Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is Less More in a Novel?

Recently, I've found myself skipping ahead in full-length novels--even by my favorite authors--because they are moving too slow. I've started reading more Kindle Singles and short novels. I find that I really like this format. It is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. I can often read a complete work in one sitting.

My favorite movies and books are those that throw you right into the action and barely give you a minute to catch your breath. I tried to capture this pace in my first short novel, Bitnapped, by avoiding long descriptive passages and trying to include only the essential information.  (

If you are a writer or avid reader, you are probably aware of flash fiction, a genre with a word limit that strips content to its bare bones. Flash fiction ranges in length. I've read entertaining stories that were 1,000, 500, or even 100 words long. A recent contest challenged writers to create a 164-character story.

I have ambivalent feelings about works that short. I understand that everyone is busy and the fast pace of life leaves us with little time. However, the pleasure of reading includes soaking up the words and allowing your mind to wander to far away places. There must be a balance.

National Write a Novel in a Month month challenges authors to speed up their process and write 50K words in one month. What about shortening the length of the finished product? I'm not saying that there is no place for longer, slower pieces. But in my chosen genre, mystery and suspense, I'm betting that less is more.

In fact, I challenged myself to write this post in 15 minutes or less instead of the usual hours I spend agonizing over the words.

Please chime in with your feelings!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Message in a Bottle?

It's been an exciting week for me and I'd like to share. My independently-published novel, Bitnapped, is in the middle of a five day free download promotion on Amazon. The first time I ran one in July, I didn't do much to promote it, other than post it on my website and my facebook page. Oh, and I used $125 dollars of free Google and Facebook advertising that I had received from my website provider. In three days, I had a total of 208 free downloads.

The purpose of giving your book away is to gain fans who will want to purchase your next book. Successful independent authors J.A. Konrath, John Locke, and Amanda Hocking jumpstarted their career with book giveaways. Of course, there is more to the story. You need readers to write glowing reviews and tell all of their friends.

Unfortunately, after my first campaign I didn't get any reviews. Then, a gracious relative gave me one. For three others, I've had to trade reviews with other authors, which is difficult. Amazon now supposedly has a  way to check and see if you have traded or purchased a review and will remove it if they think that is the case. Ironically, or maybe not, you can pay Amazon for a review, and that is OK. (I'm not going to flog Amazon though, they provide free software for converting your work to eBook  (mobi) format and their royalty program is very generous.)

Self-help books and other content explaining how to successfully sell books independently stress the importance of building an author platform. So, what is that? It is today's version of old-fashioned networking. It requires a website, a blog, and Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest accounts. Some recommend spending an hour a day on social media building contacts with people who will eventually buy your books. The trick is to not market yourself overtly, no one likes a pushy salesman, but be friendly and helpful to others and the glow from those good deeds will reflect back on you.

An hour a day? You've got to be kidding. I work full-time, volunteer, and have a home with a large yard, a dog, and a husband. My writing is eked out in small chunks of time. To not feel guilty about the indulgence, I call writing fiction my "hobby". So, I created a website, started a blog, and got a Facebook account (I drew the line at Twitter). I spend about an hour a month. Perhaps this explains my less than stellar results.

Most authors blog about writing or self-publishing. I figured that only other authors are interested in that type of information. So, I created a blog for people who like to read. I hoped to attract those interested in a variety of short stories with accompanying pictures. So far, it's been difficult to build a following. If I get 10 views of a new post I'm doing good.

However, I have shamelessly benefited from other writers' blogs. For this free campaign with my book, I used a great website with handy links to other sites that advertise free Kindle books to their readers: Author Marketing Club. I listed Bitnapped on ten of these free sites, many of which include blogs and e-mails to a subscriber list. Before the campaign, I paid a very small fee to have Grub Street Reads evaluate my book. They gave it their seal of approval and provided some very handy marketing materials such as press releases and quotes that I could use on Amazon. At least one local digital paper picked up my press release.

Maybe it worked, I've had just over 300 downloads. More exciting, I got a four star book review on Amazon from a total stranger! So, I guess things are looking up. I just can't help feeling that blogging and posting on Facebook are like writing messages for a bottle. I roll them up, and cork them . I set the bottle afloat on the vast internet and hope that somewhere someone will read the message and smile.

Bitnapped will be free until Nov 3 (and just 1.99 after that). Check it out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Exuberant . . . wait, Sigh

Yesterday proved to be very interesting. I went from the thrill of victory to the agony of--not exactly defeat--maybe more like deflation.

I'd submitted my short novel, Bitnapped, to Grub Street Reads. The owners, Leslie and Jessica, run a great-looking website and a helpful service. For an extremely reasonable fee, they will review an independently published book and rate it according to their criteria. If the book passes, they give it a seal of approval and help the author out with a kit of marketing materials. They accept less than half of the books submitted. For independent authors, it is a way of showing potential readers that the book is worthy of their consideration.

It can take up to five weeks before you hear whether your book was accepted. I've been waiting on pins and needles since I submitted Bitnapped on August 17. Imagine my pleasant surprise to receive an e-mail from Grub Street Reads yesterday. They accepted it! And, they wrote a nice description of what they liked.

I quote:

Hi J.T.,
Thank you for submitting this book to us. I loved how we got tossed right into the action,
and how we learned about the status quo through Kelly’s thoughts. I also loved that she
was a total MacGyver and used her background knowledge to get herself and Rupert
out of the warehouse. Great job on making Nonno a three-dimensional character. It can
be very challenging for writers to balance the good with the bad, but Nonno was spot on.
We could trust him but would never dream of crossing him. Great work!

-- end quote

That was the exuberant part. On the very same day, Yahoo highlighted a NY Times article about a guy, basically a con artist, who was getting paid by authors to post reviews on their books. His reviewers often didn't even read the books, and it appears as though they frequently gave five star ratings.

Arrgh. I'm sure this will cause a loss of credibility for services like Grub Street Reads, and by proxy, my book's seal of approval. However, it's not just book reviews, product reviews have the same problem. The article cites a data mining expert who estimates that one-third of all internet reviews are fakes--written by parties who have an interest in the item's success.

I'm a consumer as well as an author. I rely heavily on reviews for everything from internet purchases to selecting a hotel or restaurant. I expect books, hotels, and restaurants to have some negative reviews. Even best-selling authors like Grisham, Baldacci, and Child have many readers who speak out about something they didn't like. And, I read both the extremely positive and the negative reviews carefully. Many times a purchaser is disgruntled because they didn't read the description carefully enough and were expecting something different. So, in a very unscientific way, I average the feedback out and it figures into my purchasing decision.

What about you, would a Grub Street Reads seal of approval mean anything to you?

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Solo Hike

Theo came to with his shoulder wedged between a slender tree and a pitted rock. Rusty-colored, orange and green lichens swirled in front of his blurry eyes like a kaleidoscope. A stab of pain started at his right ankle and traveled like lightning up his calf. He pushed against the tree cautiously with his left elbow and raised his head to look. His legs rested on a shelf of rock maybe two feet wide. The right foot was twisted beyond normal range of motion, probably a compound fracture.

Lowering his head back to its original position, Theo looked up. On the right, a jumble of rocks and an occasional stunted tree clung to the side of a cliff that stretched above him. To the left was nothing but blue skies and fluffy clouds. There was no need to look down, the path he had been following all morning had provided many scenic viewpoints from which he'd admired the view and the valley far below.

Fighting waves of nausea, Theo worked on extricating his upper body. He was still wearing his back pack and its straps kept catching on bark and branches. Finally free, he scooted his butt forward until his lower body was completely supported by the rock shelf. The effort left him exhausted and he leaned his back against the tree for support.

Theo didn't recall how he arrived on his precarious perch. The last thing he remembered was catching his foot on a root and starting to fall. He must've rolled a good ways because the path where he fell wasn't that close to the edge.

The thing he did remember well was the reason he was alone. Stupid. The night before, he met a bunch of girls, probably students, visiting his favorite hangout. He had mentioned his plans to hike the mountain trail over Devil's Pass the next day. One of them opened her eyes wide in fright and had asked, "You're not going alone are you?"

He hadn't planned to go alone. But, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to impress them with his knowledge of the back country, first aid, and survival methods. The problem was, Sasha--the blue-eyed blonde he most wanted to impress--had simply rolled her eyes and yawned. Theo took that as a challenge and kept embellishing his tales until he didn't even believe himself.

After going on like that, he couldn't very well ask his friends to join him as he'd planned. The good thing was, his boasting had also forced him to follow his own advice. His pack was heavy with supplies, including plenty of water, a first aid kit, sandwiches and energy bars.

After a bit of twisting and a lot of pain, he dragged his pack around to his chest. He downed two of the painkillers first. After eating the sandwiches, he made use of the first aid kit. Theo took the bags he'd packed his sandwiches in and partially zipped them shut. In the opening, he blew gently to extend,  but not fill, them with air. He zipped them completely shut and put one on each side of his ankle. He wrapped all the gauze he had around his heel and up his ankle. The support made the pain more bearable.

Theo checked his watch. It was four in the afternoon. After he'd ascended past 10,000 feet, he'd only encountered three groups of hikers. Even fewer would be hiking up this late in the day. His main chance would be catching those who had gone up ahead of him and would be descending. But, he strained his ears in vain.

Two hours later, a shadow passed across the rock. A vulture perched on a tree branch above him and about 30 feet away. Just great. If he didn't get rescued, not only would he die, but there wouldn't be enough flesh left for an open casket. Not that he cared, but not having the option would make his death even more difficult for his mother.

An hour later, the vulture continued to stare. Theo could imagine drool dripping off the tip of its beak. The sun sank over the mountain peak to his west. Although it was still light, the warmth drained from the air. The painkillers started to wear off. Theo checked his kit but he didn't have any more. He rolled on his side to press his back against the rocks, which still radiated a bit of warmth. He laid his thin rain jacket over his legs, crossed his arms over his chest and pulled the backpack close for any insulation it might provide. It looked to be a long and lonely night.

Theo dozed fitfully. He awoke with a start when a voice called from above, "Hello on the rock. Are you O.K?"

"Yes," Theo answered. "My ankle is injured, but otherwise, I'm O.K."

"Cover your head, litter and man coming down."

A mountain rescue worker rappelled down the side of the cliff and steadied the litter against the rock. Theo uncovered his face when he heard a familiar female voice say, "Ready to roll into the litter, Theo?"

The moonlight glowed off the golden wisps of hair that had escaped from her helmet. Sasha grinned at Theo from her seat in a harness. "Good job of surviving! I'll take a look at that ankle as soon as we get you hoisted up. But first, remind me to take a vacation next time you plan to go hiking alone."

Theo groaned. "There won't be a next time. I promise. How did you find me anyway?"

"Birdwatchers down in the valley looking for eagles. They spotted the vulture perched near you and called in that it appeared as though a hiker or climber was stranded on the cliff."

Saved by a vulture and rescued by the woman to whom he'd bragged about his survival skills, Theo cast about for something witty to say. In the end, he kept his mouth shut as they hoisted him to safety.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Welcome to My Blog!

If you are an avid reader with little time to indulge your fancy, I hope that you will enjoy the short vignettes on this Blog. Each post will follow the title's theme.

As a fan of thriller, suspense, and mystery, I sometimes find myself wishing that a book not delve quite so deep into the dark side nor fill so quickly with corpses. "Life's Mysteries - Small and Great" will offer a reprise from grittier themes. You should always feel free to share posts with your grandmother or seven-year-old nephew.

The reality we all face is that life can be dark and terrible things do happen. To cope, we need to remember the good things, marvel at the wonders of life, and laugh now and then. Even when my posts do deal with more traditional themes, watch for the punch line.

Thank you for reading!

The Case of the Disappearing Coat

Our pet Akita, Kuma, regularly brightens our days. In return for nominal care, she makes us feel special. The normal doggy display of affection when we return home isn't enough for her. She vocalizes her delight to see us in a Darth Vader imitation (albeit gentler and kinder). Even our periodic movements around the house elicit a full greeting with wagging tail. If we're not active enough--for example, when I sit tethered to the keyboard for hours--she takes the initiative and comes to check on how I'm doing.

The only downside to living with an Akita is an overabundance of hair. Globs, singles, lighter-than-air wisps float and settle on every horizontal surface, including the dinner table. As a preventive measure, we bought a Furminator(R). And what a wonderful tool it is. In ten minutes the Furminator can strip a pile of Kuma hair equal in mass to a standard Poodle! That is one vacuum cleaner bag less to remove from the house. The hair comes off in different colors, white and black from the topcoat, a soft gray down from the undercoat.

Needless to say, Furmination is best performed outside. A fairly constant gale blows out of the south. As we remove Kuma's excess coat, the wind scoops and tumbles it. We often wonder how far it will sail, maybe to the Pacific? Hopefully, far beyond our neighbor's pool.

Last weekend, the constant gale ramped up with vengeance and wrenched a branch from one of our precious Oaks. We knew that a Scott's Oriole had nested there, so we were relieved to see him, his mate, and their fledgling safe and sound the next day.

Scott's Oriole

When we examined the downed tree limbs, we found where a piece of Kuma's coat had disappeared. The Orioles had used it as a downy bed for their egg.

Scott's Oriole nest lined with Akita hair.

We were worried that the Orioles would leave us after such a traumatic experience. Not so. Yesterday after we had brushed Kuma, we saw them gathering fluffy beakfuls of hair--no doubt to start lining a new nest.

The moral of the story? Maybe more than one:

  • Recycling isn't new, animals and birds have been doing it all along.
  • What goes around comes around.
  • When your nest gets knocked down, don't despair, make the next one better. It's an ill wind that blows no good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Driven by Hunger

The echoing rumble in the hollow of my gut reminds me that I haven’t eaten since yesterday. After spending a night in a tree, my muscles ache with the buildup of lactic acid. I cautiously slide down and stretch. I sniff the air, searching for any pungency that would indicate they are near. Every flutter of the breeze makes me twitch. I pad softly through the underbrush, and pause to listen every few steps. Food is a necessity, but the risk of being heard or seen slows my pace.
As the morning sun penetrates through the canopy overhead, the dew disappears in a mist. I stop to lick some leaves before the precious water vaporizes completely. The birds are fully awake now and their calls provide a measure of protection. They are my partners in crime without realizing it. They will sing their warning calls and then go silent if they spot an intruder.
I remember my last meal and saliva fills my mouth in anticipation. Is it my imagination, or do I smell something? I freeze and test the wind, opening my mouth and breathing in to catch the scent on my tongue. Yes! It is food, and not too far away. Another ten yards and I spot it.
They left it; but not in an accessible place. They did everything they could to prevent me from getting it. It’s fastened to the branch of a tree, high off the forest floor, maybe eight times my height. It hangs from a long narrow twine that won’t support my weight.
I shinny up the tree. I’m good at this part. I carefully push out onto the branch it hangs from, but it’s just out of my reach. I retreat to the trunk. I lower myself to the same level as the food. I wrap my legs around the trunk and lean as far as I can. It’s still far out of my reach. All the exertion has sapped my energy. I’m weakening. I can’t afford another miss. I cling to the bark breathing heavily.
Last try. I dig my feet into the trunk with everything I have. I lean, stretching, levering all of my weight into thin air. Then, I lunge further than I thought possible. Got it! Another meal, another day of life. They’ll never stop me.