Archive for the mystery/suspense novels Category

Birthday Book Giveaway

thrilled-to-deathToday’s my birthday and what better way to celebrate than to give something away? I have two advanced review copies of THRILLED TO DEATH, my third Detective Jackson novel, to offer. Here’s the back cover copy:

Monday morning, a young mother disappears after a doctor’s appointment. Monday evening, a young socialite leaves a risqué lounge and never makes it home. Read more

Platform Pitfalls

The buzzword in promotion is platform. Agents and editors want their authors to have a brand, a tagline, an expertise that sets them apart from everybody else. For nonfiction writers, this concept is fairly straightforward. If I’m writing a book about training cats to line dance, then I must establish myself as an expert cat trainer—by blogging, giving talks to cat therapy groups, and writing articles for publications focused on all things feline. But how does a fiction author establish a platform/brand?

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Name That Character

I’m at that point in my new story where I need to settle on some character names. I’m writing a series, so the recurring character names are decided (like them or not). For others, I often grab a moniker for the moment and keep going if the writing is flowing, then go back and search/replace when the perfect name comes to me. Sometimes, the first name that comes to me is the right name. I love it when that happens.

I have also changed the name of main characters after writing the entire novel. I hate when I have to do that. After thinking about a character as “Sierra” for six months, it’s hard to let go of that identity. And now it’s hard to remember her new name when I’m discussing the novel, which is embarrassing. But I changed it because I had too many female characters whose names ended with “a” (the schwa sound).

What I need now are bad guy names, and I feel stumped. So I’m having a contest.(My brother asked me to name one of the antagonists after him, so one down, two to go.) One of the bad guys runs a strip club and various other sleazy deals, and the other is the ultimate con man/misogynist, who puts on one face for the public while engaging in the worst sort of behavior behind the scenes. That’s all I can say without giving away the mystery.

I’ll give away two copies of THE SEX CLUB — one to each of the top two submissions. You can post your submissions in the comments section, which could be fun for others and/or e-mail them to me, using the link on the right.

True character-naming story: When I was writing THE SEX CLUB and needed a name for the psycho bomber lady, I picked Ruth because it’s short, strong, and Biblical. I picked Greiner because it’s the name of a street near my house. Three years later, I was horrified to learn there was a woman named Ruth Greiner who is an avid mystery reader, leads a mystery book club, and is on the same popular mystery list serv that I am. She got wind of the name through a review of THE SEX CLUB in Mystery Scene magazine and e-mailed me to express her displeasure. (So don’t submit one of your relative’s names, unless he/she never reads anything but Mad magazine.)

Even if you don’t enter the contest, share your “I wish I could take it back” character-naming story!

2 Hours/12 Minutes Without a Computer

When my miniMac produced the message “Restart Your Computer” in about five languages, I called Rent a Nerd. Doug said the problem was serious and that he needed to take my computer to his house for a few hours to reinstall my operating system using his computer.

7:07 p.m.: He unplugged my lifeline and walked out the door.

My heart pounded as I watched him drive away. For five minutes, I couldn’t focus. I paced the house, trying to reassure myself that it would all turn okay. I had used my flash drive earlier to back up everything I ever wrote—seven novels, five scripts, hundreds of magazine articles, hundreds of query letters, dozens of essays, a handful of blogs, and a zillion other little things. It took 23 minutes to preserve a lifetime of work.

I couldn’t stay still. So I started to clean. I swept and mopped the floors, then looked at the clock: 7:36: What now? It was way too early to sit down and relax with a book. That doesn’t happen until 10 p.m. and not always then.

I started writing this blog in my head as I dusted the living room. My fingers itched to get the words down as they came to me. But I had no computer. I went back to my husband’s office to see if he wanted to take a walk. He wasn’t around. But there sat his computer, monitor on and keyboard still warm. It’s a PC! I thought. But I needed to write. I needed to be productive. I can do this, I thought. I wrote my first novel on a Commodore 64, my second novel on a Brother word processor, and my third novel on a primitive PC. I looked around his menu for some kind of Word software and couldn’t find any! His Gmail was open, so I clicked “Compose” and started to write. It was awkward using a standard keyboard and Big Bear chair, but I had a story to tell. So I wrote most of this blog in an e-mail and sent it to myself.

8:15 and no call. I found my husband and we went for a walk, cell phone clutched tightly in hand.

9:02 and the phone finally rings. Doug did not have good news. I needed a new machine. But he brought my wounded Mac back to me and fired it up.

9:19 and I’m back in Word, online, and in my familiar world.

Yes, I am addict. And there is no cure.

10 Ways to Keep Your Writing Organized

I’m currently working through the second draft of Secrets to Die For, and I’m continuously reminded of, and grateful for, all the things I do during the first draft that help me create a story without any major glitches: In case it might help you, here’s my process:

1. Once I have a basic story idea, I create an outline. Some people (Stephen King) will tell you not to. (But he’s Stephen King). I fill in as much detail as I can, especially for the first ten chapters and/or plot developments (As info: I use Word, that’s it. No fancy creative writing software.)

2. Next I create a list of POV characters and generate a brief personality sketch and physical description for all. (My rule is never more than 5 or 6 POV characters telling the story, and some of those only have small speaking roles.) Eventually, for POV characters that reoccur in other stories, I add all this information to my long-term character database.

3. Begin writing. I don’t worry about perfect opening lines at this point. It’s important to get the story moving.

4. Fill in the rest of outline as I write first 50 pages or so. Once I’m writing, ideas for the second half keep coming to me, so I add to the outline.

5. Keep an idea journal. As I write, I constantly get ideas (Ryan needs to see Lexa earlier in the story, where?), so I enter them immediately into a Word file. Some of these never get used, but some prove to be crucial.

6. Create a timeline. A lot happens in my stories, which usually take place in about a week or 10 days, and some events happen around the same. I keep the timeline filled in as I write each scene. This way I can always look at my timeline and know exactly when the interrogation took place (Monday, 8 a.m: Jackson interrogates Gorman in the jail). It’s much faster and easier than scrolling through a 350-page word document. And the timeline keeps one POV character from referring to events that haven’t happened yet to another character.

7. Create comprehensive name/detail list. As I write, I keep a list for every named person in the story and include any details they have (physical description, phone number, address, etc.) That way, if I’m trying to remember what I named the morgue assistant, it’s right there in my Word file (morgue assistant: Zeke Plamers).

8. Stop after 50 pages. Then I go back and polish the first chunk of the story in case anyone wants to see the first 50 pages or 3 chapters.

9. Use the highlight feature to tag things I want to come back to, such as a street names for a scene in a particular neighborhood. I don’t let these details interfere with the flow of writing.

10. Keep a list of things to fix. As problems or questions come up (How does Jackson know about Conner’s vehicle?), I enter them into my Fix file, which I keep open at all times when writing. I also glance through it before I begin writing each day.

My first draft is usually lean, mostly dialog and action, but of course it includes some character development and all physical descriptions. In the second draft I fill details for scenery, add some scenes, and slow the story down in places. Never too much description, of course. I’m a big fan of Elmore Leonard, who says he leaves out all the stuff that people skip over and don’t read.

My process is in no way perfect, so feel free to share your writing process tips.

Packing for Bouchercon

I’m getting excited about Bouchercon, coming up in October—my first mystery reader/writer conference. I’m waiting to hear if I’ll be picked for a panel. It’s not likely, but I’m always optimistic. When I booked my flight, I had planned on traveling to Bouchercon with my good friend and fellow mystery novelist, Elaine Flinn. But her back condition will keep her home (boo!), so now I’m on my own. But I want to get this right so I’ve already made a list of promotional things to bring and giveaway:

50 books (The Sex Club, paperback, easy to travel with)
250 business cards
250 bookmarks
100 promotional flyers for my novel
50 promotional flyers for my editing services

I’m also considering making up bookmarks and flyers for my next novel, but is this appropriate? Especially since I don’t have a publisher or date yet? In promotion, repetition is key so the more times people see the name of this novel, the more likely they are to buy it once it comes out. What do you think?

And what am I forgetting? Those of you who have been to this conference, I am open to any advice you’d like to give: what to bring, what to expect, how to best spend my time, etc.

New Promotional Goals (daily, weekly, monthly)

I made a list of promotional efforts that I want to be more consistent about and decided to share my new goals.

Give out more bookmarks! I read about people who say they do this everywhere and with everyone, and I must get into the habit. Goal: Give out 3 bookmarks a day. And I intend to start ordering them in large quantities from online printers. (Nothing like having 2000 bookmarks sitting around to motivate you to give them away.)

Send out one e-mail a day to writer/mystery/review blogs offering to guest blog or participate in a Q&A.

Send out two e-mails a week to writers I know online offering a free copy of my novel. If they like it, they’ll probably say so. Free promotion from other writers is as good as it gets.

Spend 10 minutes a day on Goodreads in discussion forums and adding books to my list. This is a direct connection to readers.

Spend 10 minutes a day on CrimeSpace. I used to do this everyday, then got out of the habit when I started spending more time on Facebook and Twitter (and blogging everyday). As a result, I’ve noticed a drop off in the number of books I sell on Amazon.

Comment on two other blogs everyday. This one is easy, and I’d like to do more of it, but I have to leave some time for writing novels.

Write one article a month and offer it online magazines—even for no pay—just for exposure. (This will be the hardest one to keep up. I hate writing for free…except for blogging!)

Get all of this into an Excel spreadsheet so I can track it and not get sloppy.

Get up earlier to get it all done!

Outrageous Agent Contest

In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

Mystery/Suspense Review Sites

Another very busy day ahead (editing corporate profiles), so today I offer another version of the “lazy woman’s blog.” (Actually, it took a while, but I didn’t have to think much!) Crime writers might find it useful. Following is a list of places to send your mystery and/or suspense novel for review:

Ellery Queen

Crime Spree
Mystery News (Black Raven Press)
Mystery Scene
Deadly Pleasures
The Strand
Crime Time
Spinetingler
Mystery Readers Journal (if it fits a theme)
Crime and Suspense Ezine
Over My Dead Body
January Magazine
The Mystery Reader
Reviewing the Evidence
Gumshoe
Tangled Web
January Magazine
Dead End Books
Mysterious Reviews
Bloodstained Book Reviews

If you know other good mystery review sites, please share.

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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