer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Of hives and hyperventilation

It’s that time of the year. Again.

You know. The time of year when we look back and take stock of our successes. And failures.

The time of year when we look forward, hitch up our pants, and set goals.

I hate it.

It’s that whole goal thing. Anyone who read my last post (Lying Fallow) knows that I don’t react well to too much pressure. And goal setting is definitely too much pressure for me. I don’t even do resolutions, having learned that any resolution I make in January won’t last to February.

I realize that many, many people thrive on setting goals and making resolutions. On New Year’s Day, I spoke with my friend Karen Abrahamson (a wonderful writer of urban fantasies with unique settings and premises). She happily rattled off all her writing goals for 2014, which included two new novels, a new novella series, multiple short stories… and then publishing all of them.

Hives broke out on my face.

You couldn’t pay me enough to deliberately set my anxiety bar higher than it already is, but for her, it works. She wrote half a MILLION new words last year (excuse me—I need to find a paper bag in which to breathe for a minute). She is a goal-oriented writer, always striving to write better and bigger stories.

She exhausts me.

But I guess I can’t judge her by my standards, just as she can’t judge me by hers (thank goodness). I am finally figuring out what approach works best for me, so that I don’t overcommit and destroy my fragile little ego when I disappoint myself. And I need to trust other writers to know best what works for them.

What about you? Does a lack of goals make you feel untethered? Or does setting goals make you want to take that tether and hang yourself with it?

P.S. Here’s my latest cover, for my upcoming novel release (February): Obeah. See? I do have goals. Bite-sized, manageable ones.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Plotting Wheel of Fortune: The Erle Stanley Gardner Method of Plotting

“It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”
Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889-1970
I was actually googling the answer to a trivia question when I came across these images labeled ‘Erle Stanley Gardner’s plotting wheels’. Intrigued I investigated further and will be giving a workshop this weekend at Florida Romance Writers on the topic. Why did Erle Stanley Gardner resonate with me so much?

I’ve hit a stage in my life where writing time is at an all-time minimal; I also find myself getting bogged down in research and plotting. Erle Stanley Gardner was a practicing trial attorney who set out to make a living writing and succeeded. How did he do it? After initially receiving a slew of rejections, he turned his mind into a plotting machine.

He broke down the components of the genre he wrote, created a very successful structure and set minimal word count goals for himself. Mr.  Gardner wrote 4000-5000 words a day, 100,000 words a month and a million words a year for nearly 10 years. Now at the time he got his start, it was the height of the pulp fiction market, and product was key to making a living. Does this sound familiar in this age of self-publishing? Product is everything.

As part of his process of learning how to plot, Gardner turned to plotting wheels. He purportedly had nine wheels for each story question, but the Harry Ransom Center of The University of Texas at Austin only has displayed four that I’ve been able to locate on line: “Solution,” “Wheel of Complicating Circumstances,” “Wheel of hostile minor characters who function in making complications for hero,” and “Wheel of blind trails by which the hero is mislead (sic) or confused.”

 Gardner’s speed was such that he wrote several books at a time; he would Theory of Plotting. The beauty of the system is the writer doesn’t latch on to the same old tired sequence in their writing.

For those who write romantic suspense, I think Gardner’s wheels can be adapted. I’m creating one for weapons and legalities for my legal thrillers.  For other genres, it’s a matter of listing the components of that genre. Writing a contemporary romance? The hostile minor characters could be a boss, a family member, an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, a best friend and so forth. And what about the 12 Steps to Intimacy placed on a wheel? That can really shake things up.

Writing is writing, and I know I can learn from an old master who created the iconic character Perry Mason who was featured in 82 novels, on radio, TV and now is being brought to the big screen by Robert Downey Jr. After all, in a career that spanned five decades, Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889-1970, sold more than seven hundred fictional works, including 127 novels. Adding in four hundred articles and more than a dozen travel tomes, his overall creative total climbed past eleven hundred, embracing 155 published books in thirty- seven languages around the world.

Are you looking forward to Robert Downey Jr. taking on the iconic Perry Mason or did Raymond Burr put an indelible stamp on the character?
Carol Stephenson, writing as C.J. Stevens


Monday, January 6, 2014

Reading, Reading and More Reading!

My name is Shelley Munro, and I am an avid romance reader.

In fact my love of reading and books started me on the path to becoming an author. Like many romance readers, I’m fast and read a lot of books each year.

A few years ago, I decided to keep a record of the books I read each year, and from 2007 I’ve kept an Excel spread sheet of the titles I’ve read. It’s interesting to look back to see which books I’ve read and how my reading tastes have changed. For example in 2013 I read a lot of contemporary romances, I started listening to audio books and flirted with a few new genres such as New Adult. I read more e-books than print books these days, and my number of audio reads is increasing rapidly.

Reading challenges are a fun way of challenging yourself to read more, either in genres you love or in new genres. You’ll find lots of different challenges on the web at this time of the year. Last year I participated in the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge where I recorded 103 books for the year. My target was 100 books. This year I’ve signed up for the same target and have already read a book or two from my to-read mountain.

I’m always interested to learn how other readers operate.

Do you keep track of the books you read? If so, how do you do it? Have you or are you participating in the Goodreads Reading challenge or any other reading challenges?

Friday, January 3, 2014

My New Year's Resolution: Contentment

Oh, that elusive feeling: contentment.

It's a brand new year and I'm feeling daunted already. I add challenges and goals to my list faster than I cross them off and as a result, I'm always a bit twitchy. Jumpy. Overcaffeinated. I'm always working and rarely satisfied. My mind runs on black coffee and sleep deprivation. It's not a peaceful place in there.

It wasn't always this way. In 2012, everything about writing was shiny and new. The possibilities were endlessly lovely and I was happy. My small press even gave me an award for my enthusiasm at the annual Lori Foster Reader and Author Get Together. Those were good times, but the feeling didn't last. I soon started to struggle with knowing when I'd done enough and when it was okay to relax and enjoy what I'd accomplished.

As I sat down to write my 2014 reading and writing resolutions this week, I realized I was nervous. Jittery even. Faced with a brand new year of possibilities, I panicked. I realized anything can happen. Anything. Look. There are 363 more days where I can fall on my face and 363 more days of obstacles to conquer. I'm exhausted just thinking of everything I need to do. I wrung my hands together and put my head between my knees a while. While I was folded over, it occurred to me this wasn't normal.

In the interest of being transparent and taking full advantage of this blog as my personal therapist, (you don't mind do you?), I will confess that I feel like a failure as an author. Daily. It was only five short years ago I jostled a newborn in one arm, opened a search engine with the other and Googled "How to write a book." I signed a contract eighteen months later with a small press for a romance novella and I was so super happy... for five minutes. Then I wrote a bunch more sweet romance stories for them, but I was never really satisfied. The books came out. I celebrated and I kept writing. I kicked myself for not selling more copies or for not climbing the publishing ladder faster. I should have been happy with the progress I was making, but I wasn't. I was anxious. Worried. Frustrated. It wasn't enough.

I kept writing. I branched out. In fall 2012, I landed contracts with Carina Press for a cozy series and with Merit Press for a YA suspense. Both those contracts were a BIG deal for me. I'd moved up a baby-writer-rung on the industry ladder and I was elated. ... for five minutes.

I've continued writing and submitting new manuscripts, hoping for another contract. I spend hours online and weekends away seeking name recognition and praying readers will find my books among the millions available. It's overwhelming. I'm tired.

So, this year I'm not writing any resolutions. This year I'm setting my sights on inner peace and I'm making time to be thankful for the journey so far. In 2014 I want to write because it's my passion - not because I'm on a quest to climb ladders. I want to read because it's fun - not because I took the GoodReads challenge and set my bar unreasonably high. No more guilt in reading. No more guilt in writing. Somewhere along the way, my perspective tilted and I lost the joy.

I've had enough of the unnecessary pressure I put on myself. I miss my family. I'm taking back the good stuff.

This year I've given myself permission to relax. To breathe. To be content with where I am. If I never get another contract or sell another copy of anything I've written, that's okay too. The world won't end. I won't die and honestly, my kids probably wouldn't know the difference.

My singular 2014 resolution is contentment.

Three days in and I'm sleeping better already.

Anyone else need permission to breathe? I've got lots of room for company.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I-SPY: Choosing a pen name

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 something beginning with ...

Choosing a pen name

Clare: I want to give full credit up front to Angela James of Carina Press, as this is largely drawn from her posts on the subject, and I agree with everything she says!

You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelajames, visit her Facebook page or her website.

How different from your real name does your pen name need to be?
Remember, you’re going to be answering to this pen name for (hopefully) the rest of your life. Maybe you want to keep your “real” first name so you don’t have to train yourself to be called by a second name. Or maybe you’ve always wanted a new name and now’s your chance!
I kept my first name - and yes, it's amazing how useful that is when people call to you in a group setting e.g. at a conference :)

What name are you using now?
I know a lot of writers who aren’t yet published, who are on social media, developing a presence, developing a brand and relationships with readers, fellow authors, agents and publishers under the name they don’t intend to use for writing. This is a big mistake. Let me say it again: this is a big mistake. It’s never too early to pick a (suitable) pen name and start building it. It doesn’t make sense to put time and effort into developing a social media presence with a name you’re not going to put on the cover of your books. It will create more work and effort for you to move those people over to your new social media accounts, and also to get them familiar with the “new” you. Start building familiarity now!
If I want to contact an author and only know the name "Jane Monday", there's nothing more frustrating than having to remember - or go searching for! - an email addresses like "happylatte27kittylover"(*cough* apologies to anyone who may have that addy!).

Does it sound like a porn star?
You want people to take your writing seriously, start by giving them a name that says you take your writing seriously.

Would you be comfortable sharing the name with your family and friends?
If you think you might be embarrassed to have your mom, dad, old high school acquaintance, or how about your current boss, find out your name, it might not be the right one.

Can you answer to that name for years to come and feel comfortable with it?
Your plan is to grow your writing career, I assume. Will you still want to be called by that pen name twenty years from now? Is that the pen name one they can share in the history books without blushing? Will people feel foolish or awkward calling you by name in person? Remember, it’s different to have someone speak the name than to write it. Try having people close to you call you by that name.
Mine is comfortable to use and reflects my location: hopefully that also means others remember it easily. And hopefully - unlike me *g* - it won't date.

When might you need a NEW pen name?
If you’re already using a pen name, do you need a second? Some reasons people choose a second pen name are…
*to reboot their careers. If your sales have been dismal in the past, booksellers will either order really low print numbers or none at all from your original pen name, so agents/publishers might suggest a new pen name for this reason, to help give you a second chance with booksellers. They might also suggest a new pen name if your original editorial content wasn’t….very successful (please note I avoided saying abject failure) with readers, got bad reviews or just didn’t seem to catch on.
*to avoid mixing wildly different genres. By this I mean, if you’re writing erotic romance and YA, you might want a new pen name (as an example, erotic author Megan Hart recently sold a YA series that she’ll be writing under the pen name Em Garner ). Or perhaps inspirational and a sexy romance series.
And of course there are examples of authors choosing opposite-gender pen names because they believe they'll be better accepted in some genres. One important thing to remember is multiple pen names = multiple marketing.

How difficult is it to sign?
Think positive. Someday, 500 fans are going to be waiting in a line for your autograph, will you be able to sign that name smoothly 500 times?
Hasn't happened to me yet LOL but it's excellent advice even for signing 50 books!

Does anyone else have a name so similar you may be mistaken for them?
Unless, of course, you don’t mind being mistaken for Jenna Jameson. Many of us wouldn’t, just as long as it was someone saying they thought we looked like her.
Note: I know some readers get confused with names made of initials, too. Obviously JK Rowling doesn't suffer from this! but I know two author friends with the same 2 initials whom I regularly mix up.

Will readers be able to read or spell–or most important remember–your name?
Things that can make this more difficult include long, complicated names, names with apostrophes (those can also mess up coding in html/metadata) and names that are so unique/unusual, most people haven’t seen them before.
To me, that also includes the odd spellings of familiar names - if someone says my name as "Clare", they're not going to include any weird spelling like Klayea LOL. Result? I've lost my place on a search already. For me, it's all about readers and networkers finding me quickly, easily, and with familiarity. Don't put barriers in a reader's way!

Can you build a brand around this name?
You’re going to be building your career around this name. Do you want to build a brand around Sexy Kitty? Or do you want to build a brand around a name like Nora Roberts? (uh, just don’t choose THAT name, k?) Which name will have the most appeal, will make readers feel as if they can trust in the quality of your work, in your story and your storytelling? That trust, that quality, that voice…those are your brand and you want a name that fits your brand and is going to have mass appeal.

Can you purchase the domain for the name you’re considering?
Not only the domain, but the Twitter and Facebook names? If you haven’t settled on a pen name, lack of availability of any of this may be a reason to choose a different name.
*Word of caution: if you search for a domain name and it’s available, be prepared to buy it, even if you haven’t settled on that name. It’s worth the $7 to $10 investment per domain to reserve a few options. There are people who watch sites like GoDaddy, to see what people search for, and then buy it, hoping you’ll come back and decide you want it and pay a higher price for it.
Other things I’ve heard should possibly be considered: where will you be shelved (in a digital world, this probably won’t matter),  how common is the last name and who will you sit near at booksignings (I often joke I’m going to write a book so I can sit next to Julie James at a booksigning, but I’d probably have to change my first name to Jenny because there are other James between us. Jenny James. And now I’m probably getting dangerously close to Jenna Jameson).
Sobering advice. I passed up buying five years ago, using in the meantime, probably without too much loss of traffic. And luckily the dot com wasn't being used on a website. But when I finally got the opportunity to buy it, I leapt for it, even though it cost me an extra £100 for the wait. I act for a couple of authors and I always recommend they grab ALL social media and web names that they can from the start.

In conclusion: Ultimately, choosing a pen name is actually a pretty important endeavor. Not one to do flippantly or cavalierly. At the end of the day, a pen name may be one you use for years. Yes, you may have the opportunity to use more than one (not always a good thing) but it’s still important to be careful in your selection. As your career grows, in addition to the name on the cover of your book, it’s a name you’ll use on the internet, on forums, on social media, in interviews, at conferences, at dinners and drinks and casual meetings with readers. It’s the name that may become as much *you* as your real name, so make it one you can wear proudly. Put some thought into it, research your options and spend a few days getting used to the pen name before you make a final decision.

This might be the name history remembers you as!


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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