Fighting Back

“The reader deserves honesty.”

Nora Roberts

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, Nora Roberts’ post Plagiarism, Then and Now is worth your time and serious reflection. In that post she shares her own heart-wrenching experience and confronts what she calls “this ugly underbelly of legitimate self-publishing.” It’s both humbling and awe-inspiring that a writer of her stature would stand and fight in defense of honest authors, whatever publishing path they choose.

I hope you’ll read the post in its entirety.

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The more I read about the plagiarist-pirate-thief Cristiana Serruya the worse the story becomes. While it’s possible her thievery did not extend to mystery fiction, it’s unfortunately quite probable that another wordsnatcher is out there raiding our work. (For the record, I cannot claim to have coined wordsnatcher; a quick search online turned up this post on the No Bad Language blog.) If you’re a writer whose work has been stolen, Courtney Milan has excellent suggestions to help you here.

I have to thank Nora Roberts for linking to Courtney Milan’s site, as she’s a new-to-me author. I checked out her website and discovered she’d posted this:

If you’re just discovering my books and want to know what to read first, here are some recommendations. If you’ve already read all my books, and want to know which authors I enjoy reading here are some more recommendations.

I appreciate writers who take the time to spotlight other authors. I also appreciate those writers, their publicists (hat tip to Laura who took time to answer my email about this post), and other support staff who share behind-the-scenes details and information. My latest discovery is the Index O’Answers on Nora Roberts’ blog.

p.s. If you’re curious about the different legitimate paths to publishing, check Jane Friedman’s website to see the chart Key Book Publishing Paths (updated annually).

The Craft of Writing a Mystery Series

fountain pen

This week, we’re celebrating the release of the 18th  in the Melanie Travis mystery series by the talented Laurien Berenson (four-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Award). Check out the previous post to see what she has to say about her long-running series. Today, she’s back to talk about the writing process. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Laurien so we can enter you into the drawing for a signed hardbound copy of her new book,  The Bark Before Christmas. The drawing closes at 2 p.m. (Central) on Friday, October  2nd and we’ll announce the winner here Friday afternoon.

Laurien Berenson, Author

Laurien Berenson, Author

Writing a long-running series takes a special kind of writing talent, and Laurien has proven she has that talent and much more. The first Melanie Travis mystery, A Pedigree to Die For, came out in 1995. In the 20 years since that first in the series was published, Melanie’s life has changed considerably, and it’s been fun seeing the characters grow and change over time. Here’s Laurien, talking about the craft of writing a long-running series:

 

What’s most important for you in telling a story?

I know I should say the intricacies of the plot, but truthfully, it’s the characters. It is so important to me to populate my books with characters that readers want to spend time with and experience an adventure with. And in my Melanie Travis series, that means both the humans and the canines! There’s nothing that bugs me more than books that have animal characters and every one has the same personality. The Standard Poodles (and other dogs) in my books are every bit as individual as Melanie Travis and her extended family. Readers write and tell me that my characters feel like old friends and I think that’s the highest praise they can give.

Like most professions, the dog world has its own vocabulary, with much of it unfamiliar to people who don’t breed, show, or train dogs. How do you decide what (and how much) to include for readers unfamiliar with dog shows, breeds, or canine behavior?

If I’m using terms that most non-dog-show people are unfamiliar with I always try to provide a quick explanation. I believe I’ve explained how dog shows work and how a dog achieves its championship in just about every book so far. Also, I don’t shy away from using words (like “bitch” meaning a female dog) that dog people use all the time without thinking twice, but that occasionally offend readers’ sensibilities.

The publishing industry has changed significantly since your first book. How have those changes impacted you and your series?

Fortunately for me, many of the changes haven’t affected me much at all because I have been working with the same publisher and the same wonderful editor since the early 1990’s. Most notably what is different now is that my books are not only available in paperback and hardcover, they can also purchased in ebook and audio format–two things that were only pipedreams when I first began writing in the 1970s.

Readers are often curious about a writer’s process. Do you, for example, know the end before you start? Or does the solution come to you as you’re writing?

I usually have a pretty good idea of the ending but it’s never set in stone. I find that my characters often do and say unexpected things so if they want to take me some place more interesting than I had planned, I am always happy to follow their lead.

A very successful writer once told me that he never plots his books ahead of time because if he’s not surprised by how things turn out, how will the reader be surprised? I thought that was an interesting take on the writing process, and I’ve tried to keep my plotting more fluid ever since.

What do you find most/least enjoyable about writing?

Most enjoyable: you can do it at any time of day or night, there’s no commute, and you can always write with a dog on your lap.

Least enjoyable: the amount of time between when I finish writing a book and when I finally find out if readers like it or not. By the time a book is published, I’m already mostly finished with the next one, so emotionally I’ve moved on. I wish that readers and I could be excited about the same book at the same time.

Some visitors to this site are interested in writing mysteries. Suggestions for them?

Read. Read. Read! There’s no better way to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing a book.

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Bark Before ChristmasThanks, Laurien!

Laurien’s books can be bought online and in brick-and mortar stores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Kobo, Apple, Target, Walmart, and many independent bookstores.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Books A Million

Kobo          Kensington Books     IndieBound

Okay, readers and fans: it’s your turn! Leave a comment here for a chance to win a signed copy of Laurien’s book. If you’ve read the series, let us know if you have a favorite. New to the series? Don’t be shy; ask questions about dogs, writing, mysteries, etc. The drawing closes at 2 p.m. (Central) on Friday, October  2nd  and we’ll draw the winner then.

The Writer’s Craft

fountain penEarlier this week, Susan Conant (seven-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Award) came by to discuss her Dog Lover’s Mystery Series. Today, she’s back to talk about the writing process and changes in the publishing industry–something that impacts writers and readers alike. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Susan so we can enter you into the drawing for a gift copy of her new book,  Sire and DamnWe’ll announce the winner here Saturday, so check back!

Writing a long-running series takes talent, vision, and persistence. Susan introduced us to dog writer and dog trainer Holly Winter and her Alaskan Malamutes back in 1990. To my way of thinking, staying true to the heart of the series while allowing your characters to grow and change and learn takes a special kind of writer. Susan is that kind of writer, as evidenced by the enthusiastic reception each book in the series earns. Here’s what one fan has to say about Sire and Damnthe 20th in the series:

Susan CSire and Damnonant’s Dog Lover’s Mysteries are always a doggy good read, and this one is no exception. While the plot is strong enough for general readers, Sire and Damn (like all in this series) is a particular treat for Dog People (you know who you are!). There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s always such a relief to know someone truly *gets* what it’s like to be all dogs, all the time, even while solving murder mysteries.

Now here’s Susan, talking about the craft of writing:

What’s most important for you in telling a story?

My connection with my readers is everything. I want to lure in my readers so that they are lost in my story. In other words, what I’m after is hypnosis. Or seduction. I want to cast spells.

 There seems to be a trend to “push” the murder to the very front of the story. What’s your opinion of this expectation that we produce a body by chapter 3?  

Incredibly, there are still editors who will demand a rewrite unless the murder happens at the beginning of a book. Some editors, I suspect, assume that the writer is unfamiliar with a hackneyed formula that the writer is, in fact, eager to avoid. The formula: The murder occurs. As the saying goes, nobody cares about the corpse; the investigation is everything. The detective, amateur or professional, interviews suspects, collects evidence, and discovers that the murder was committed in some bizarre fashion, often by the least likely suspect. It’s a formula to be avoided unless your aim is to cure the reader’s insomnia.

The publishing industry has changed significantly since your first book. How have those changes impacted you and your series?

Hurrah! I am free! No more deadlines ever again! No more trying to be polite about cover art I hate! No more grinding my teeth about prices I think are too high!

I have just self-published my twentieth Dog Lover’s Mystery, Sire and Damn. I chose my own editor, Jim Thomsen, and my own proofreader, Christina Tinling. Jovana Shirley did the formatting. The gifted Terry Albert did the Kindle cover and the cover for the trade paperback. I love working with the people I chose, people who have become my friends.

Will the entire series be available in Kindle/ebook editions? 

Yes. But not immediately.

Some visitors to this site are aspiring mystery writers. Suggestions for them?

Many years ago when my daughter and I were on a panel together at a mystery convention, I blurted out advice to aspiring mystery writers. In saying exactly what I really thought, I managed to annoy and offend some established writers, one of whom took me to task in public. My daughter calls this little event the Foot in Mouth Episode. The experience has left me wary of offering advice to aspiring mystery writers. Advice is usually wasted, anyway; the people who need it seldom take it.

That being said:

Write the kind of book you like to read. Never mind whether anyone else will like it! What’s certain is that if you don’t like it, no one else will, either.

Edit your work. Delete anything that bores you; if you don’t want to read a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole chapter, no one else will, either. Ditch it.

Look up everything. Use Merriam-Webster. Subscribe to the online Chicago Manual of StyleCultivate pride of craft.

If you intend to self-publish, hire an experienced professional editor. Hire a professional proofreader. Have the book professionally formatted. Hire a professional to prepare the cover. A great many self-published books are amateur junk. They drag all of us down. Please help to lift us up!

Finally—Foot in Mouth, Part 2?—if you have struggled and struggled to write a mystery novel but can’t sense the living presence of the characters, can’t hear them speak, have no idea what happens next, and feel no driving compulsion to tell a story, stop! Consider the possibility that you weren’t born to write mysteries. Go back to reading mysteries. Write nonfiction. Run marathons. Study Mandarin. Grant yourself peace.

Thanks, Susan! 

Okay, readers and fans: it’s your turn! Leave a comment here, or drop by Susan’s Facebook page, or you can leave a comment on my own Facebook page. If you’ve read the series, let us know if you have a favorite. You’re welcome to ask questions, too! We’ll enter your name in a drawing for a Kindle edition of Sire and Damn to be sent to you (or the gift recipient of your choice). The winner’s name will be posted on Saturday, so be sure to check back.