How to Make Crime Pay

Last weekend I attended the CrimeCONN conference held annually in Westport, CT. It was great fun and interesting for writers as well as readers. Among the people I met was Nina Mansfield, author of the YA mystery novel Swimming Alone. She’s written a good blog post about the conference, the beginning of which I’m re-posting below, with a link to the full post. here’s how she began:



I had the honor of being on the first panel of the day, Who loves you, baby?: How to make your readers fall in love at first sight. Great openings followed by ways to keep the love alive. When I first saw the line up for the panel, I was more than a bit intimidated. Roberta Islieb (aka Lucy Burdette) has published 14 mysteries and has been short-listed for a host of mystery writing awards. Tom Straw has written numerous New York Times bestsellers under a pseudonym. But if I was the tiniest bit nervous (and I was) moderator John Valeri quickly put my fears to rest. He had fantastic questions, and he really made the panel a very enjoyable experience. You can see in the picture below just how much fun I am having!

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

One of the major points that the panel touched upon was whether or not a body needs to drop in the first chapter. The consensus seemed to be – GC. you can read the rest here.

And my next post will be an interview with Nina about how she wrote her first YA novel.

50 best literary gifts for readers & writers

Just in time for late gift buyers, my internet friend Piotr Kowalczyk over at eBookfriendly has come up with a list of unusual gifts for people on your list who either read or write. There are a few of them on the poster below, and you can see the whole list


Twitterature – how to write a novel in 140 characters

A while ago, I mentioned the Guardian’s requests to various novelists to write a novel as a Tweet. I believe I called it Twitfic, but it’s also known as Twitterature and my friend Sally Allen has some great pointers on how to do it yourself. If you can manage it, it’s a great way to get your skill as a writer showcased on Twitter. Sally is the editor/owner of Hamlet Hub Westport, a local online newspaper/magazine, and writes a regular Tuesday column about books. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Here’s the beginning of her piece:

Photo by Anthony Karge

Every sentence tells a micro-story. We have an actor (the subject) who does something (the verb) and then consequences ensue (all the other stuff, like objects and direct objects and all kinds of phrases and clauses). We can be spare in our telling (“Run!”) or embellish the story with details (“As the tornado bore down on us with alarming speed, Bonnie hollered, “Run!”).

This is how I explained the structure of the English sentence to my English-as-a-second-language students back when I was a graduate writing instructor. I thought I was a grammar geek, the kind of grammar geek who finds sentence diagramming relaxing, but my students put me to shame with their awe-inspiring ability to recite the rules of English grammar. I mean, their textbook knowledge was impeccable. So I was rather surprised to discover that knowing the rules did not mean they could implement them (I was young and foolish, I suppose).

To address this, my students and I took things vertical, making lists of all the people, places, and things that could do something (potential subjects), lists of all the actions they might take (potential verbs), lists of everything else going on in that moment (the other stuff). From there, we would painstakingly construct sentences simple and complex (and sometimes compound-complex).

And this was also how we began to think of every sentence as telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and even, possibly, an Aristotelian dramatic arc.

This, by the way, was all before Twitter existed. But Twitter would have been an interesting case study for the study of the sentence—140 characters to do and say something interesting? Quite the fun challenge!

Just about anything you can dream of has a Twitter handle—Salman Rushdie’s tree, Paul Ryan’s bicep, a llama in Easton, cats and dogs all across the country, more inanimate objects that I can possibly account for here.

But for book lovers, the social media site is also exploding with literary diversions. Oh, and also? “Twitterature” is a thing.

So here are 4 ways for book lovers to geek out, literature style, on Twitter:

Read on here

It’s the Look…

Those of you who read me regularly will know by now that Lisa Winkler of Cycling Grandma is the editor who included me in her anthology of women writers, Tangerine Tango. Her recent post about a blog game called the Look Challenge, caught my attention. Read on and you’ll see why…

Gratitude: The “Look” Challenge, Hurricane Sandy

It’s National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day, 50,000 word, novel-writing challenge.

I’m not participating but Tangerine Tango contributor Dawn Landau is.  Not only is she writing with abandon dawn to dusk, she tagged me in the blog game called the  “Look Challenge.”  Bloggers, who are writing beyond their blogs have a chance to offer a sneak peek of their work.

The rules require that you search your writing for the word “look” and share a few lines. Dawn suggested I provide excerpts from the book.

Here’s what I found:

From Gabi Coatsworth’s essay about her memories shrimping with her father:

“I used to wonder sometimes if the sea would ever come back again. I would look out of my bedroom window, under the eaves of Granny and Grandpa’s house, and sometimes the sea would be right up, covering the pebble beach, and at other times I couldn’t see it at all, it was so far away. All I could see was sand, stretching away to the end of the world. It felt a bit scary, but there is one wonderful thing about sand like that. In the summer, after we’d had supper, my father would take us out shrimping before bedtime.

We’d walk down the drive toward the main road in front of the house. Holding hands in a straggling chain, we would cross the road after repeating the incantation: “Look right, look left, look right again. If all clear, quick march.” This last was, I suspect, my mother’s variation on “cross the road”. She had been in the army, after all.”

From Chris Rosen’s experience in her first hot air balloon:

“Miss Bean, our two-year-old shelter dog, started barking furiously on the deck while I was finishing making the pesto. Looking out towards the mountains, I saw why. A beautiful hot air balloon was floating over the valley and heading towards us! If it wasn’t for our trees, they might have landed on our hill.

I remembered our hot air balloon ride…”

And from Patti Winker’s  memory about clotheslines:

“Most might find it hard to feel nostalgic about any kind of laundry, let alone having to lug heavy baskets outside to dry on lines. Line drying the wash is hard work and not often reliable. Mom watched the sky, constantly on the lookout for ominous dark clouds Read the rest here.

Maybe you’d like to join in? Here’s the idea:

The Look Challenge

Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/authors.

You only have to provide some of your own writing, not for the others (but “Thank you,Lisa”).

So I’m tagging five other writing bloggers:

A. J. O’Connell

Carrie Nyman

Tricia Tierney

Linda Howard Urbach

Alex McNab

Guest post: Alex Cavanaugh tells you how to do a blog tour

A couple of months ago, I became aware of one of the major new ways in which writers, especially indie writers, promote themselves and their latest book online – the blog tour. One of the bloggers I follow, Alex Cavanaugh, was launching his second book, and doing a blog tour. I dawned on me that since doing an actual book tour is often impossible, the blog tour is the next best thing. Actually, it may be better, because the information is all still out there after the blogging has happened. So I asked him to tell me how it worked.

Organizing a Blog Tour

Gabi asked me to explain how I organized my blog tour for my second book, CassaFire. Those two weeks were wild, as was the release date itself, February 28, and I’m happy to share. So, if the idea of cat wrangling doesn’t scare you, read on!

And to make it easier, I’ll give you a step-by-step account of the insanity.

About five-six months before the book’s release date, I started selecting hosts. Since this was my second book, I’d already experienced one tour and knew my book’s audience. I made a list of prospective bloggers with large followings and readers who might be interested in my book. Two weeks and ten stops seemed appropriate. (As opposed to my first tour, which was almost three weeks long with nineteen stops. Too much!)

I sent each host a request, offering either a guest post or interview, and a list of potential dates. I included my book’s full information and links to the cover art and book trailer. All ten said yes! Lucky me. (And I ended up with eleven hosts total. Bonus!)

Several hosts requested review copies, which my publisher sent.

I got permission to do a couple giveaways during the tour.

Three months before the release date, I announced my Catch Fire! Blog Party. (This is where the insanity began.) Those bloggers who signed up were eligible to win one of five copies of my book. Participants agreed to post about my latest book on its release date.

I completed all guest posts and interviews, sending everything to my hosts, along with a jpg of my cover art and all links, three weeks before my tour began. (I know I can procrastinate with the best of them so wanted to stay on top of things.)

I made sure my blog was ready, with a page devoted to CassaFire and to the Catch Fire! Blog Party

A week before the release date, I sent information to the Catch Fire! participants. (Cover art, book trailer code, synopsis, links – all that good stuff!)

The tour kicked off! I checked my host site several times during the day and for many days afterwards. I also had a contest running on my site for any who commented during those two weeks. (Prize package included both books, a mug, a tote bag, and promotional swag.)

Release day. This is where things exploded. In addition to my tour stop, close to three hundred Catch Fire! Blog Party participants posted about my book. (Some a day earlier or later, which was cool.) A lot of announcements went out on Twitter as well. I took the day off from work and spent eleven hours visiting every site that featured my book. (Those of you who read and type faster, I’m sure you could shave a few hours off that time.) I also announced the five winners of my book.

The tour continued, with something new and different every day.

I sent a thank you email to each of my hosts a few days after each stop.

Exhausted just reading that? (GC: Yes!)

It was fun, though, and a lot of people purchased my book. (And now both books are Amazon Sci-fi Best Sellers in the US and the UK.) I’m still doing guest posts and blogfests, keeping the momentum going. I probably won’t do such a massive one-day event again, but I’ll definitely do another tour for my third book.

Now I just have to think of some new Ninja tricks!

Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He minored in music and plays several instruments, including guitar. He’s experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. He’s the founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and a co-host of the 2011/2012 A to Z Challenges. His first book, CassaStar, was released on October 19, 2010. The sequel, CassaFire, was released February 28, 2012. He lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Guest Post from Mike Sicking – Software Tools you Can Use

Mike Sicking is an American writer who writes for an English blog called Limebird Writers. He’s one of several people writing for them, and his moniker there is LimebirdKaiser (don’t ask me why…). In the last year, he decided to get serious about his writing,so he warns people not to treat him like a guru. But this post of his was useful to me, since it gave me a quick rundown of some of the more useful software available to help writers get to where they’re going.
You can read all his current works-in-progress on his own WordPress blog, here.

Tools For Writers

We live in a wonderful world with full of ones and zeroes buzzing around the old internet. Are you taking full advantage of the tools available to you?

You might think: This sounds boring and dreary. I’m an artist, not an egghead! This kind of stuff isn’t for me!
Not for you? Read about the day that LimebirdKate lost her work in progress to see why this is for you.
And if saving your hard-earned words from being eaten by the void isn’t enough for you, maybe a few free tools for planning and organizing your work will get you interested.


If you take only one thing away from this article, make it this: DOWNLOAD AND USE DROPBOX TO BACK UP YOUR WORK.

Dropbox runs in that “Cloud” you might have heard about lately. Install it on your desktop and write a few great pages. Then head to the coffee shop and pick up where you left off on your laptop without batting an eye. Forgot your laptop? Guess what: use your smartphone.

There’s a web interface too, so you don’t have to install any programs if you don’t want to. This also means that anything you save to your Dropbox is available on any computer with an internet connection. Download your opus to your great aunt’s PC and get to work while the rest of your family sleeps.

Dropbox syncs your files between all your computers in addition to the Dropbox servers. So, if Dropbox disappeared tomorrow, all your files would still be stored on all your local machines.

Dropbox has a “Public” folder which can generate URLs for each file inside it for easy sharing with, well, the public.

Non-Public folders can be shared with other Dropbox users on a per-user basis. So if you want to share your “Family Vacation Pics” folder with just your mom and sister you can. Or you can share your “Rough Drafts” folder with all the friends you meet on Limebird for easy peer feedback.

Dropbox also keeps a history of versions as you change the files in it. So if, in a fit of trusting, you share your folder with an unsavory character who Replace-Alls “the” with “boobsLOL”, you can restore your files pretty easily. This may or may not have happened to me or someone I know.

As far as security goes:

There’s always a risk when storing your files online. But, as we’ve seen, there’s a risk to storing your files only locally as well.

Dropbox isn’t a no-name start-up company run by amateurs with the threat of going out of business overnight. It’s a fairly large and respected site. I think you can trust it as much as you would any other site on the internet.

It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, plus a browser-based interface. There’s no excuse not to be using this.

It’s free for 2 Gigabytes of storage, which is more than enough for any text files you want to store. Pictures and videos will eat up your space a lot faster. You can get more space by referring friends to Dropbox or you can just pay for it. You almost certainly won’t have to worry about that, though. Personally, I’ve been Dropboxing pretty liberally for over a year now and I’m using a little under 6% of my available space.


Go grab a Simplenote account here. Think “Dropbox Light”. It stores and syncs text files only. Simple text only, so no italics or bold allowed, sorry. But no frills means no distractions. Plain white space; you just fill it up with words.
I write just about everything in Simplenote to start with, including the rough drafts for NaNoWriMo, This year and last year.
Simplenote allows you to tag each note with multiple categories for easy organization. Make a tag for “Future Story Ideas” and never again forget a moment of inspiration. Tag your chapters with names to see a snapshot of your story by characters. is available anywhere you have an internet connection and a modern browser.
For fancy off-line solutions, you can download a number of front ends.
There’s something for whatever operating system you’re working on.
I can personally vouch for the official Simplenote iOS app and the Windows-only Resoph Notes.

The web app is free and most of the front ends are as well. The official iOS app and Resoph Notes are free for sure.


Grab yWriter here and Scrivener here.

Where Simplenote’s beauty is in its simplicity, yWriter and Scrivener take the opposite approach: they do it all. Both programs allow you to organize your stories into chapters and scenes. Then reorder them easily. Then take notes, create an outline, get daily word counts and set goals. Tons of great features. Remember to save your working files in your Dropbox account so you can access them from anywhere.

yWriter is available for  Windows and Scrivener works on Mac and Windows although the Mac version is more robustly developed at the moment. yWriter is free although you can register your copy if you like the program.
Scrivener: free…for 30 days. Then $40 US.


Check it out here. WriteOrDie’s tagline claims that it’s “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity”. Write as fast as you can. Pause for too long and your existing words are slowly deleted. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the work it will produce, it will help you achieve your daily word count. This is another web app, available wherever your internet is. There are downloadable versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, plus apps for iOS.

The online version is free, so why would you pay for the desktop versions or the iOS app? Both are about 10 bucks US, though, if you’re interested.

How about you? Any helpful tools or tips that you’d like to share with us? Leave ’em in the comments!

Guest Post from Alex McNab of the Fairfield Writers’ Blog

Alex McNab has been a force for good in Fairfield’s writing circles for a number of years. The author of a novel and the leader of one of the (free) writing groups at the Fairfield Public Library, he also publishes the Fairfield Writers’ Blog. You can find it here: Recently he wrote  a blog about how he became converted to the e-reader. Read on!

One Man’s Introduction to E-Reading

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of an abiding interest in reading and writing must be in need of an e-reader.

Otherwise, that man would be unable to read The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett (State of Wonder, Bel Canto), a delightful “Original” from the digital publisher Byliner. It was the first work he downloaded and read on the Kindle Touch his household received for Christmas. It also was his first time reading Patchett, whose style as well as substance made that maiden voyage on an e-reader memorable.

Consider the charming way she describes the aspiring writer’s dilemma:

“Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing,” Patchett writes. “We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it out into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it. Look at what we already have going for us: some level of education that has given us control of written and spoken language; the ability to use a computer or a pencil; and an imagination that naturally turns the events of our lives into stories that are both true and false. We all have ideas, sometimes good ones, not to mention the gift of emotional turmoil that every childhood provides. In short, the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down.

“But it’s right about there, the part where we sit, that things fall apart.”

Byliner defines its digital offerings as running “at lengths that allow them to be read in a single sitting.” In that space, The Getaway Car blends Patchett’s personal development as a writer with astute advice in smooth prose. Here are two other for-instances:

“Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea. If I thought too much about how far I’d come or the distance I still had to cover, I’d sink.”


“Although my [first] novel [The Patron Saint of Liars] was written in three separate first-person sections, I wrote it linearly—that is to say, page two was started after page one was finished. . . .Even if you’re writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view, and is chest-deep in flashbacks, do your best to write it in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading on the Kindle, and I certainly enjoyed paying only 99¢ each—at the time I downloaded them—for three titles about writing that are not available as printed books. Waiting (or is it still permissible to say “shelved”?) for later perusal in the e-reader are The Liar’s Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and The Liar’s Companion: A Field Guide for Fiction Writers—from mystery maven Lawrence Block, whose trade paperback Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers has long been a favorite.

And for future consideration there is another Byliner Original, Sara Davidson’s Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion. What piqued my interest in it was an update Davidson wrote, which you can read at the Byliner website, answering the question, What’s the most important thing you learned about writing from Joan Didion?

“Anything can be fixed,” Didion told her. There’s more good stuff there, so follow the link above. But let me leave you with Davidson’s final thought for us fellow writers:

“It took me 30 years to have faith that this is true. Once you’ve got something on paper—anything, no matter how bad it seems—you can fix it, steadily, one word or phrase at a time. You can turn something awful into something reasonably good.”

Oh. One final note: The Fairfield Library now has a digital collection from which you can borrow eBooks and more. And at the time of this writing, at least, you can download the prequel to the opening sentence of this post, along with the rest of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, from to your Kindle for free.

A very small resolution…or two

Resolutions. Jut the word conjures up the failures of years past, so why am I bothering to make a couple this year? Because among the failed attempts to exercise for an hour every day, make home cooked meals for the family every night and write a masterpiece, there have been a few successes that have moved me nearer to my goal. The secret has been to keep the resolutions simple and very easy. And I never call them resolutions; they’re goals.

A couple of years ago I managed to get back to doing yoga every day by setting a goal of 5 minutes a day. I could manage that, and if I did 6 minutes I was proud that I’d exceeded my own expectations. So, for 2012, I’m setting myself a couple of easy goals. First, keep writing my blogs. In addition to this one, I have one I do for the local online paper, and another one for my family and friends. I don’t want to write them every day – that would probably just annoy the readers. But I do want to make it a more regular activity.

Second – revise my novel into at least the ‘Slightly Better Second Draft’. I’m expecting this to be fun, so it shouldn’t be too hard to do, so long as I make the time to do it.

Third, I am going to stop using the word ‘very’. That doesn’t seem much of a goal, probably, but until someone pointed it out, I didn’t realize how frequently I used it in my writing. I checked the first five chapters of my novel, and sure enough, there were about 20 instances of ‘very’, many of them in situations where I could have used a more effective word.

For example: very large could be replaced by enormous or huge. Very happy becomes ecstatic, delighted, or thrilled. Very angry might be maddened, enraged, furious, threatening – no shortage of synonyms there. It might seem a small thing, but if it helps to improve my writing I’ll be very happy. Oops. I mean ecstatic, delighted or thrilled…

Happy New Year!

Vote for your favorite writing blog

Write to Done, a writers’ website, runs a contest each year where people nominate their favorite writing blogs, and they publish a list of the top ones. Here’s last year’s list:

1. Storyfix:

2. men with Pens:

3. Make a Living Writing:

4. Cat’s Eye Writer:

5. The Renegade Writer:

6. Writer Unboxed:

7. Word Play:

8. The Creative Penn:

9. Victoria Mixon:

10 Courage 2 Create:

If you check them out, you’ll find that they’re all different in tone, in style and in what they’re trying to do. I’m not suggesting you nominate one if you don’t know them, but they might prove useful as a starting point for help with your writing.

If you do have someone to nominate, here’s where you do it:

Nominations are due by December 10th.

Extending the reach of your blog (while having fun…)

My internet friend Pauline writes a terrific blog about her life as a divorced mother. Here’s her own description:

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.

The reason I mention this here is not just because Pauline is a wonderful writer (which she is) with a sense of humor that survives intact. But also because she’s had a brilliant idea for how to increase traffic to her blog, while helping other bloggers get some exposure too.

What she does is to invite other bloggers to describe their blogging space and why they write there. Once a week she runs this feature on her blog.  Naturally, these bloggers share it, ‘like’ it and re-post the piece on their own blog, thus getting Pauline’s blog out to a wider audience. It’s painless, it’s fun, and it works.

This week she asked me. Here’s what I wrote, and you can see other writers’ blogging spaces as well as Pauline’s own writing here:

So how are you going to extend your blog’s reach (without stealing Pauline’s idea…)?