More Bouchercon Notes


In this photo are two of the sweetest people I met at B-con. On the left, Kaye Barley, voted Most Popular at the conference this year. And in the middle is B.G. Ritts, who generously gave me a neck rub and vanquished my blinding headache. Love her!

I also attended a panel that discussed the role of alcohol in fiction and in the lives of novelists. Liz Zevlin, a voice of reason and sobriety, held her own in the midst of Ken Bruen, Jason Starr (below), and others. I chatted with Liz later and discovered that she swims regularly in the ocean.
Brave woman!

Bouchcon: Live in the Moment


Kudos to everyone who was able to blog about Bouchercon while they were there. I had good intentions, but I was just too tired at the end of each day to feel coherent. I also failed to take very many pictures. But I decided early in the conference that it was more important to experience every moment and to meet every person that I could rather than to record the event in detail. I decided to live in the moment. For example, it made more sense to me on my last night there to go out to a late dinner with other writers (including Simon Wood) than to sit in my hotel room, blogging about the day. It was the right choice. (Above picture is me with Shane Gericke and Robin Burcell.)

My objectives for the conference were to meet as many people as I could and to give away as many books and promotional materials as I could. I also hoped to get know Karen Syed of Echelon Press. I accomplished all those things. And more. Here are some memorable moments.

I met Troy Cook, author of 47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers. He is a sweet, modest man who is rapidly on his way to the top. Hearing his story—having several agents fail to sell his book, then getting picked up by a small press on his own, followed by great reviews, awards, great sales, and a movie deal—was very inspiring.

I also shared a long shuttle ride to the airport with Julia Spenser-Fleming, (an award-winning mystery author) and we talked seamlessly for more than an hour. She’s bright and friendly, and I enjoyed her company. She probably won’t remember my name, but you never know. I feel like I made a connection with her.

The panel I was on Saturday morning with Bob Morris, Jack Getze, Rebecca Drake, and Marion Moore was a blast. Bob and Jack told wild stories about their days in the newspaper business (including large amounts of alcohol and occasional gunshots), and I got in some good jokes about working for a pharmaceutical magazine. Being anal, I also prepared a handout for the attendees, listing about 20 authors who write about reporter characters. So that roomful of people will remember me. It’s important to promote other authors when you can and to resist the urge to talk incessantly about your own book. In fact, when I met an online friend and mystery lover, he commented that was what he really liked about me—that I’m everywhere online, making friends and being nice, but never going for the hard sell.

Another observation: People who are friendly online are friendly in person! And mystery fans are great—warm, friendly, and happy to meet anyone who writes the stories they like to read. In fact, Kaye Barley may be the sweetest person I’ve ever met. (Picture below: Michelle Gagnon and Ken Bruen)

I may keep adding to this blog as I sort through my notes and business cards, so check back.

Bouchercon Day 1

Up early after a late night to start the day with a panel called We Didn’t Start the Fire. They discussed the balance of writing about social issues in fiction without being preachy. It made me want to take another look at my novel. I met Karen Olson and Neil Plakcy, and Karen may guest blog here soon.

Second panel of the day was Does Sex Sell? The discussion was more about whether sex scenes were necessary in mystery/crime fiction. No consensus was reached, except that romance outsells mystery 10 to 1.

I introduced myself to dozens of writers, gave away about 25 copies of The Sex Club, and handed out bags of books as a volunteer. No one is going home empty handed from this conference. I also had dinner with Karen Syed of Echelon Press, a funny high-energy dynamo. I think we could be an ass-kicking combo.

Took exactly one bad picture today. I’ll do better tomorrow with visuals.

Getting to Bouchercon

I almost didn’t make it here today. I blame bad information and J.D. Rhoades. I was sitting at gate 23B, where I had been told to go, and reading Safe and Sound, by the aforementioned J.D. Caught up in the story, I forgot where I was for quite some time. Suddenly, I looked up and thought Oh shit. Where is everybody? What time is it? I am in the wrong place!

So I ran to the nearest staff person, looking at my phone as I ran. (I am not supposed to run. Very bad right knee.) It was 6:55. My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:10. The woman at gate 24 informed me that my flight had been changed to gate 21. So I ran again, pulling 40 or so pounds of luggage (books!). As I reached the terminal, I realized no one was there. The flight had boarded. The ticket taker was still there, microphone in hand, saying, “Sellers, your flight is leaving. Last call for passenger Sellers.”

Heart pounding, I ran down the tube and boarded the plane with 100 people looking on. I sat down and began to shake. Did I still have everything with me? My kind seat neighbor buckled me in, and moments later, the plane started moving. I thought about myself an hour earlier, drying my soaking wet boarding pass under the hand dryer in the bathroom. Another stupid story involving icing my bad leg! I began to laugh and thought, I made it, and that’s all that maters.

L.J.'s Footnotes

I’ve been tagged twice now, so I’ll play. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about me.

I once rode my bike from Oregon to the Grand Canyon, crossing Donner Pass on the way. It took us three days to ride uphill to Truckee and only 45 minutes to descend into Reno. There was 12 feet of snow along the sides of the road at the top and six inches of slush and sand on the road coming down. Crazy! (I was 23 at the time.)

I have jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (loved it!), gone up in a hot-air balloon, and often zoom downhill on my bike at speeds of 40 mph.

I was the third of six children in a fairly poor working class home. But in many ways, I was the oldest—the first to get a job and a car and the first to leave home. My siblings all live here in Eugene, they are my best friends, and we bowl together every week.

I tried to have my tubes tied when I was 20 years old, but no one would do it because I was too young. I ended up with one biological son and two stepsons and also took care of my sister’s twin girls. For a long period, my husband and I had six children in our home every night. Life often turns out differently than you expect.

In addition to writing a bunch of novels you’ve never heard of, I’ve also written five screenplays. Two thrillers: Beyond Conception and Breaking Point. And three comedies: Addictions, Shoes, and Lost in Hollywood.

Writing those comedy scripts led me to a comedy writing class. At the end of the class, we had to perform our material in a nightclub. It was terrifying and exhilarating. The audience loved my routine and they invited me back to perform again and again. Writing new material and performing again is on my list of things to do.

Fiction Editing Proposal

I just sent this proposal to a prospective client, and I thought I’d post it here as well—in case anyone is considering my services and would like more detail.

I’m willing to undercut the industry-standard rate and edit for $2.25 a page. By page, I mean industry submission standard: double space, 12-point Times font, with approximately 1.5 inches of white space (including footers) on all sides.

An 80,000-word novel should print out somewhere around 325 pages, depending on how much back-and-forth dialogue you have. $2.25 a page at 325 pages is $731.25. Which sounds like a lot of money! If it makes you feel any better, I’m paying someone to edit my current 347-page novel right now. She’s charging me $28. per hour, with no cap and no estimate of cost.

Another option is to pay by the hour at $25 an hour. This will work out to less money if your novel is pretty clean to start with and has a lot of back-and-forth dialogue. (Expository pages are denser and slower.) Also, if you only want proofreading and syntax suggestions (no plot/structure feedback), then the per-hour rate will save you money. Even when I work per hour, I put a cap on the project. In this case (325 pages), regardless of which pricing structure you chose, the cap would be $731.25.

I’m also willing to peruse the first 20 pages and see how it goes. If it’s moving quickly, I’ll recommend a per-hour structure. The last novel I edited was 110,000 words and took about 32 hours. A 75,000-word mystery would likely take around 20 hours and cost $500 or less.

Other details: If you send me the Word document, I’ll print it here and mail the hard copy edits back to you at my expense.

I would love to edit your novel, and I hope I can work something out with you. I have references! Please contact me if you have any questions.

PS I posted a blog about commas on the Blood-Red Pencil, if you want a peek at my editing style.

Do I Like This Character?

I’m reading a crime story with a fast-moving plot and terrific writing, but I may not finish it. What’s the problem? (Besides the fact that I’ve developed reading ADD.) The character, although well developed, is not someone I relate to, and the world she lives in is sleazy. I want to see how this story turns out, but every time I put the book down I feel like I need a shower.

I had this same problem with another book I read recently. In the middle of the story, the protagonist, supposedly a reformed criminal living a good life, participates in heinous crime. As a reader, I wanted him to get caught and go to jail. So I lost interest in the story. This happens for me with movies too. If there is not a single character who I find decent enough to root for, then I shut it off. I’m typically not someone who sees the world in black and white, but with crime stories, I want good guys and bad guys who are clearly discernable. (Elmore Leonard is the exception! And everyone can cheer for a likable jewel thief.)

Other readers in the book discussion said they didn’t have to like (or relate to) the protagonist to find a story compelling. I guess for me, good characterization means developing characters that readers care about, relate to, like, or respect in some way. But that definition may be narrower than the rest of the reading/writing world sees it. How do you define good characterization? Can it include protagonists who are unlikable or deeply flawed? Have you written a story with an unlikable protag, and what motivated you to do so?

Character Description

How do you feel about writers who don’t describe their protagonists? How much description do you want to see?

I saw this question on a list serv today, and it hit home because I asked myself this same question yesterday. It occurred to me that there is almost no discussion of my protagonist’s physical appearance in my new novel. In the first Detective Wade Jackson mystery, readers get a brief description of Jackson from another main character early in the story. But in this installment, there is no opportunity for that. So anyone reading Secrets to Die For who did not read The Sex Club has no idea what Jackson looks like— except that he’s taller and heavier than a suspect who is coming at him.

I feel compelled to fix this. But there are limited options. He’s not a man who will look in a mirror and assess his appearance. I may be able to sneak in little bits of physical information here and there, but it will not amount to a full description early in the story.

As readers, how do you feel about this? Are you okay with coming up with your own visualization? What happens when you picture a character as blond, blue-eyed, and stocky, only to learn 100 pages into the story that he’s tall and dark? Is it disturbing, or do you just roll with the image?

As writers, how do you handle describing your protagonist if you don’t have another character who can do it for you?

Networking: Quality Versus Quantity

A year and half ago when I first developed a marketing plan for my novel, I made a list of websites to check out. In time, the sites ended up in categories: places to send my novel for review, places to list my novel in their database, places with general information, and social networking sites.

The social networking sites I put off until last because they take time. I started with MySpace but never got into it. Eventually I created a Facebook page, then let it sit for months until I called in my niece to help me get going on it. Now I have 1200 friends and enjoy the time I spend there. In between those events, I created a CrimeSpace page and spent enough time there to develop a presence and to introduce myself to hundreds of authors. I’ve also been active on Twitter, which doesn’t require a lot of time.

But the networking opportunities keep coming. I’ve since joined LinkedIn, BookPlace, and recently Multiply. And I notice other Twitterers talking about Squidoo and other sites. But my memberships in the last three are just sitting there un-nurtured, and Squidoo is not even on my list. I also belong to six list servs, so the e-mails keep coming too.

I’ve decided that I’m maxed out and will not develop my new memberships. I only have so much time each day to spend on promotion/networking. For me, fewer venues with quality time spent on each one is more productive than a minimum amount of time spent on a multitude of sites. But I may be wrong about this. What do you think is more effective marketing? Quality time in fewer networking sites or a minimal presence in as many sites as possible?

Exposure! Grab What You Can

I’m headed for Portland today for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association tradeshow. I’m still surprised they chose me for an author signing (50 authors were turned away). I almost passed on this event because the fee is $125, I have to give away 50 fifty books, and drive two hours in each direction for a 30-minute signing session.

Why am I going? Because it’s an opportunity to meet bookstore owners/managers from all over the Pacific Northwest. It’s an opportunity to hand them my novel and my promotional flyer with all the rave reviews. Even if they don’t order my book, they will hear my name, see my story and series character, and file it away somewhere in their brain. And someday soon, they will order and stock my books.

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In book marketing, it’s exposure, exposure, exposure. You can’t buy better (or cheaper) advertising than this event.