What Makes My Series Unique? by Amy M. Bennett

IMG_6271The mystery genre, perhaps more than any other, is subject to certain formulas or patterns that each storyline must follow. But, with so many series available—whether mystery or another genre—how does an author go about making his or her series stand out from the rest?

There are tried and true formulas for certain genres that shouldn’t be rejected out of hand, mainly because there is a huge market for them. This is especially true of the mystery genre, especially the sub-genre known as “cozy” mysteries. That includes having the main character run a business, usually a struggling one inherited from a family member, in a small town (choose a bakery or quilting shop or a bed and breakfast) and an element of romance, particularly a romantic triangle.

In my Black Horse Campground series, Corrie Black is the owner of a campground she inherited from her father after he succumbed to cancer. I had done extensive research trying to find a unique setting for my series and, after my husband and I became enamored of camping in KOA campgrounds that had cabins, I realized it would be the perfect way to have my main character meet strangers in a small town, without stretching the imagination too far. There is always the danger, when writing a cozy mystery, of what has been referred to as “Cabot Cove syndrome” (my apologies to Angela Lansbury and “Murder, She Wrote”): how do so many murders occur in such a small town without people leaving the town in droves? In a vacation-destination setting, strangers are an accepted part of the landscape and it is more likely for the main character to find herself involved in the drama and danger of meeting new people every day. Being in a campground places the setting in a rural area, which gives access to wide-open spaces as well as having a town and all its conveniences nearby. And living near and working in a vacation resort town, I had the knowledge to make the setting ring true, plus the added bonus of being in a location that gets very little notice in fiction!

I also made sure to include “real life” elements to make my fictional setting ring true. Bonney County and Black Horse Campground only exist in my FCAttheCrossroadimagination and on the pages of my books, but I chose to set them near actual locations in south central New Mexico—namely the Ruidoso area in Lincoln County—in order to give my books local flavor. Therefore, my fictional characters do frequent places that really exist in the Ruidoso area, places with which I am familiar and like to visit as well.

The romantic element—in particular the love triangle—can be a bit trickier. It’s difficult to maintain a romantic triangle for a long time without creating annoyance in readers. They want to know who “wins”! In addition, it runs the risks of making the characters seem wishy-washy and tiresome, which is definitely not how you want readers to perceive main characters. In the Black Horse Campground series, Corrie’s romantic interests are old-flame Sheriff Rick Sutton who, for reasons which are unclear, broke off his relationship with Corrie in high school and married a woman who subsequently left him after the birth—and death—of their daughter. What creates a complication is that Rick, like Corrie and the majority of the residents of Bonney County, is a devout Catholic. While Rick and Corrie both seem willing to accept a life-long platonic friendship, everything changes when J.D. Wilder, formerly with the Houston Police Department, shows up and becomes a serious contender for Corrie’s heart. Of course, J.D. comes into the picture with his own set of baggage—including a wife who died while trying to get him killed—so the triangle is set. The key to not making a love triangle tiresome is for the author to know when to quit. Though I am currently working on the fifth book and the triangle is not resolved yet, I am already outlining the resolution to this particular element of my series… while allowing the series to continue!

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Amy Bennett, author of the Black Horse Campground series, has spent eighteen years working full-time as a cake decorator for Walmart Supercenter in Alamogordo, NM, and part-time as a “vino slinger” for Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso, NM, for the last five years. She lives in a small town halfway between her jobs with her husband and son.

Website: http://www.amymbennettbooks.com/

Blog: http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.ca/

Publisher’s website author page: http://oaktreebooks.com/AuthorRoster/bennetamy.html

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Amy-M.-Bennett/e/B00EG3EPT4/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1467074683&sr=1-1

WRITING A SPIN-OFF SERIES – PROS, CONS, AND HOW-TO’S by Joanne Pence

4830SMALLMore years ago than I like to count (okay, about 22), the first book in my “Angie Amalfi culinary mystery series” was published. At the time, it wasn’t supposed to be a series at all, but a single-title “romantic suspense.” Thank goodness, I didn’t end the book with my heroine, a gourmet cook who couldn’t find a good job, and the hero, a San Francisco homicide detective, going off into the sunset for their “happily-ever-after” life. That I gave them a bit of happiness, and no sunset, meant that when my editor asked for a second book with the same main characters, I was able to deliver. That was sixteen books, two novellas, and umpteen short stories ago.

 

As the years went by, I joined the ever-growing ranks of the “indie published,” writing romance, romantic fantasy, and even a couple of supernatural suspense thrillers. I also wrote a few more Angie Amalfi stories, but I found that the person I was twenty-two years ago when I conceived those stories—young, with a growing family, etc.—isn’t the person I am today.

 

While I love the characters—and after all these years, Angie Amalfi is so real to me that if she came knocking at my door, I’d simply invite her in for a cup of coffee and some Italian cookies—it was time for a change. I wanted a way to keep Angie “alive” to both my readers and I, but also to be able to write stories that felt more connected to who I am now.

 

So, I debated with myself: did I want to write a spin-off series from my Angie books? What are the pros and cons of doing so?

 

The first “pro” is pretty obvious: the books have a built-in audience. Those who have read one series, are very likely to at least try the books in a spin-off series.

 

Another pro is that the cast of characters has been worked out already. You know many of the characters who will populate your books, their personalities, how they’ll act, etc. Same for the setting. Both of these are huge time-savings for any author.

 

The cons are the risks involved. The main one is that the new series simply isn’t as well liked as the original. This could be damaging to both series, and cause readers to wonder if a beloved author has “lost it,” “burned out,” etc.

 

Another is that the well-known characters may seem changed in the readers’ eyes and come across differently than in the original series. This can be not only disconcerting to a reader, but can cause them to really dislike the changes.

 

Or, the problem can be the opposite—the “same old, same old” syndrome. If not enough has changed from the original series, a reader may wonder why the author bothered to change the lead series character at all.

 

In my case, I decided to write the “Inspector Rebecca Mayfield” mysteries because of the “pros” I listed above, and also because she is able to satisfy a OneO'Clock_400wside of me that Angie no longer could. Rebecca is a career woman—she fought her way up the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department to the position of homicide detective. To do so, she gave up a lot in her personal life, even losing a fiancé because he couldn’t bear to live with the danger she put herself in. She’s got a good heart, but she’s also tough. She wants love, but she’s a loner and if that’s her lot in life, she accepts it. She’s dedicated to her work and believes she’s making the world just a little bit better by doing it. Bottom line, she’s a darker, older, more serious character than Angie. Many people have made the transition and, thankfully, are enjoying Rebecca’s travails.

 

There are several “How-to’s” that have helped this transition to work. The genre has changed only slightly (the Rebecca books aren’t culinary cozies, but the characters do talk about food, and Richie is a good cook—which is a surprise to Rebecca, believe me). They have a similar “feel” to them as far as level of violence and language, although again, the Rebecca stories are a tad harsher in both. The biggest “how-to,”, I believe, is that despite Rebecca being a much more serious and emotionally darker character than Angie, the books continue to have similar kinds of humor and emotion, which were hallmarks of the Angie Amalfi mysteries. Providing much of the humor in the new series is Rebecca’s relationship with Richie. Nothing would make the two happier than to walk away from the other and never look back, but something keeps making them not only look back, but go back to the other. This also causes a lot of the emotion in the books as both wrestle with their growing feelings about the other.

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Last but not least, since I was often asked in what order the Angie stories should be read, I decided to make it easy for Rebecca Mayfield readers. The first book (free on most retail sites) is entitled ONE O’CLOCK HUSTLE, and the just-released book, number four in the series, is entitled (you guessed it), FOUR O’CLOCK SIZZLE.

 

 

BIO:

Joanne Pence was born and raised in northern California. She has been an award-winning, USA Today best-selling author of mysteries for many years, and has also written historical fiction, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, a fantasy, and supernatural suspense. Joanne hopes you’ll enjoy her books, which present a variety of times, places, and reading experiences, from mysterious to thrilling, emotional to lightly humorous, as well as powerful tales of times long past.

Visit her at http://www.joannepence.com, http://www.facebook.com/joanne.pence, or on Twitter at @JoannePence. To hear about new books, please sign up for Joanne’s New Release Mailing List

If you want to write for Hollywood…

Screenwriting coverStealing Hollywood: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

by Alexandra Sokoloff

ISBN: 9781508511373

A 2015 release published by the author

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

 

 

The accomplished author of this work is a multiple award winning writer for the screen, in fiction writing and she A Sokoloffconducts workshops on a variety of topics around writing and film making. This work grew out of her workshops and is designed to be used with a course or workshop.

Her experiences, insights and organizational abilities are in full force here. Even without the actual workshop, this book is well worth acquiring and examining. For many authors, it can be a foundation for either a novel or a film. It is well-organized into four major sections, Story Structure, More Screenwriter Tricks, Story Breakdowns and The Business.

The workbook is written in a highly engaging style with an occasional discursion into Alexandra’s seriously tongue-in-cheek but trenchant observations of the Hollywood and national publishing community. It would be easy to dismiss the entire effort as a frivolous effort but that would be a mistake. Works of this genre can often use a little relaxed attitude to help readers through sometimes arcane and dense detail.

Finally there is a very good section that deals with the business of publishing which any writer who wantsto be successful needs to know. It is no longer sufficient to hire an agent and leave all the business to her or him. To be successful, one needs to be current with the business. For the time being, this book is an excellent foundation. Even experienced writers can learn from this book.

 

The Best Book I Never Wrote by Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Nancy200x300Nancy Lynn Jarvis finally acknowledged she was having too much fun writing to ever sell another house, so she let her license lapse in May of 2013, after her twenty-fifth anniversary in real estate.After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare/Santa Cruz at UCSC. She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. Real estate details and ideas come from Nancy’s own experiences.

Links:

Amazon Author Page for all books http://tinyurl.com/nkjcg2d

     Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2918242.Nancy_Lynn_Jarvis

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ReganMcHenryRealEstateMysteries?ref=ts

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Right out of the box I have a question for your readers, PJ. How long do you have to wait before you should categorize a book as “The Best Book I Never Wrote?”

 

Readers, if you’re like me, you eavesdrop in restaurants and store checkout lines and make up storylines that incorporate what you hear. I recently went into the ladies restroom at The Mission Ranch Inn (owned by Clint Eastwood) in Carmel. The two bathroom stalls were occupied by friends who were chatting back and forth as they attended to business.

 

“…that’s when I realized I was locked in the bathroom. I pounded on the door, but, of course no one came because they were closing down for the night. There was one small window to the outside and I managed to get it open, but I couldn’t see what was below it or where it lead. Now, I’m small…”

“That you are.”

“so I figured I could squeeze through it. The only thing was I had on a brand new outfit—not an inexpensive one, I might add—of cream colored pants and a matching sweater that I didn’t want to get dirty or worse, ruin, so I took them off.”

 

The two women came out of their stalls. I’d guess they were plus-or-minus eighty years old. The tale-teller continued as they washed their hands, “I couldn’t decide if I should go through the window head first or feet first…”

 

That’s when they left. Well, maybe not a book, but a darn good short story.

 

I don’t have a traditional bucket list, I have a book bucket list so long I’ll need to live to a hundred-and-sixty if I have any hope of writing through it, and it grows almost daily. Yesterday I got a new idea from a friend that I’m sure would make a fabulous book.

 

My friend is a private investigator and a source of many great book ideas and details, a couple that I’ve used, and three that I will at some point use in my Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series. Mostly she finds people and has solved birth parent mysteries, inheritance mysteries, and even a transgender…no I can’t tell you any more about that one because it’s one of her stories that I will use soon.

 

She’s been trying her hand writing a book with chapters for various cases she’s solved. She’ a great story teller, especially when she describes how her mind works as she solves mysteries. I want to read her book! The problem is, she’s bogged down and despairs that she will ever finish it. She says her problem is that she always has theories about what led the people she investigates to do what they did, a back story, if you will. She’d like to talk about her theories, but doesn’t want to write fiction.

 

I suggested—OK begged—her to collaborate with me. She could write a chapter of detective details and I could write a fictional short story to explain them based on her theories. Unfortunately, she’s not on board, which is awful because I’m convinced the book would be fascinating. I haven’t given up hope, but at the moment a collaborative effort with her seems like the best book I never wrote.

 

It’s disappointing, too, because I’ve found writer friends helping one another yields great promotional benefits. I edited a collaborative cookbook called Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes. It was great fun, we all benefited from mutual marketing, and the book continues to introduce readers to new favorite authors even two years after its release.

 

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A Neighborly Killing by Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Waking up to gunshots and discovering the body of their neighbor just outside their bedroom door is bad enough, but when the Coroner rules the FrontCoverdeath a suicide, Realtors Regan McHenry and her husband Tom Kiley don’t believe it for a minute. Never mind what the physical evidence says; they heard their dead neighbor arguing with someone in the moments preceding his death.

 

What really happened has become more than just a mystery they’d like to solve because the circumstances of their dead neighbor’s past keep interfering with their present and putting them in danger.

 

Philadelphia story by Laura Elvebak

LElvebakLaura Elvebak sometimes feels she has led several lives, but throughout the years her passion for reading and writing never faltered. Before the twenty-something years she worked for lawyers and oil and gas executives, she held a variety of occupations, including working as waitress and even as a go-go dancer in the late sixties in Philadelphia. Born in North Dakota and raised in Los Angeles and San Francisco, she settled in Houston after living in parts of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Florida. She is happily unmarried after six attempts with men who would make fascinating characters in books but didn’t succeed as husband material. Her standalone thriller, The Flawed Dance, came out from Black Opal Books, on July 11, 2015.

 

I had two dreams growing up. I wanted to be a writer and see my words printed like the books I read. I dreamed up stories every night as if they were on a movie screen. Previews first, please. When I wasn’t reading books by the fireplace at home with my grandparents, I was dancing to the music on the radio.

I was raised with classical music. My father played classical violin. My grandmother would accompany him on the piano. After my mother died, I lived with my grandparents in Los Angeles. They introduced a new world for me with books and music that opened my mind and filled my heart.

When I turned eight I went to live with my father and stepmother. They enrolled me in ballet lessons and took me to see such performances as Swan Lake and The Firebird. I imagined an entire ballet whenever I heard music. I was going to be the next premier ballerina. When I wasn’t dancing, I would write stories. When I thought they were good, I sent them off to the Ladies Home Journal and McCalls, with visions of making my fortune. Of course, the handwritten pages were returned.

Then I grew up and the world changed. I did not become the world famous ballerina, but dancing came as naturally as eating. In order to eat on a FlawedDancedaily basis, I became a go-go dancer. To keep sane, I filled notebooks with stories.

Forty years later I knew I had to write about those five years in Philadelphia. Not a memoir, but the fictionalized story of Erin Matthews, who makes bad decisions and worse choices after running from her much older lover. Add in murder, ruthless mob guys, Atlantic City in the late sixties, racial tension, guilt, sex, and go-go dancers in the demimonde world of entertainers and hustlers, and you have A Flawed Dance, where Erin learns the difference between ballet and go-go dancing.

 

 

Readers, where do you get your stories? Do you have a checkered past? Or do you make it all up in your head? Or a combination of both?

An apology

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I went to the doctor on June 18, expecting to come home with a handful of prescription oral antibiotics then go right back to work. Instead, I was whisked away and promptly admitted to the local hospital, repeatedly reassured that it was the fastest cure for the cellulitis that afflicted my legs. That might have been true in theory, but in actuality, the  diuretics they gave me along with the antibiotics caused my kidneys to start to fail. They’d already been attacked by Lupus and didn’t have far to go. Soooooooo current treatment was suspended in favor of Plan B. Start dialysis.

Now here it is August and it’s really been a bumpy road. Dialysis is no more fun than it was the first time, but it is needed and tolerable. Physical therapy has been grueling and I’m still enduring it three times a week.

Keeping up with my work was still a high priority during those weeks, as it is now, so some things slipped to the side, this blog being one of them. I didn’t intend to neglect it, or the wonderful authors who often share guest posts here. I simply ran out of hours and fell sadly behind. I ask that you accept my apology and continue to be patient as I get things moving here again. I promise to share some wonderful new authors and book news with you in coming weeks!

 

PJ

Who’s been a Bad Boy? by Lise McClendon

LiseThere are many ways to skin a cat – and promote your writing. One popular way is to create a limited edition box set and price it so low that you’re almost giving it away. The point is to get it into digital readers, not to make money. You can box up your own novels, by series or whatever theme you can conjure up, but joining with other authors can really ease the promotion burden. The idea is that cross-pollination of readers will grow all gardens. You bloom, I bloom, we all bloom with a bigger readership.

 

A few months ago I was asked to join five other authors to put together a box set. My invitation came through an English writer I knew mostly through social media. I had read her book, written about it, became Facebook friends, corresponded, and even met her last year at Bouchercon, the big mystery convention. But I didn’t know the other authors at all, two Americans, a Brit, and an Irish writer.

 

My English friend, Helen Smith, writes comic mysteries and a lot more. Having read her books, and gotten the invitation, I knew we would be compatible. The other authors write a little comedy, a little romance, a little mystery. The theme of the box set was to be “British Bad Boys,” and encompassed humor, mystery, and romance. I had in mind to use my thriller, PLAN X, about a British professor in Montana who is badly injured in a campus explosion.  The story revolves around policewoman and Iraq vet, Cody Byrne, who is tasked to find the professor’s next of kin. The mission turns out harder than it should be, and gets a little twisted when it’s discovered the professor asked several colleagues to hide old documents that look suspiciously like a lost Shakespeare play. Lots of thrills, intrigue, murder, and MI5.

 

But comedy? Funny stuff? Hmmm. I love to laugh but wasn’t sure this novel fit the bill. To their credit the authors only asked: “There’s sarcasm, right?” Well, I thought, I certainly hope so. What’s life or fiction without a little snark? I was in.

 

Several of the authors had been in sets together before and knew the ropes. They had a formatter and cover designer lined up. The six of us discussed the design of the cover, and the sexy quotient of the bad boy on the cover. Our ring-leader, Florida author Barbara Silkstone, kept us up to date and on task.

 

The box set went into production.  Some of us wrote original stories. All of us wrote blurbs. We okayed the cover and sent it all into the formatter. BRITISH-BAD-BOYS-Box-Set-KOBOAnd voila! The box set of British Bad Boys sprung on the world on Easter. So happy to be in the talented company of Helen Smith, Barbara Silkstone, Gerry McCullough, Anne R. Allen, and Sibel Hodge.

 

The e-book box set is just 99 cents. Pocket change! We hope readers are tempted by the bargain. The box set will be available through the summer only. That’s key, the limited time edition. Most of us are also selling our novels or stories individually but we hope this exposure to more readers will help all our novels get more readers. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?

  • • •

 

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/britishbadboys

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/british-bad-boys-barbara-silkstone/1121689967?ean=2940151581530

KOBO: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/british-bad-boys-1

Shop at an independent bookstore that sells KOBO e-books,

like Mysterious Galaxy: http://www.mystgalaxy.com/ebook/1230000341172