Thursday, April 17, 2014

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

In 1983 April was proclaimed Child Abuse Prevention Month by the president. I don’t know how April was chosen but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that we have a month where there is an extra effort made to stop this awful behavior that is so rampant in our society. 

According to Children’s Bureau (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) there were 686,000 children abused or neglected in the fifty U.S. states, DC, and Puerto Rico. Of those, 1640 died. Many of those could have been prevented with good community programs in place such as early childhood development programs, parental support, and maternal mental health.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides some good information on how to help your community prevent child abuse.

This is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. I have spent a great deal of my life fighting this battle. I worked as a child advocate for many years and I continue to do what I can to prevent child abuse. This is a cause you can join as well. Many businesses are joining this fight, and for those of you who can, getting personally involved is the best way. There’s a wonderful program called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) that offers hands on volunteer work through the juvenile court system. It’s a great way to provide direct help to abused children.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Writing about the juvenile court system is what I have done for the past ten years. I write mysteries to entertain. I chose the subject matter not only because I have first hand knowledge of it, but also because I hope to raise awareness of the problem.

Writers: Do you include tidbits (or vast amounts) of information that help educate the reader?

Readers: Do you read novels for pure enjoyment or do you hope to glean some knowledge from your fiction as well?

Teresa Burrell
Author of The Advocate Series

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Non-Scientific Information About Not Good Enough Syndrome

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers 

I’m reaching a point in my current manuscript where I feel as though I’m starting to get a handle on things.

Well, that’s a relative term.

One never truly has a handle on things when one suffers from what is known as Not Good Enough Syndrome. You may have heard of this affliction. It’s non-specific, widely undocumented, and for the most part, difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms may include:

  • Self doubt
  • Self-loathing
  • Second-guessing everything.
  • Not liking anything.
  • Lack of inspiration, ideas, or sanity.
  • Isolated episodes of global panic (with intermittent aspirations of world-building).
  • Private, self-contained tantrums, which can range in severity.

 And there are subcategories, and of course, I have a few of those as well. Currently I’m in the throes of, There Aren’t Enough Damned Twists in this Book! (Yes! There is an actual exclamation point at the end! A demarcation of severity!)

Here are how my symptoms express themselves: If you have a thriller, then you’ve got to have twists. The problem—at least for me—is they never come easily. Hard as I try, I’m never able to simply think those up. Usually, they must arrive on their own terms.  What this means is, there’s a lot of waiting. Some non-secular praying to nobody in particular. Perhaps what might even resemble a highly specialized, ancient ritual (translation: A lot of stomping and often loud, nonverbal communication).

This is my process, and as weird as it might be, and as hard as I’ve tried to change it, I’ve come to accept that I can’t.  In some ways, I suppose, this has benefits, because it doesn’t often allow me the luxury of resting on my laurels—that’s another condition known as, Good Enough Syndrome (or in the layman’s vernacular, Just Plain Lazy).

So, what’s the prognosis? The treatment? How does one manage such seemingly unmanageable symptoms? After years of intensive study and observation, I’ve found a few tactics.  Just in case you, or someone you love, suffers, I’ll share my detailed and highly non-scientific findings:
  • Allow the ideas and words to come, and DON’T PANIC when they won’t—they will. They always do.
  • Know that the harder the struggle (and if you don’t give up) the better the work.
  • Never (Never!) compare your work to someone else’s. You are not them, and they are not you. Doing this will only take you to the Dark Place. I’ve been there. Trust me, It’s ugly.
  • Exercise will clear the cobwebs and help hasten the muse.
  • Externalizing your thought process is like breathing fresh air. It can be as easy has having someone sit and listen while you ramble on.
  • Music can stir the emotions and ignite ideas in ways few other things can.
  • Understand that anxiety will distort things and take you to Crazy Town.  Another ugly place.
  • When you’ve reached a clear impasse, it’s time to stop.
  • Don’t forget why you write.
Back to work for me.

Onward, brave soldiers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Festivals — do you or don’t you?

Sheila Lowe, mystery author and forensic handwriting examiner
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at the LA Times Festival of Books, dividing my time between Mystery Ink bookstore and Sisters in Crime/LA. The weather was blessedly cool—in past years the Festival has been held on the last weekend of April, when it’s already warming up, but with Passover sharing that weekend at times, the dates have shifted. In any case, there seemed to be a host of people pushing strollers, walking around, checking out the many booths and listening to speakers on various stages. 

Certainly, TC Boyle, who signed next to me in the 11-12 hour, had a long line of fans waiting to get his autograph. TC was new to me, but it turns out he’s written a lot of popular books. He had a kind of rangy Mick Jagger rock star look as he stood in front of the booth, meeting and greeting his readers without the table blocking them from him. Unlike some other well-known authors with whom I’ve shared table space at similar events (e.g., like the one who left in a huff because the folding chair didn't suit), I appreciated that when his line ebbed, TC took the time to introduce himself to Cara and me and shake hands.

Seated on my other side was the always charming Cara Black, who was generous enough to talk up my books as well as her own when visitors stopped by to look at what we were offering. One of the pleasures of signing books at festivals is meeting authors you admire, for their work and/or as people.

In my second stint of the day, at the SinC/LA booth, I sat between Mar Preston, whom I had met a couple of years ago at Derek Pacifico’s Homicide School for Writers, and Laurie Stevens, who brought us chocolate. We liked her a lot.

A couple of young men (20s) stopped by and asked what Sisters in Crime was. “Nuns with bad habits,” I cracked. Luckily, they had a sense of humor and got the joke. Both said they enjoyed mysteries and we each gave them our elevator pitch. They didn’t buy any books for us to sign, but they took our bookmarks, so I’m hoping maybe they’ll download the e-versions. Besides, I’m just happy to see young people reading mystery. Or reading anything.

The next visitors made my day by getting excited to see my current book, WHAT SHE SAW, and to learn that INKSLINGERS BALL is being released on June 10th. They encouraged me to write faster and I invited them to my book launch party.

I can’t say I signed a huge number of books yesterday, but enough to justify the 120 mile round trip and $10 parking fee. There have been years when I signed more books at a festival, but I keep showing up because you never know who you’ll meet, or what your presence might mean to someone else. Is it worth it? You tell me. What’s your perception of big public events like these? Do you sign a lot of books? As a reader, do you buy books at festivals? Is it important to you to have the author sign? I’m interested in your take.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Does Your Nature Influence Your Protagonist?

by AD Starrling

I often get asked whether I project my own personality onto that of my fictional characters or even give them traits that I wished I possessed. I normally say no. But I believe the answer is more complex than a simple yea or nay.

Consider Lucas Soul, the protagonist of Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1). He is warm, kind, honest, stubborn, self-sacrificing, and has a dry sense of humor. As one reviewer described him, he’s a quiet kinda guy, with an undercurrent of pure steel. Although Lucas is a great fighter, he only does so when challenged and in self-defense.

Do I want to be Lucas Soul? No. Does he share some of my traits? Yes. The warmth, the kindness, and the sense of humor.

Alexa King, the protagonist of King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2), is another kettle of fish. She is cold (to start off with), ruthless, focused, and would just as well kill you as look at you. She is the ultimate warrior and likes nothing better than being in a fight ring with someone who can challenge her physically.

Do I want to be Alexa King? No. Quite frankly, she scares the bejeezus out of me. Does she share any of my traits? Yes. The focus, the fighting spirit, and the determination to win.

I do not write myself into any of my characters. Not deliberately anyway. But I probably do so subconsciously to some extent. I know I respect all the above traits in my protagonists because I see them as positive attributes.

I also know that there are certain things I wouldn’t let my protagonists do, because I personally couldn’t/wouldn’t do those very things. I’m not talking stuff like kicking the bad guys’ asses and even killing them (Lord knows there’s plenty of that in my books!), but instead things like cruelty to children and animals, racism, dishonesty for reasons of self-interest (I do tell the occasional white lie when the situation calls for it), sexual discrimination, and others.

There have been times when I’ve paused in the middle of writing a scene and thought, ‘Nope, that’s not right. He/she would never say/do that,’ subconsciously meaning ‘I would never say/do that.’

As fiction writers, it is our duty to write interesting, fun characters that our readers will root for. Ultimately, we want our readers to give a damn whether our protagonist lives or dies. But I do wonder how much of our personality bleeds into those of our protagonists.

I have no problem writing about the bad guys in my books. Greene’s Calling is the first novel where there are several scenes from the bad guys’ POV, which my editors and beta readers enjoyed immensely. There is one particularly vicious soul I thought I might struggle to portray, but her feelings actually came very easily to me. This did worry me slightly.

Coming at this from another angle then, do I bestow any of my negative personality traits, fears, and insecurities onto my protagonists? I suspect not. I don’t believe they would appeal to readers if I did.

I have yet to write an antihero. I think I would find the process quite challenging as I like my protagonists to “shine a light into the darkness," and not the other way around. I would have to dig deep to make my readers care for an antihero. Yet, I do like antiheroes. Edmund Blackadder, Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, Hellboy, Daryl Dixon, or even Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame come to mind. Maybe it’s the “bad boy syndrome” that attracts readers to this type of character. Maybe it’s the deep-rooted human instinct to find a spark of goodness in everyone, to want to see such a character redeem him/herself through a selfless act of kindness, even if he/she is a monster.

For the writers among you, are there things that are a definite no-no for your characters? Or are you ruthless in what you would have them do for the sake of the plot?

Readers, do you think writers live vicariously through their protagonists?

AD Starrling is the author of the award-winning and nominated supernatural thriller series Seventeen. She lives in England, where she spends her time writing fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, and juggling babies in the intensive care unit where she works as a part-time Pediatrician.

Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1) Second Edition and King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) Revised Edition have just been released, with Greene’s Calling (Seventeen Book #3) scheduled for release in June 2014.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Anonymous Reviews Vs. Free Speech

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Reviews are always a hot topic for authors and readers, but this new legal development could fundamentally change online reviews.

A business owner has sued for the right to see the names of anonymous online reviewers. The owner believes a rash of suddenly negative reviews came from competitors, because he can’t match their complaints and timing to his service records. The reviews hurt his business, and he sued them for defamation, demanding that Yelp turn over their identities. Yelp has refused, claiming first amendment protection. The Virginia state supreme court will decide the case this month.

I’m rooting for the business owner. A good friend lost half her business after one bad posting on Ripoff Report, in which the reviewer used a phony name and made false claims—after she gave him his money back.  As an author, I’m never going to sue any reviewers, but wouldn’t it be nice if they couldn’t hide behind fake internet names?

I expect readers to disagree, and I understand why anonymity seems important to them. Because I know so many writers personally, I don’t feel comfortable reviewing most books. But I also never use a made-up persona either. For anything. I stand by my words.

Consumer reviews have become very powerful in influencing buying decisions, subverting the power that marketers once had. Overall, I believe this is a good thing for all of us.

Yet, both authors and readers have abused the ability to post anonymous reviews. Some authors have used it to promote their own work and to trash their competitors. Readers have used it to complain about a book’s price with one-star reviews, and some just spew negativity and hatred wherever they go.

For me, the issue is opinion versus false claims. When someone reads a book and honestly hates it, they have a right to say so. But so many reviews, particularly of products and services, go beyond opinion and make false claims. Don’t those authors or small businesses have a right to counter those claims? Doesn’t the reviewer have an obligation to support those claims—if challenged?

I’ve gotten to the point that I rarely read my reviews, because so many are filled with false statements or misinformation. The characters’ names might be wrong. Actions and events are often associated with the wrong character or they are simply not from my story. These are often the good reviews! And every author has reviews where it’s clear the person never read the story. But I don't meant to disparage all reviewers! Many are thoughtful and careful, and for me, most have been supportive.

Still, I’m hoping the court decides that Yelp needs to turn over the reviewers’ identity. If it does, a precedent will be set, and more and more businesses will demand that negative/false reviewers produce documentation. That should lead to more and more transparency in online reviews—as the trolls realize they could be identified and held accountable.

What do you think? Does the first amendment guarantee our right to anonymous free speech or just free speech?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Speak up!

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Chatty Gal

I have a confession to make. I'm the president of the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I was recently approached (via email) by someone looking for an author to come and speak to her group. I responded with a list of our local SinC authors and their websites, including my own. She asked some questions about my experience at speaking to groups, of which I've had quite a bit.

The result was, even though I tried to point her toward our other authors, she contracted with me to come and speak. I feel guilty about this. No one else got the opportunity to talk to her about their abilities as a speaker. How else was she to choose someone?

Then I looked around. I know many of our authors are interesting and informative speakers. Many of them have a section on their websites featuring radio interviews, past and future appearances, etc. But no one has a section dedicated to "If You're Looking for a Speaker, Pick Me."

Yes, we are authors and want to spend our time authing writing. Most of us, unless we are one of the Big Names (yes, Stephen King, I'm looking at you), have to spend part of our time doing publicity for our books. Publicity involves introducing yourself and your books to strangers. This can include speaking to groups.

I'm not trying to say that if you are painfully shy, you should suck it up and learn to speak publically. I'm just saying that if you like to talk to groups, or even don't mind talking to them, this is one more way to get your name known.

After I contracted with this group, I immediately updated my webpage to add a "Speaking/Teaching" page. I listed all the topics I've spoken on (individually, not on panels), all the workshops I've taught, and references for each. I also included some video clips. Now I'm ready for anyone who might want me to come and talk, about writing, about my personal journeys, even about horses.

Are you an author who likes to speak to groups? Do you have an easy way for groups to check you out?

Who knows? Today, your local Rotary Club. Tomorrow, a TED talk.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dealing With Loss

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

My last post got me thinking a lot about loss and how we deal with it. Loss is a part of life. It surrounds us. It’s always with us. Sometimes it’s expected, and our lives are changed only a little by its impact. At other times, it strikes like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky, shocking us with its randomness and apparent cruelty.

During the past two weeks as recovery crews have dug through mountains of mud looking for the remains of the Oso mudslide victims here in Washington state. We’ve been inundated with images and stories of loss in the media, and how the people of nearby towns of Darrington and Arlington are coping with the enormity of what has happened to their lives.

Similar scenes have played out recently in Midwest towns hit by tornadoes, in Malaysia as families still seek answers to what happened to the Malaysia Air flight, in Chile where thousands were rocked by a huge earthquake. And the list goes on.

The natural human inclination is to fight for a return to normalcy, to get our lives back to some semblance of what they were before loss or tragedy occurred. The people who seem to recover from loss the best and thrive afterward are those who acknowledge the loss, find a way to work through their grief, and fight the hardest to resume a normal life.

They may choose to become activists for a cause as a result—the family of a breast cancer victim establishing a research fund, for example. But it’s the resumption of a “normal” life that I think is important here. Yesterday, for example, the Darrington, WA, high school baseball team had its first game since the Oso mudslide, a sign of life returning to normal despite tragedy (they won 7 to 3).

An inspirational example of this return to normal life is Amy Purdy, the Paralympic snowboarder who’s appearing on “Dancing With the Stars” these days. She lost both legs to meningitis, but has learned to function “normally” with prosthetic legs. Man, can that girl dance! These are the heroic stories that go unsung every day—the person who after being blinded in an accident learns to get around perfectly well without sight; the cancer survivor who returns to her family after beating the disease into remission and takes up where she left off.

That’s not to say we aren’t affected by loss, even after we’ve resumed a normal life. Then the question becomes how we incorporate that loss into our new life. I’ve been wrestling with this question on two fronts recently.

In my first Blake Sanders thriller, Blake is still grieving the loss of his son a year after his son’s suicide. A reader told me he really liked Night Blind, and he liked Blake as a hero, but he said, “You’re not going to make him go through this again, are you? He’ll just be a kick-ass hero from now on, right?”

How long does it take to get over the loss of someone you love? I’ve heard it said that there’s no timetable for grief. It takes as long as it takes. And my thought for Blake has always been that the effects of his loss, while they will diminish over time, will always be with him. In the book I’m working on now (#4), that grief is compounded by post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) due to what he’s endured in the first three books. Too much? Not if I want to create a three-dimensional hero, one who must overcome his own frailties as well as the villainy he faces.

I’ve been confronting personal loss in my life as well, and as things stand now, I can’t envision life ever going back to “normal.” And as I write this, I don’t yet know how I’ll be able to adjust to what the new normal will be. I don’t know how I’ll be able to live with the changes that loss has brought into my life.

When I see the examples all around me of people dealing with loss, I know that it’s going to be a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and pushing onward. Doing that, with gratitude for what I still have, may prove my best course of action.

How have you dealt with loss in your life?

Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at or you can follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Brave New World of Content and Copyright: How a little British Piggy Wiped the floor with a French Shapeshifter

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

I am in London attending the second-most important book event of the year, the London Book Fair. The first being Frankfurt in October. Reliably, London is grey and wet, but not as cold as I had feared. I love this city and have fond memories here growing up, and as a post graduate student. The fair starts tomorrow, and I thought it fitting to pay homage to one of the UK's most successful cultural exports: Peppa Pig! A version of this post first appeared on my blog a few months ago, but it's still every bit as relevant. Next time I will report back from the fair. Enjoy!


This is a cautionary tale. If you are a content producer of any sort, and still operating under the archaic copyright presumptions of the distant past, then you’re at risk of becoming extinct. And much sooner than you think, I’m afraid. If you are a writer, a film maker, or a musician, and anything in between, this applies to all of us who create culture for a living.

I have a four year old daughter who doesn’t watch much television because we decided from the outset against outsourcing our parenting duties to the networks. We do allow her to watch some DVDs and a few of her favorite shows on our tablets, under our supervision.

To simplify this story, let’s assume a couple of years ago she began watching two different shows which she liked equally.

The first is a French classic called Barbapapa, which started off as a series of children’s books written in the 1970s. The main characters are the Barbapapa family, who are most notable for their ability to shapeshift at will. The books evolved into a highly successful animated show, localized and licensed across the globe, along with a healthy merchandising system.

The second show is a more contemporary British creation called Peppa Pig, which revolves around a female pig, and her family and friends. Episodes feature day-to-day living with lighthearted flare, and a bit of signature British tongue-in-cheek for good measure. It's all very innocuous things like attending playgroup, going swimming, visiting her grandparents, going to the playground or riding bikes.

A a parent, I liked both shows for different reasons. Barbapapa has a beautifully nostalgic and vintage quality to it, but was well ahead of its time with deep messages of ecological responsibility. Peppa Pig is hugely entertaining, moderately educational, but most importantly, it does no harm. For a modern animation, that’s a huge plus.

As a content creator myself, I respect the hard work of creative artists and purchased a few original DVDs of both shows when my daughter was two and still getting into them. But in due course and as a result of changing viewing habits, we discovered episodes of both shows widely available on YouTube. So it was infinitely more convenient to watch them on our tablets, or even beam them from our mobile devices to our big screens, rather than the whole song-and-dance of finding the DVD, making sure it’s not scratched, wiping it clean—you get the picture.

Then something happened. About a year ago, every single episode of Barbapapa that was previously available on YouTube disappeared overnight. In its place was the infamous YouTube message that the “copyright holder of said content has requested that it be removed,” yadda, yadda, yadd. At roughly the same time, more high quality episodes of Peppa Pig started mushrooming, including hour-long compilations of the latest seasons. And this has continued until this day.

Being the delightful parents that we are, we purchased whatever Barbapapa DVDs we could get our hands on to appease the little one. I think you already know where this story is going.

Inevitably, my daughter lost interest in Barbapapa because it wasn’t readily available to watch on YouTube. Because mock it all you like, the whole YouTube/mobile device marriage is really made in heaven for the modern family on the run.

And inversely proportionate to her loss of interest in Barbapapa, was her increased obsession with Peppa Pig – and the formidable merchandising empire that came with it.

Here’s the fuzzy math of this whole thing. We probably own one or two Peppa Pig DVDs, which have been sucked into some black hole around the house, never to be found again. In other words, our net contribution to the Astley Baker Davies animation studio that produces Peppa Pig is about $15 in DVD purchases. On the other hand, we’ve probably been coerced to spend about five times as much on Barbapapa DVDs after they fell of the YouTube grid.

Now this is where the story gets more cautionary. Despite our paltry spending on Peppa Pig DVDs, the amount we’ve shelled out on Peppa Pig merchandise—figures, coloring books, bags, water cups, pajamas, t-shrits, shoes, and you wouldn’t even begin to imagine what else—is probably fifty times more than what we would have spent if we had purchased the entire library of Peppa Pig DVDs. And the future library for the next five years.

And what have we spent on the Barbapapa brand other than the DVDs? Nothing. Or practically nothing.

Peppa Pig: Game, set, match!

Two production companies targeting more or less the same age group. One operating with antiquated and aggressive philosophies to copyright as the linchpin of the financial engine of content, and the other one couldn’t care less about its content being pirated and distributed widely for free. I have this image of the makers of Peppa Pig sitting in a London boardroom secretly patting each other on the back for the genius hand of allowing the public to do their seeding for them. And in the process ensnaring generations of loyal fans and instilling in them a voracious appetite for anything and everything that can be pig-branded. Remember, this is not just limited to the English speaking world. Peppa pig is everywhere and in every language. The next time you see a child rushing to splash in muddy puddles in whichever corner of the globe you may be, now you know where that came from.

The moral of the story is this: Stop trying to fight piracy. It’s a futile, expensive, and polarizing endeavor. A lost cause, really.

Technology and our changing viewing and consumption habits are decades ahead of the narrow minds of the geriatric suits at the media corporations who are still deluding themselves that copyright is the be all and end all of generating income from the content you create.

As the music business has discovered the hard way, and the publishing industry is quickly learning, the future of the business side of producing content is going to be far less about monetizing content, and much more about cashing in on the rich layers of experiencing content, over and over again.

I believe the unit price of any piece of content is invariably going to shrink until its negligible or zero. Look at full-length electronic books now selling at 99 cents. Heed the lesson of software which went from thousands of dollars per license to free, or almost free aps. Consider that the most successful newspapers in the UK are distributed gratis to commuters. And of course everything about the music industry is a testament to this trend. Musicians now make most of their money on merchandising and live events, and are practically giving away music. One of the biggest players in the industry is Live Nation Entertainment – formed from the merger of an events promoter and a ticket seller.

The lesson here for any content creator is to sprint beyond our fixation and obsession as a society with copyright. In a world where massive technological advances have lowered the bar dramatically for anyone to operate as a content generator, we need to think of more creative ways to make money and be rewarded for our hard work. The singularity of the ‘content for money’ paradigm is not just shifting, it’s crumbling.

Writers, do you worry too much about copyright protection, or are you more focused on how to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the future of your craft? And readers, are you taking advantage of more relaxed book copyright practices, like Amazon's Kindle Match program that allows writers and publishers to discount or offer for free the ebook version to customers who purchased the paperback edition?

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My romantic suspense novella, The Italian Laundromat is currently discounted at 99 cents on Amazon!

A.M. Khalifa's critically acclaimed debut novel, Terminal Rage, was recently described by Publishers Weekly as "dizzying, intricate, and entertaining." 

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