Do you like being tricked by authors? I don’t…


do you like being tricked by an author?

I love a good mystery. Especially a story with a twisty-turny plot that keeps me up at night and confounds me – but in a good way. But I don’t love mysteries that just confuse me though.

I read a book recently that had potential. It was a pretty decent read with interesting characters and a good premise. If it weren’t for one big mistake I probably would’ve recommended it to friends to read. But here’s the thing that happened. The writer tricked me.

Give the reader a fighting chance

There are certain tricks that writers can pull off:

  • Heaping on misdirection
  • Planting red herrings
  • Creating a mystery within a mystery
  • If she’s really good a writer can even make the hero the villain

But the clues have to be there. The reader has to have a fighting chance at connecting the dots and solving the puzzle. Or at the very least, have an aha moment when the killer is revealed.

But what a writer can’t do (no matter how good she is) is pull the villain out of her literary ass at the last second. A writer can’t take a minor character that appears in two or three brief scenes of no consequence and then spring it on the reader that this is the killer at the very end.

And yet that’s exactly what the writer did

Specifically, the writer created a character who was suspect to the reader who even announced he was a killer when first introduced into the story. Of course it was a play on words and not meant literally. And as the story continued, you couldn’t be sure if this character was a good guy or a bad guy. That’s fair. I didn’t know if he was a red herring or the real deal.

However, in the final ten pages our hero is faced with this questionable character. Believing him to be the killer, our hero is panicked and in fear for her life. Just as she is about to be killed by this character (who we are all now certain is the killer), he’s shot and the hero believes she’s been saved.

Phew, that was a close one. Except that it turns that the ‘real killer’ is the one who shot the ‘perceived killer.’

The real killer is a very minor character whose name I didn’t even remember. His motivation was an obsession with the hero. Apparently he went to incredible lengths (murder and mayhem) to get her attention. He didn’t get her attention, but he didn’t get the reader’s attention either. There was no foreshadowing, no clues, no inference that this character was anything but a background player carrying out the basic functions of a minor character. The revelation of this character being the killer was tantamount to a writer revealing that the clerk at the mini mart who sold the hero a diet coke in chapter seven is the villain. What the hell?????

No aha moment for the reader. No scanning back and realizing that yes, the clues were there and I should’ve seen it. No chance that I ever would’ve figured that out. Not because the writer was stealth, clever and fucking awesome at hiding the killer in plain sight. But because the writer flat-out tricked me. All for the sake of shock and plot twist.

Except it didn’t shock me. It pissed me off. It made me put the book in the reject pile. It insulted my intelligence. It made me think the writer didn’t care about me, her reader. Too bad for me and the writer.

Publish no books before their time

In our high-tech modern world, writers have more choices in publishing than ever before. That is potentially great for readers and writers. Indie authors are really making a splash and succeeding at gaining recognition and readership.

However, just because it’s easy to get a book published online via platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, doesn’t mean that an author should rush to publish a book. Whether your book is published through traditional or indie channels a writer still must go through the process of turning out a good book. If you self publish, then you must ensure the book is beta read, edited, proofread, tweaked, and polished til it shines. You must turn out the best book you possibly can. You have to put your readers first and your ambitions second. It’s great to be a published author but if what you publish is an ill-conceived story that turns readers off, what have you really accomplished?

Do yourself and your readers a favor – write a damn good book, make it the best you possibly can and then publish it.

How about you? Has a writer tricked you at the end? Did you love it or hate it? Is all fair in love and genre fiction or not?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Review: Lowcountry Bribe, Carolina Slade Mystery – Book One


review lowcountry bribe

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. My bad, I should have gotten to it right away because I denied myself a good read for too long.

C Hope Clark’s break out novel, Lowcountry Bribe delivers

Clark is adept at creating a great sense of place and culture and does it with ease in Lowcountry Bribe. She provides us with spunky, quirky characters that are immediately likeable and recognizable. The reality of small town living is depicted well – everybody knows everybody and their business, wagging tongues ceaselessly work behind the scenes wreaking havoc, while local politicians manipulate circumstances to their own benefit.  And our spunky kick-ass heroine quickly learns how terribly wrong things can go in her idyllic small town life.

Carolina Slade who goes by the handle ‘Slade’ manages a local Department of Agriculture office in a small southern town. She’s smart, ambitious and can spot horse pucky a mile away. When out of the blue she is offered a bribe by one of her farmer loan customers, she ruminates over whether to report it (as is the policy) or let sleeping dogs lie. Because she has a conscience and personal integrity she does the right thing and reports it – having no idea the can of worms she has opened.

Who knew that working in the local agricultural office could be so dangerous?

Instead of just reporting the bribe to the investigator who is sent to interview her, doing the paperwork and being done with it, Slade is pulled deeper and deeper into a web of deceit and lies.  The investigator sent in to take the report convinces Slade to become part of a sting, implying there are bigger things at play than the bribe. Already distressed about her rocky marriage and office politics, Slade reluctantly goes along with the plan, despite misgivings.  She is rewarded for doing the right thing by being punished severely from expected and unexpected sources. No good deed goes unpunished should be this gal’s mantra. The more she tries to get things wrapped up, the more they unravel and affect both her professional and personal life negatively. And her blossoming attraction to the investigator on the case, who has secrets of his own, only further confuses and complicates her life.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll leave it at this:

Slade is the kind of character you care about and would call a friend if she lived next door or down the street. Every step of the way you’re pulling for her and hoping she’s going to get out of the mess she’s gotten herself into. Lowcountry is a good read and I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it. Definitely made me want to read the next one. I recommend it to mystery fans looking for a good solid mystery. Available at Amazon and other book outlets.

The above is my opinion and I was neither paid, nor asked to write this review.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Why I Write Mysteries


why I write mysteries

I’ve always been afraid of things that go bump in the night. In fact, it’s 4:30 a.m. and instead of dreaming of sugar plums or unicorns I’m awake because of a recurring dream where something not quite human has me trapped and is going to kill me if I don’t wake up. Like the devil, he has many faces and shapes but regardless of the assumed identity, it is the same creature-spirit that pursues me in my sleep and chases me back to the conscious world.

Possibly, I write mysteries because of my personal dream mystery? Anything is possible.

My analytical mind tells me I write mysteries because I love puzzles and I love justice. Hokey as it may be, I cheer when the bad guy gets what he deserves. I celebrate the demise of tyrants no matter how large or small their kingdoms. I never tire of good triumphing over evil. And yes, Virginia, there is good and there is evil. If you don’t think so, I suggest you read books by authors such as John Douglas and Ann Rule.  Or just pick up a copy of  In Cold Blood

Regardless of the psychobabble that abounds, there’s nothing that explains away the acts of evil that are perpetrated against the innocent man, woman or child.  As I write this, children are being beheaded on the other side of the world, because of opposing religious beliefs. If that isn’t evil, than I don’t know what is. Can that be blamed on bad childhoods or brain disorders? Absolutely not. No moral relativism here, my friends.

And like the devil of my dreams, evil has many faces – an angelic adolescent, a cranky old man, a charming politician, a beautiful woman, a brilliant academic. You can never know them by their looks or position in life, you can only know them by their actions.

But why write about it? Good question.

It’s easy to understand why a writer would pen a romance because don’t we all want love in our lives? Or adventure because most of us live lives of routine and predictability. Who doesn’t fantasize about a larger than life experience? Science fiction and fantasy present worlds where the possibilities are endless and limited only by the imagination – what’s not to love there?

Solving a puzzle is a satisfying accomplishment and seeking justice is laudible. But murder and mayhem is not for sissies. It’s messy, often bloody and immerses you into the basest desires of men. Who wants to write about that? And why?

There are many reasons I suppose that a writer might choose mysteries. Maybe because there are so many  mysteries in life that we cannot solve, that we cling to something concrete, that only requires we follow the clues and find the evidence to resolve it. Or that solving that mystery reassures us that the natural order of things have been restored and life is safe to live once again. Or maybe it’s something altogether different. Or maybe different for every mystery writer who ever lived.

For me, the appeal of writing mysteries is the way it makes your blood boil and your heart pound. The pursuit of the truth of that tiny universe of hunter versus killer (ironically) makes you feel so damned alive. Engages you. Seduces you. Keeps you up at night. It’s a slap in the face with a shovel handle. It’s the involuntary gasp and jump when a floor board creaks. It’s an adrenaline high unlike any other. And quite possibly addictive. And that goes for writer and reader alike.

No matter what else man is, he is a curious beast at heart. And nothing will drive a human being more nuts than an answer that eludes him. Particularly if the one posing the questions is adept at making it seem easy yet interesting. “Step into my web,”  said the spider to the fly.

In America, mysteries became particularly popular during the Depression which was the heyday of pulp fiction. Mysteries were once looked upon as the poor man’s reading material (and perhaps they still are, genre fiction often isn’t taken seriously) – unlike literary fiction meant for the finer mind (ahem). But I reject that classification – to me mysteries:

  • Engage the mind
  • Make you think
  • Teach you to solve problems
  • Increase your alertness
  • Sharpens your observatory skills
  • And probably helps your endocrine system what with all that adrenaline pumping

What fine mind couldn’t use a good dose of the above? Got me.

Why do you read or write mysteries?

Next to romance, mystery novels are the most popular form of fiction among readers. Do you write mysteries? What drew you to the genre? Do you read mysteries? Have you called in sick to work so you could finish or stayed up all night just to finish one? Do you find the genre as addictive as I?

Feel free to agree with me, challenge me, debate me or enlighten me in the comments.

Writer Chick
Copyright 20014

Why I Don’t Write Bad Reviews


bad reviews

Is that weird? That I don’t write bad reviews? If a book is bad, then why wouldn’t I spread the news?

There are lots of reasons to write a good review, in my opinion:

  • It spreads the word to readers anxious for another good book in their favorite genre
  • It often helps an author become more visible to the public, especially new and indie authors
  • A piece of good writing, like any piece of art should be shared
  • It will encourage the author to write more books that you’re likely to love in the future
  • It sends something positive into the world, and can’t we all use more positivity?

And you’d think that writing bad reviews would be helpful too. After all, shouldn’t we warn fellow readers not to waste their time? Maybe. But my observation is that bad reviews can be far more damaging than helpful.  And truthfully, it’s more about the manner in which most bad reviews are written than it is the bad review itself. In my experience bad reviews tend to be:

  • Snarky and filled with personal attacks of the author such as, name calling, insults to the writer’s intelligence, purely negative, with no redeeming qualities noted whatsoever
  • Written personally, as though the author wrote the book to personally enrage or insult the reviewer
  • Demeaning, bordering on bullying, as though the author has the life value of a bug and is undeserving of common courtesy
  • Seems to intend to bring the author down for reasons known only to the reviewer

I’ve seen (far too often) bad review campaigns in which sometimes hundreds will attempt to destroy a book or author by posting countless bad and sometimes untrue reviews. Usually for reasons that have nothing to do with the book or quality of writing, but more the author’s ideology, the topic of the book, or  motives other than to assess the merits (or lack thereof) of the book. In other words, I’ve seen bad reviews used as weapons.

Constructive Criticism vs Bad Reviews

Full disclosure: In case you didn’t know, I’m also an author and have a built-in sensitivity to reviews. Good or bad, a review has an effect. Authors put an enormous amount of energy and pieces of themselves into their books and to see all that torn down in five sentences can be discouraging – sometimes devastating. As noted above, bad review are often not helpful.

However, constructive criticism is another story and can be enormously helpful to the author and the reader. What is constructive criticism? In terms of a review, since you aren’t doing a critique, rather than saying it sucked you could say that it dragged because of ____ and perhaps the author could have _____. If you are going to criticize at least please be specific you’ll help the writer and future readers, because the author will pay attention to your comments and seek to improve, if you can mention something concrete that they can improve. Also, throw in a few things that did work, that you did like – your reviewer’s license won’t be revoked if you do and your review will probably be taken more seriously. I’ve read books that weren’t wonderful but I loved the characters, or the plot twists were so inventive and fresh that I forgave other sins. Maybe you didn’t like it overall, but did  you like something? Mention it. The reader behind you in line might want to read it because of that very thing. Everybody has different tastes and preferences, right?

So, why won’t I write bad reviews?

There are several reasons I won’t write bad reviews and the following are just a few:

  • There are already more than enough people willing to write them
  • I don’t like to discourage writers (yes, that’s a bias)
  • I’d rather spend my limited free time helping other writers, rather than hurting them
  • Criticism, like family secrets should be shared selectively and discreetly
  • It bums out readers and authors
  • The world already has plenty of negativity without my adding to it

More full disclosure: I have been asked to review books and to provide an honest review and I have done so. However, if I found myself in a situation where I knew I couldn’t offer a somewhat positive review, then I would contact the author and tell them that I’d prefer to withdraw from writing a review.

What about you? Do you write negative reviews? If so, how do you approach that? What’s your take on bad reviews? Necessary? Unnecessary?

Feel free to share, debate or disagree in the comments.

Writer Chick

copyright 2014

 

 

Are reviews the best way for you to select a book?


books reviews to select a book?All writers want reviews, preferably good ones. We ask for honest reviews but we secretly hope for good ones. Really good ones. It makes sense, we want to sell books. We want to feel like that year we spent fiddling with words, plot points and character arcs wasn’t wasted. But above all, we want to know that we spoke to you, the reader. That we resonated. That we connected. That we took you on an adventure. Provided entertainment, relief and escape. Because we don’t write novels for ourselves, we write them for you.

But…are book reviews believable?

Have you been fooled by a book review? I have

A few weeks ago I held my new Kindle in my hands, trembling with excitement and dying to download some books and get reading. I particularly wanted to read some indie authors and hopefully find a few new favorites. So, I popped onto Amazon and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. I suppose I could’ve asked around for recommendations but I wanted books right then.

I decided I could download a few freebies first. If I liked the author, then I’d pony up and buy everything they’d written. I scanned through trying to decide which books to download. I reduced the list by filtering for 4-star and up reviews. Still a daunting list, so I checked the blurbs. I found six books that interested me and I wanted to download and watched my Kindle screen as they magically appeared.

I was in heaven. Six brand new mysteries – total brain junk food and I was hungry. I opened the first book but the prologue was indecipherable and when I made it to the first chapter, the author had totally switched gears and was yammering on about a woman’s red fingernail. Next!

The next four books I couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. For various reasons – mind numbingly boring, passive writing, bad editing – in short, I couldn’t engage.

The fifth book showed promise. The author could write and there were passages that were pure brilliance. But there were so many stupid mistakes that could easily have been solved with research that it was astounding.

It was a crime novel and not do only I write mysteries myself, I’ve been reading them since I was eight years old. I have more than a passing understanding of forensics, investigation and procedure. And it was clear that this writer hadn’t researched any of those things or hadn’t retained any of the research. And the main character was a medical examiner.

I actually read the book to the end because I liked some of her characters and the story was clever. The shame of it was that a good editor could have helped to make it a top notch book. I almost fell off my bed when I saw at the end of the book that this author was touted as ‘best selling’ and had written 10 – 12 other books. I couldn’t imagine how this book had gotten five star reviews up the wazoo. Well, the reviews may have gotten me to read one of this author’s books but I won’t read another. So how helpful were those reviews to her in the long run?

You can buy anything on the Internet

We all love the Internet because we can find anything our little hearts desire in that nether cyber-world. Wonderful things on the Internet, also a lot of crap. The trick is in knowing the difference.

To be sure, if there’s something you want to buy, somebody out there is selling it.

Did you know that you can buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Is it a stretch to think that you could also buy reviews? Not really. I’ve seen ads offering money to write reviews, and they aren’t for the New Yorker. And every second there are thousands of online marketeers coming up with new ways to game the system. Because a lot of these marketeers think that marketing is about creating illusions, they don’t understand that marketing is about helping the consumer find what they’re looking for. You don’t have to trick anyone into buying anything if you’ve got what they need and want, right?

So the phrase, Buyer Beware, may apply doubly on the Internet.

How do you know if you can trust the reviews?

There’s no way to know for sure if a review can be trusted. There is always the matter of personal taste. Some readers may prefer a different style or not care about things that drive you nuts as a reader.

But there are a few things you can do to ascertain the veracity of the reviews:

  • Read a few pages before you buy, many Amazon books allow you to read the first few pages to see if you like before purchasing.
  • Check the author’s blog, website or Facebook page to see if you like their style of writing.
  • Ask friends to recommend authors they like
  • Download a free book from the author (if there is one) and sample their writing. Even if there isn’t a free book from the author, most authors offer a free chapter download or other stories for you to read.

In other words, don’t be like me and rush to download because your brain is hungry.

What’s your experience with book reviews? Helpful? Not helpful? How do you choose a book to read?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

The Empty Chair (a word about suicide)


the empty chairA few days ago a friend of mine took his own life. I’ve been on this planet for quite a while and though I’ve lost friends to death (the bastard) it’s never been to suicide.

My initial reaction was to reject the whole idea. I’d just seen him and talked to him. In fact, the day before he died. How could he possibly be dead? By his own hand?

The thoughts that quickly followed were of our last conversation. Had I said something wrong? Had he left me a clue I didn’t pick up on? Should I have given more signifigance to that last look? He had seemed a little quiet. A little distant. Should I have known what he was planning to do?

As the weekend progressed, we tried to learn more about what happened. But the police wouldn’t release information because none of us were the next of kin. We still know very little.

He wasn’t my best friend but he was a family friend. He sat at my table for every holiday meal for the last nine years.

He gave me advice about my car or latest do it yourself project.

He was thoughtful.

He was kind.

He always offered to help.

He had a good heart.

But though he liked to talk, he rarely spoke about himself in any personal way. He never shared secrets or confided. He was manly in that way – old school I guess you’d call it. Like a lot of men, he didn’t share his feelings.

I would have been happy to listen. But he never asked. I tried to encourage him. But he never said a word. I hope that he had someone who he could talk to. But my guess is that he didn’t.

And now he’s not talking to anyone.

And there’ll be an empty chair at my holiday table this year (and every year after). And I’ll miss him.

And I wish that he’d have talked to me or to someone. I wish that he’d have known that nobody would be happy about his choice. I wish he’d have known that those of us he left behind would have an empty place in their hearts that shouldn’t be empty.

I wish that he’d have known that life is worth living. That it’s a gift. It’s also a bitch. Life. It ain’t for sissies and that’s a fact.

I hope that if there is a next life that he’s happier there. That he finds a friend he can talk to. And that he doesn’t feel so awfully alone anymore.

And if anyone who is reading this is considering suicide, I ask you with all my heart to please reconsider. You matter to someone. They will care that you’re gone. They will be heartbroken that you’re gone. They will have a hole in their heart, where you should be. They will forever ask themselves why?  And they’ll spend the rest of their lives never finding the answer.

Writer Chick

Why does fiction have to be logical when real life makes no damn sense at all?


While working on the current novel, I managed to line up a few beta readers. Total excitement. I’d never had beta readers before. What would they tell me? Would they make me cry? Would they stroke my ego. Would they love the book or hate it? Would I (in the end) acknowledge that I’m not creative after all and set up an affiliate website selling info products? Would they give me insight or would I be incited to violence. I just didn’t know.

After weeks of patiently waiting. Not really patient. Pretty much impatient. Actually very impatient. I finally heard back from one of my guys. The feed back was pretty nice but there were a few things I needed clarified, so I sent a follow up email with questions. Easy-peesey, right?

The answers were where the real nitty-gritty came out. It’s not that I disagreed with the answers, or even got upset. But they did present a problem. A major premise of the story, according to the beta, was not believable. Yikes!

So, I thought about it. I asked other people about it. I thought about it some more. I tried to come up with a way around it, because if I gave in, then well you know, rewrites.

I even had an eight part email fly back and forth between me and another reader about how it could be fixed. Oddly, I was the one playing devil’s advocate when the poor girl was fighting for my premise.

In the end, I decided the beta was right. It had to change. I had to change because you know, readers, they don’t like illogical things in their books. It’s a rule. I don’t know who wrote the rule, but I’m very sure it’s an official, carved in stone rule.

Real Life vs. Fictional Real Life

But even though I did agree with the beta it got me thinking. This rule about how fiction has to be logical. Has to be ‘believable’ when real life is anything but that. Let’s face it, real life is crazy, even on a good day. Nothing makes sense from the small (why is he driving that way?) to the huge (we’re going to war because of what?).

And examples of the illogic of life are everywhere:

  • Beautiful women married to fat ugly men
  • Pajama wearing, self-made millionaires who got rich selling ‘information’
  • James Carville and Mary Matalin
  • Animals rights activists who are against killing animals but for abortion
  • Politicians get elected for criticizing their predecessors for the exact things they do once in office
  • Reality TV
  • How Facebook apparently kills brain cells
  • Half the things you see (and can’t un-see) in emergency rooms
  • Atheists using the phrase “Oh My God”
  • Good people dying
  • Bad people getting rich
  • Chocolate cake with Diet Coke
  • Running or bicycling along high traffic roads (with plenty of exhaust)
  • Hard workers get fired
  • In America dead people vote in every election

Plot point? What plot point?

In fiction every scene, every action, and every bit of dialogue has to move the plot forward. If it doesn’t, it’s cut. But does life follow plot points? Is there some logical path that life takes that leads us to the Promised Land or our dreams or goals? Hell no. Musicians slave away at bar and top-40 gigs all to get their big breaks, while some pimply faced 13 year old becomes a sensation because of a video posted on YouTube. Life is completely unconcerned with moving the story forward. Rather it pushes in every direction possible away from forward.

But even despite all this. Despite the fact that life is truly stranger than fiction I think I understand why fiction has to make sense, has to be logical and follow through to the end. It’s because we humans have to see something resolved. We have to see somebody reach their goal. We have to see somebody get their happily ever after. I mean, let’s face it, we don’t read so we can get reality, right? We read to escape. We read so we can become someone else for a while. Live their life, which is typically much more interesting than our own. We read to immerse ourselves into a risk free adventure. We read for relief from all that ails us.

When we’re done with our mini vacation from life we can return, perhaps a little calmer, maybe even a little wiser, and ready once again to deal with all the glorious illogic of real life.

Feel free to argue, agree, or contradict me in the comments.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

The Flip Side of the Amazon Debate


the flip side of the amazon debateThere has been an enormous amount of press about the dispute between Amazon and Hachette books and its authors. By and large the media has sided with Hachette and has done (seemingly) everything in its power to guide public opinion against Amazon.

In the spirit of fairness I offer the following links to articles that go against the tide of  ‘popular opinion’ to give critical thinkers at least a fighting chance to form an opinion about the situation. Konrath and Gaughrin say.

Full disclosure: As a diehard capitalist who believes in the free market and as an indie author who thanks God every day for the likes of Amazon, I am decidedly not with ‘popular opinion.’ I simply don’t believe that a handful of ‘traditional publishers’ should have the right or the power to determine, what we read, what we pay for what we read and what authors are worthy of publication. As always, I side with readers and writers. I believe that readers should have access to as many books as can be published, regardless of publishing format and that they shouldn’t have to pay through the nose to feed their habit. Call me crazy but it seems to me the free market, which enables the consumer to decide is the best of all worlds.

But that is as eloquent as I can get on this topic. Read the articles at the links which do a much better job than I at making the argument.

Writer Chick

Writing a Novel is…


writing a novel is

Which is why I’m only on page 55 of the third draft. Do you want your book to be good or fast? I’m going for good.

Writer Chick

Happy Independence Day!


erma independence day

 

Hey, let’s party like it’s 1776.

Hot dogs, mom’s potato salad, parades, fireworks and afternoon naps. That’s what I’m talking about.

Be safe, have fun, take care.

 

Writer Chick

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