Some Thoughts on “That Book”

A lot of people have asked me about Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time and how such an awful book could possibly have gotten a Romantic Times recommended read and a Library Journal starred review. In case you missed it, here’s the back cover copy:

Powerful Retelling of the Story of Esther

In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.

Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.

Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?

Now, this is patently offensive on all levels, but it got a freaking STARRED REVIEW in Library Journal and, as I said, no one would shut up about it. It was discussed on Jezebel, on Slate, on Salon, even in Newsweek. And people kept asking me how it was possible.

Why do they ask me? Because it’s being published as a romance, and the publisher or author nominated it for a romance award and somehow–through the perfect storm of events, it made it to the finals for an award. (No, it did not win.)

But it won’t go away, either and people have been asking me to justify my writing in a way that I have not had since Fifty Shades. So if you’re at all interested in my thoughts, I’ve posted them on my blog. Though the title should tell you how I felt: Yes, I Read “That Book” So you Don’t Have To.

Vacation Reading

In late July I wrote about the books I had saved up to read on a family vacation in Vermont vermont

and I promised reviews when I returned. I also wrote:

“But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual.”

Very much the case. ☺ I only read two of my five books, certainly a low for me on vacation. However, they were two extremely good ones. Here is my report.

The Whites by Harry Brandt. whitesThat is a pen name for highly regarded New York novelist Richard Price (Lush Life, Clockers). He is a stunningly excellent writer, whoever he says he is. The title does not refer to race but literature. Every member of a group of cops,old friends, has a case they call “the white”, the big one they can’t forget, the horrible crime they couldn’t quite pin on the person they knew was guilty. The white whale of their career. When one of those suspects turns up murdered, bleeding out at Penn Station, it looks like justice has finally caught up with him. Maybe. And maybe it is something else. crime

The story revolves around Billy, the only one still working as a cop, who has pieced together a real life. Never mind that he works nights; that his father, who lives with him, is deteriorating from dementia; that his hard-working wife suffers from bouts of depression, carrying something inside she can’t even talk about. And then an unknown someone starts to threaten his family in mysterious ways for some unknown reason.

It’s a dark story, with all the characters carrying darkness within as they deal with the darkness outside. There are only a few faint beams of light. Did I believe all of it? Or even most of it? Afterwards, perhaps not. While I was reading, it seemed as real as real life. That is the power of the writing.

A note: this is a complicated story with a lot of characters, so pay sharp attention at the beginning.

I like Ann Cleeves books a lot and have been looking forward to jumping into her most recent Shetland mystery, Thin Air. cover thin

It did not disappoint. I usually enjoy the remote, strange and beautiful setting, and must confess that though I have never been there, I have been to the Orkneys. They are almost as remote, mapshetland and I have fun picturing it all. Cleeves often weaves in old customs and old legends, without overdoing it, adding an lovely extra dimension to the story.

A group of friends have come up from London for a traditional “hamefarin”, a party to introduce a new bride to the Shetland-dwelling family and friends. And one of the women disappears. Just like that, into thin air. Of course it is not “just like that” and it becomes a job for Detective Jimmy Perez, the series protagonist and Shetland native,plus some investigators from the bigger world. It is “simmer dim”, the mysterious days of the long summer twilight. simmer Anything can happen, it seems, even the repeated appearance of the ghost of a long-ago drowned little girl. Jimmy’s job is to see through the mists and uncover the real story. shetland

It’s wonderful twisty, traditional mystery with a very rich background. I thought I’d guessed the crucial fact early on, a possible connection between characters, well-buried in the story. Nope. I could not have been more wrong. The solution was a surprise, but the kind where you say, “Ah. Now it make sense.” Who doesn’t recognize that as classic mystery writing?

Media news: PBS is running a series based on Cleeves Shetland books, and the ones I’ve seen are excellent, with actors familiar from other BBC productions and great scenery. And rumor has it that there is a movie deal for The Whites.

In case there are any doubts – ☺ – I am strongly recommending both books.

Finding Your Inspiration

FotoFlexer_Photo

I just got back from Mohonk Mountain House. If you’ve never heard of this truly exquisite mountain retreat, located in New Paltz, NY, check out the link. I’m not a world traveler, but this site, a glacial lake with a Victorian-style hotel dating from the late 1800’s, will take your breath away. So will the bill, which is slipped quietly under your door so you don’t pass out in one of the common areas.

Luckily for me, my 11-year old son broke his toe and couldn’t attend camp. The two-week camp refund bought me three nights at the mountain house, with my son and my mother. This post, however, is not about money or family vacations. It’s about finding those special locations that inspire creativity. These discoveries, of course, are priceless.

On my first excursion to Mohonk, about ten years ago, I so entranced by the brochures that I thought, for sure, it would be the core of my literary inspiration. I’d hike the trails, high on mountain air and then find myself the perfect perch with expansive views of the lake. According to my plan, I’d sit, lost in my thoughts for hours. At the end of the day, I’d curl up next to one of the many fireplaces, computer on lap, and write like I’d never written before — probably because I’d never written more than twenty pages of anything up to that point.

It was a good plan, until I checked in. I waited patiently at the front desk, itching to start my first book when I noticed the man ahead of me speaking in a hushed tone to the clerk. I was antsy. Didn’t the man know his idle chatter would cut into chapter one of my yet, unwritten book?

Finally, after many audible sighs on my part, he picked up his room key and turned toward the elevator. The profile was unmistakable. The offending guest was none other than Stephen King. No joke. It was really Stephen King. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to discover the stimulating atmosphere of the century old retreat. Mr. King was also a fan.

As it turned out, I never opened my computer. I never found my perch. The only thing I wrote was my signature on the bill. I froze. I couldn’t help but imagine Mr. King, only a few doors away, writing something infinitely better than I could ever produce. It was like dancing next to J.lo and realizing you were better off just sitting down.

Alas, I’ve never been able to recapture that fleeting moment of visual inspiration, but I’m always on the lookout for a new location.

Any suggestions?

 

 

Vacation Reading

We are off on vacation next week. We have rented a house in Vermont and will be joined by both grown daughters, both sons-in-law and a 2 year old granddaughter. We have not had a family vacation since there were no sons-in-law, so this will be interesting.(Actually we are very excited) Due to being sick for the last two weeks – and having those weeks be ones full of family, social and various other plans -I am behind on every single thing. Packing, grocery shopping, writing, business matters.

Fortunately, I have a stack of unread books on my bedside table, so I am set for vacation reading. As we are traveling by car, I can just throw them in a shopping bag and throw the bag in the trunk. Here’s what’s is going:

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves. A new book by a writer I greatly admire. thinairCan’t wait to start this one
The Last Taxi Ride by A.X. Ahmad (and) Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang. Writers new to me who spoke at a recent MWA/NY meeting. Very intriguing 51xNRMb9sML._AA160_51MRYnVXb2L._AA160_

The Whites by Harry Brandt, who is really Richard Price. Great reviews, solid beginning and I keep getting sidetracked.That is what a long car trip is for.whites

Run You Down by Julia Dahl, 2nd in a new series set in (ta-da) Brooklyn in the secretive ultra-Ortodox Jewish community. The first was a terrific debut and I have met Julia a few times at NY mystery events, so I am interested to see what’s next. 51NMpktG8xL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Normally that would not be enough – I like a lot insurance on having what I want to read – so I will probably throw in a few more. But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual. :-)

Book reports next month.

Damned If You Don’t: The First Two Pages

DIFDcoverI’m always interested in reading writers on writing. For that reason I’ve enjoyed following B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages, where authors are asked to reflect on and discuss the decisions they made and the problems they faced in writing the first two pages of a published work, either a short story or novel.

I’m delighted that Bonnie’s given me the chance to discuss my novel, Damned If You Don’t, at The First Two Pages this week. I hope you’ll have a chance stop by and would be grateful if you spread the word.

Also, you might like to check the archives where you’ll find posts by fine writers including Terrie Farley Moran, John Floyd, Jacqueline Seewald, James M. Jackson, Kaye George and Bonnie Stevens among others.

I Spy With A Writer’s Eye

gallery-thumbnails.phpA recent blog post from thriller and suspense author Ed Kovacs, discussed gadgets every thriller/spy novelist should have at their disposal. Many were digital and some seemed items you would think of immediately, such as a camcorder watch for undercover videos and a smart phone, a great multi-tasker, while others, such as four-cipher locks and hide safes were things I hadn’t heard of before.

As you may know from previous posts, I’ve always wanted to be a spy. So, I decided to do a little research and add my own must have spy items, if not for myself, for the next time one of my characters goes undercover.

Here are my results:
Night vision goggles, perfect for stakeouts

Voice activated recorder pen, so you never miss a word

Air freshener hidden security camera, for those hard to spy on settings

Tripwire, the invisible alarm

A drone, for the complete overview

And a pair of oversize dark sunglasses for glamorous camouflage

Now that I’ve amassed these items (figuratively that is) I’ll have to write a story
in which to use them.

How about you? Have any equipment your sleuth could use on a case? Let us know.

Fireworks

fireworks

With July coming up in a few days – where did June go? – here is a link to my July 4, 2014 piece at Poisoned Pen Press, my publisher. My regular date there is the 4th of the month, so the holiday is mine if I want it. Also, “birthday thoughts” if I have any, as mine is on May 4.

Slightly in advance, have a happy and safe holiday!

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/fireworks/

Hiring a Publicist

Buzz Key Showing Awareness Exposure And Publicity

 

Here’s what I love about mystery novels. There’s a beginning, middle and a logical end. Here’s what I hate about publicity. There’s a splashy beginning, a fuzzy middle and no one is certain how it ends.

And yet, I just wrote a check to publicist to help promote the first book in my Sketch in Crime series, Drawing Conclusions. What was I thinking?

Since this is all new to me, I’ll give you some backstory – but not too much as my publisher has indicated that readers don’t like excessive backstory.

I was at a book conference recently, and I spoke with a few authors who had invested a decent sum of money in a publicist. I was curious as our publisher already provides publicity services for the launch of each book. I wondered if more PR investment was worthwhile.

In general, a publisher’s in-house publicity will cover the following tasks. They craft and circulate a public relations release to industry insiders. The publicity team promotes the advanced review copy (arc) in hopes of getting reviews. Finally, they submit books for award consideration and arrange blog tours. I was pretty happy with my publisher’s effort, but I continued to hear from authors who were still spending money on supplemental publicity.

I decided to consult my best friend – math. First, I contacted five book publicists. Fees ranged from $5,000 to $15,000. The publicists made no promises, but offered to try for more reviews, radio spots and book signings. So in addition to the upfront fee, I’d have to spend more of my own money traveling to signings and radio stations.

Then I used math to consider the investment from my publisher’s perspective. If a $15,000 publicity investment in a book makes a significant sales difference, why wouldn’t the publisher spend the money? When I looked at our publisher/author royalty split, it wasn’t economically feasible for me to make a $15,000 investment. It would take years at my royalty rate to break even and that’s if the ‘no promises’ publicity worked. The publisher, of course, takes a higher split of the sales and could recoup their money much faster.

It occurred to me that publishers also use math to make decisions. And since my publisher chose not to invest more than currently budgeted, I have to conclude that even at the publisher’s royalty rate, the extra investment doesn’t make sense for most books in their catalog. After the initial push, additional publicity expenditures may have diminishing returns. Maybe a publisher will take a risk on few books in their catalog, but not all. It’s a gamble.

Then I had another thought. What if I hired a non-traditional publicist — a publicist that didn’t hit up the same contacts as the rest of the book world? Would it make sense to spend money attracting a new market? A market that hadn’t already been tapped by the standard publicity efforts. I liked that strategy so I started to think out of the proverbial box.

I went back to my publisher’s initial publicity push. I really enjoyed the blog tours, specifically:

DollyCas http://www.escapewithdollycas.com/

Dru Book Musings http://drusbookmusing.com/

A blog tour is inexpensive and a good blogger is well connected to his or her readers. There’s also the potential for social media sharing.

To reach a new audience, I’d need to spin my book to match an avid blogging market. My main character, CeCe Prentice, is green. She’s an eco-friendly, Dumpster diver with a keen interest in environmental causes. I decided I needed a way into the green market, which is heavily populated by bloggers. After a few Google searches, I found green publicist, Paige Wolfe, Media & Public Relations. Paige Wolf

I pitched my concept and Paige got it right away. That’s always a good sign and she’s an author. Double brownie points!  For a reasonable fee (as in not $15k), she created a blog tour and book giveaway using her targeted green contact list. So far, I like what I’m seeing ,and I’m happy I spent the money. Here are two examples of reviews. There are more to come, but I think I’m off to a good start.

Green Review 1

Green Review 2

I’d love to hear from other authors on this topic. I’d also love to hear from readers. How do you discover new books?

 

Deirdre Verne is the author of Drawing Conclusions. The second book in the series, Drawing Blood, is available in Feb 2106. www.deirdreverne.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuts and Bolts of Blog Tours

CaughtReadHanded_newcomp.inddAs we sometimes do, the Women of Mystery were chatting the other day. Someone suggested that one of us write a post on the nuts and bolts of blog tours. I raised my hand and offered to do so because I have a tour starting July 6th as part of the launch extravaganza for the release of Caught Read-Handed on July 7th.

How does a blog tour start? I am sure that every writer has her own path to blog tour success. I am happy to share mine. The first thing I do, at least six months before the release date of a book, is to contact Lori at Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book.

Lori is a tour guide extraordinaire. I recommend you be prepared to tell her whether you would like to tour for one week or two and what dates work best for you. I will tour fourteen blogs in fourteen days. Most of the bloggers will write a review of Caught Read-Handed and so will require
review copies. In addition, most of the bloggers will do a giveaway of a copy of your book. Again, you or your publisher will have to provide copies. Lori will ask if you want to have a tour-wide giveaway which will be done by rafflecopter at each blog site. I put together a few book/beach related items, including a mousepad, necklace and note paper and took a picture for the rafflecopter. I will be responsible to mail that prize to the winner. Separate from the tour, I have chosen to advertise on Dollycas for two months and I will also do a blog post for the Dollycas blog after my tour is ended. Some of the Dollycas bloggers want me to write a guest post and some sent me interview questions. All of this material plus my bio, any pictures that I think will go well with my posts and anything else I think will be helpful must be sent to Lori a few weeks before the tour starts. I handed them in this morning.

Rafflecopter Prize

Rafflecopter Prize

Separately, the publicist from Berkley Prime Crime has asked me for several blog posts that she can deliver to her cadre of bloggers. Those are also due weeks before the release date. I submitted them two weeks ago.

Finally there are blogger buddies who are kind enough to invite me to visit their blogs. I try to accept every invitation and, most importantly, I follow every blogger’s rules.

The rules of a blog tour are simple: do exactly what the blogger requests, submit the work on time, comment on the blog shortly after it goes up and then check on it frequently. Comment often. If prizes are involved, make sure they are sent.

Here are some examples of blogs with rules:

I had a request from one blog that I visit them only on a day when I will not be present on any other blog and that the material I present to them be fresh. Done.

Deb Lacy over at Mystery Playground does Drinks with Reads posts on Fridays. It happens that Lori assigned me to Mystery Playground on July 10th, which turns out to be a Friday. As soon as I looked at the calendar I knew that a “drinks” post would be in order. Done.

I keep a separate calendar just for blog tour info. I find it necessary because there are often surprises, such as this mention by Lisa Kelley over at Lisa K’s Book Reviews.  Each Cozy Food Friday, Lisa talks about a cozy mystery. Last Friday it was Bushel Full of Murder by Paige Shelton, and includes a fabulous recipe for Shrimp Tacos. On Fridays Lisa also posts and links to two memes Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader  and The Friday 56 hosted by Freda’s Voice.  I am honored and surprised that Lisa chose Caught Read-Handed as her meme book last week. The Book Beginnings link includes the opening paragraphs of Caught Read-Handed and The Friday 56 includes a quote Lisa chose from page 56 of the book. Lisa was kind enough to let me know that I would be in the memes, so I watched for the post and linked to it here and there.

And that is the final rule. Bloggers work very hard. A blogger who invites a writer to visit a blog is doing the writer a huge favor. In turn, the writer must spread the word to help readers discover that blog. That’s called Fair Play, and it is what the mystery community is all about.

Terrie

Presenting to Seniors

On June 18th, a Thursday at 10:30 AM, Norwalk seniors and I will get together to talk about where writers find their ideas and how they get them down on paper. At least, this writer’s methods.

The event will take place at the Norwalk Senior Center on 11 Allen Rd, Norwalk, CT 06851, call: (203) 847-3115.

Everyone is welcome.

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