Friday, July 29, 2011


Here's a cool new thing for Kindle readers - Kindlegraph. It's a way to get an author's autograph in the digital age. You find a book you want "signed" and click the Request Kindlegraph button. When the author checks their requests, they'll write a personalized message and sign a page with the cover art using DocuSign. Then it's delivered to your Kindle as a PDF. My first Kindlegraph is from Sondrae Bennett, author of Arctic Winds. It looks really cool!

It's fairly easy for an author to add their book. Just log in with your Twitter account and enter the ASIN number of your book from it's Amazon buy link. There are nice clear instructions to walk you through everything, both for authors and readers.

This is a pretty cool service but it is very new and still seems to be working out some bugs. As of now you can only sign in with a Twitter account, both authors and autograph seekers. A lot of books are being added daily. The best way to find books right now is the Authors page. The site is going to need some organizational work done to make it more user-friendly. I'm hoping they'll do that soon, as well as add Facebook logins or some other way to log in and request an autograph. Not everyone is on Twitter. Right now it only works if you have an actual Kindle device, so if you're using Kindle for PC or on your cell phone you can't request an autograph. These are bugs, yes, but I do like seeing a service like this get its feet off the ground. Digital books are here to stay. Its great to see ways for readers and authors of electronic books to connect and I'm sure we'll be seeing more of this type of innovation.

If you have a Kindle and would like my Kindlegraph for Mojo Queen, you can find my page here. I would encourage all authors with digital publishers to add their books. I, for one, intend to start a collection of Kindlegraphs!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Harrogate Crime Festival Roundup

I, too, was at a writing conference this past weekend, so I am following Pamela's lead and blogging about it this week.

This year was the first time I attended the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Conference at Harrogate (so called because it's named after the beer brewed by the sponsoring brewery), and a last-minute decision to attend meant I got a day pass for the Saturday, even though the conference ran from Thursday to Sunday.

The conference is probably the biggest crime festival in the UK, and is held at the Old Swan Hotel - famous for being the hotel where Agatha Christie holed up when she disappeared for 10 days in 1926. Its connections to the Grande Dame of crime writing, therefore make it a highly appropriate venue for the festival.

I probably did not go to quite as many of the panels as I should have done. It was a fine sunny day, and hanging out in the front terrace seemed to be the place to be to meet interesting people. I chatted with Mark Billingham about e-books. He came to speak to the writing group a few years ago and I've met him on a couple of other occasions - I was pleased he remembered me. He's chairing next year's festival and said he wants to have more of an emphasis on e-books. I shamelessly took the opportunity to tell him about mine.

I talked to a lady who was about to buy a Kindle, and wanted to know about some titles she could put on it. Hopefully she'll now go out and buy DEATH SCENE!

But I could not sit in the sun indefinitely, and I did go to some panels. The one I enjoyed the most was called The Outer Limits, and dealt with the rising popularity of paranormal elements in crime - a subject close to my heart.

I'd also bought a ticket for the Criminal Consequences dinner, so I got to go to that too. For the uninitiated (and this might be a uniquely British thing), 'consequences' is a game you generally play at parties when you're about 16. You write a boy's name, then a girl's name, where they met, what he said, what she said, and what happened at the end. After each 'turn' you fold the paper over and pass it on to the next person so they don't know what you wrote when they write their answer. At the end you read out what you've got. The 'criminal consequences' game followed the same lines, except we were writing a crime story. We worked on our 'story' over dinner, and were told the best entry would win a prize.

The dinner was laid out so that each table was hosted by a 'guest author'. Ours was Elena Forbes. I reviewed her book EVIL IN RETURN for Shotsmag not long ago. I did actually really enjoy the book (you can see my review here). Lo and behold copies of said book were piled up on our table, a free gift to everyone sitting at Elena's table. It was the paperback version. I was thrilled to see that my review was included. I asked Elena to sign my copy - she wrote "thanks for the great review". That alone would have made my evening, but as it happened our table won the 'criminal consequences' game, and each person on the table got a bag full of booty. Along with the goody bag that I was given on registration, I came away from the festival with quite an impressive haul of free stuff - bookmarks, a Theakston's festival t-shirt, a mug, a beer coaster, a bottle of Theakston's Old Peculier, and a huge stack of books. One of the best things about attending Cons is the Free Stuff.

Hubby had accompanied me to Yorkshire for the weekend, but was entertaining himself while I was at the festival (he's not a big crime fan). He met me in the bar after dinner, and we sat outside on the terrace for rather a long time afterwards, talking to lots of interesting people. Rather longer than we were intending to, actually. Every time we were about to leave, we got talking to someone else.

I had a fab time, and my only regret is I didn't go for longer. I intend to correct that next year. I have already marked the dates of next year's conference in the diary.

I've already got a rather long list of conferences to attend in 2012. The hard part is going to be deciding which ones to attend, as finances don't stretch to attending them all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Putting the "Fan" in Fandom Fest

The Plot Bunny Cometh

This past weekend, two types of fans descended on the sci-fi/fantasy/horror con known as Fandom Fest. The first consisted of authors, readers, editors and publishers devoted to speculative fiction. The other kind blew air on perspiring con attendees. Yes, folks, when other bloggers mention the unbearable heat, they speak the truth.

Nevertheless, this con is particularly special because not only did I participate in an Author Reading, I also sat on my first panel: “Urban Fantasy – Can You Define It?” Other authors on the panel included Michael Williams, Denise Verrico, Missa Dixon, and Julie Kagawa. Yes, folks, I sat next to a RITA winner. For those of you who don’t know, Julie Kagawa won the 2011 RITA for best young adult romance with her novel, The Iron King.

The problem with panels, of course, is not being able to attend them all. Fandom Fest offered a diverse selection, ranging from “Academic Credibility for Speculative Fiction” to “Cover Art – A Book is Judged By Its Cover” to “The Paranormal in Fiction.” And no, I can’t tell you my favorite panel. I enjoyed them all.

Also enjoyed hanging out with three other members of Savvy Authors: Amy McCorkle, Marian Allen and Fiona Young-Brown. Except for Amy, I hadn’t met Marian or Fiona in person until then, even though they live in the region.

Of course, cons are for networking. Not only did I collect a number of business cards and bookmarks, I also chatted with authors and publishers, some who I’ve met before at previous cons. Gwen Mayo, a Kentucky mystery writer, gave me some good advice about noting information on the back of someone’s business card for future reference. And Missa Dixon gave me tips on how to prepare for a panel. I’m happy to say my first time went pretty well. Not perfect but better than I expected.    

Credit also goes to Gwen and Sarah Glenn of the local chapter of Sisters in Crime for telling me about Fandom Fest and encouraging me to contact Stephen Zimmer, the literary track director. And thanks to Stephen for letting me play in his sandbox.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

British Vs American

DEATH SCENE has been out only a couple of weeks, and I will have no idea, until July's royalty statement arrives, how many copies it sold in its first month of release. I know I've had a few sales, because the colleagues and family members who have bought it have started to report back.

One of the most consistent comments I've had so far from my British readers is that all the American spellings are annoying. It is true that Brits get annoyed by 'Americanisms' (as this article on the BBC site today demonstrates!). But my publishers are American, so house style dictates American spellings. It does, however, demonstrate that although the UK and the US both officially speak English, anyone who's experienced both knows that American English and British English are, in fact, two entirely separate languages.

DEATH SCENE racked up 31 rejections before being accepted by Lyrical Press. I sent it to agents in America and the UK, and to small press publishers that accepted unsolicted manuscripts on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the rejections were generic, but some of them had personalised notes. The most common reason from UK agents for turning it down was that contemporary amateur sleuths do not sell in the UK.

Many UK publishers seem to feel that the British reading public want gritty crime thrillers or historical 'whodunnits' featuring amateur sleuths. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant - publishers will buy what they think will sell.

It has dawned on me, however, that Shara might fare better in America than in Britain. Amateur sleuths remain fairly popular there. Whereas the only amateur sleuths in books written by British writers I can think of are all set somewhere in the past.

And there is the added bonus that Shara, as a Canadian living in Britain, offers her perspective on the differences between North America and the UK. Hopefully people who don't live in Britain will connect with that.

At this early stage, I still have no idea how DEATH SCENE will do. But if Shara does prove to be more popular with Americans than Brits, I will see that as a blessing in disguise. It might give hubby and I an excuse to plan that road trip across the States we've always talked about doing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memphis Mayhem

One of the first things people will tell you is that its important to network in the publishing industry. Networking helps build a circle of people with similar experiences that you can turn to and get advice when you need it. What I found happening is I corresponded with another author, in this case, said author is Sonya Clark, that we developed a friendship.

Well this past weekend we met for the first time outside of cyber space, in a little town called Memphis---you may have heard of it :-) Anyway, her and her husband met me for lunch at a nice joint called The Blues City Cafe. We talked over catfish and chicken tenders and found that we are much cooler in real life.

Next we headed over to Schwabs, where we picked up hoodoo supplies before heading over to Lucky Tater's (which has the best sign ever) for more hoodoo supplies.

After Lucky Tater, we walked down to the river front before walking back up to Union Ave. Sonya and her hubby said their goodbyes. It was a wonderful experience, and I hope to have another opportunity to hang out with her.

Here's some photo:
Sonya and I were exhausted. Pardon the sweat from the Memphis Heat.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A five-letter word that should be four letters

I am still getting the hang of handling promotion and I don't always do a great job. It's really hard to figure out what works, and much easier to find out what doesn't work by trial and error. I've done a few guest posts and interviews here and there but nothing very organized. Next month I'll be doing my first real blog tour and I'm nervous about that. I have already learned one valuable lesson I want to share: write a bunch of guest posts ahead of time. Seriously. Like, while you're still in the editing process. No later than the time between finishing edits and the book's release, start writing your promotional guest posts. Even if you have to go back and do some tweaking once you have your guest spots lined up and know the general guidelines of your blog host, it will still be easier than writing a bunch of posts in a hurry. I'll put this into practice on my next go-around. (Is there an emoticon for "OMG I'm an idiot"?)

So as I work to come up with a series of guest posts about Mojo Queen that are so awesome every single person that reads them is compelled to buy my book, it's a good time to remember that while writing may be art, publishing is in fact a job. Sometimes you just have to step up and do what's necessary, even if you don't like it and even if you believe you're not any good at it. That's really my biggest fear - that I am terrible at selling my own books. This is definitely work. And after all work is a four-letter word. Sometimes it feels like promo should be too. ;)

It makes me think of something Susan Sarandon's character said in Bull Durham: Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job.

That's all I've got this week. I need to get back to work on these posts. I leave you with further inspiration in the form of the single best fan video ever made.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dilemma of Extracts

It's Launch Party Day! And since there's one more chance to plug it, I will once more declare that the launch party for DEATH SCENE is happening at 6:30pm tonight, at The George pub, The Strand, London. All welcome.

In order to prepare for the launch party I spent much of last night preparing the extract I will be reading out. In fact, I have two extracts to read this week, because I will also be reading one for the Edin Road Blog Radio show on Thursday.

I find choosing extracts immensely difficult, especially when they are to be read aloud. It can't be too long or you will bore the audience. It can't be too short, or they will wonder why they bothered. You want a part of the novel that's exciting, and will grip people, but you don't want to give too much away.

And then there is the question of how to read it. Even the most exciting extract will sound boring if it's read in a flat monotone. I have a tendency to 'gabble' my words sometimes - I don't want to do that whilst reading the extract, or the audience won't be able to follow it.

Yes, there is a knack to choosing extracts. I hope what I have chosen to read aloud will fit the bill, and will intrigue my audience sufficiently to make them want to go and read the rest of the book!

Actually, my biggest fear about tonight is not actually standing up and reading aloud before an audience. My time doing amateur dramatics helped me ovecome that particular fear. No, my biggest fear is that no one will turn up. I'm not nearly famous enough to have a huge crowd of people lining up for my autograph. I'm still working on building my brand as a writer, and I know notoriety is still a very long way up the ladder.

I talked to the pub manager earlier today to confirm everything was set for tonight. He actually had me down as 'Sue Townsend' and was expecting the author of the Adrian Mole books to turn up. Perhaps I should have adopted that mistake to plug my launch - I'd at least be guaranteed a large crowd....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of the Earth, Venus, and Pentacles

It's still Tuesday, right? (Checks clock.) Yep. A couple hours at least. :-)

So I got feedback on the Zaphkiel Project, my first novel and, in a sense, an experimental project. The result? Good and bad news. Good? My editor liked the premise. The bad? Not quite ready for prime time. But even that's good. I recently came across some astronomical information that could really lend some weight to the story.

The transition of Venus, which occurs every 243 years, recently took place in 2004 and will again in 2012 (eight year intervals). Hello, time lock! But even more interesting, I found this from The Pentagonal Cycle of Venus

"Because the Earth moves 584 Earth days...before the two planets align, each alignment occurs about 215.6 (degrees) further than the previous one...As this process continues, five unique Venus-Earth locations are created in the ecliptic. The result is a pentagonal synodic series that takes about eight years and which consists of five synodic cycles..."

Pentacles play an important role in this story but it was only until today I realized I could tie them in with this Earth-Venus synodic cycle.

Not only that but Lucifer, a character in the Zaphkiel Project, is also the Latin name for the morning appearance of the planet Venus. I knew this from previous research but not about the pentagonal synodic cycles. Talk about a serendipitous situation. So excited to see if I can implement this.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Magical MacGuffins

I love a fun story with a great MacGuffin. What is a MacGuffin, you ask? Let me tell you.

The term is believed to have been popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. It refers to anything, be it a person, goal, idea, or thing, that drives the plot. But it's just a tool so it doesn't really matter what it is, and in fact can be interchangeable. For instance one of the easiest examples are the Indiana Jones movies. The lost ark of the covenant in Raiders, those glowy stone things in Temple of Doom, and the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade are all MacGuffins. (There was no crystal skull movie. That is not the Indiana Jones sequel you're looking for.)

Some other examples are the Maltese Falcon, the travel papers in Casablanca, the target in any and every heist movie, and one of my favorites - the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino has said he didn't know or care what was in that briefcase because it didn't matter. I like to think it contained the soul of Marcellus Wallace.

There are two big examples in the Harry Potter stories: the horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows. Although in a lot of cases a MacGuffin can be interchangeable with another, I think it's safe to say there was one horcrux and one Deathly Hallow that were vitally important to the story and how the ending played out.

MacGuffins can make for an easy plot device but that doesn't mean you can be a lazy storyteller. The Indiana Jones movies were fun action-adventure stories but what really kept audiences coming back was Indy himself. He was a great character, one that audiences enjoyed spending time with. Same thing with Sam Spade and Rick from Casablanca. There has to be more to the story than just some neat antique statue or mysterious briefcase. A MacGuffin can be a lot of fun but your readers have to care about the characters and want to follow them on whatever journey that MacGuffin takes them on.

I've always wanted to write something fun with a really cool magical MacGuffin. When I started writing my web serial The Bradbury Institute, I knew there would be a MacGuffin, maybe more than one. I'm starting with a grimoire because I love the idea of a dangerous book. The first story is even named after the first MacGuffin, a grimoire called The Key of Darkness. I did some research about some ancient grimoires and came up with a few ideas for a fictional one of my own. That's not the only MacGuffin in the story. There's another one that definitely qualifies as "warm and fuzzy" but I'm not going to tell you more than that.

My two favorites are the briefcase from Pulp Fiction, and the final horcrux from the Harry Potter stories. Do you have a favorite MacGuffin?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


My second novel DEATH SCENE was released on Monday, and so for today's post I am giving it a shameless plug.

DEATH SCENE is the first of a series of novels featuring my amateur sleuth, Canadian actress Shara Summers. Summoned back to England to be with her family during a time of crisis, Shara discovers doctors are at a loss as to what is causing her sister Astrid’s debilitating sickness. After her aunt is found dead at the bottom of the stairs the death is deemed an accident. Shara suspects otherwise. Her investigation unearths shocking family secrets and a chilling realization that could have far-reaching and tragic consequences that affect not only her own future, but Astrid’s as well.

Here is a taster from DEATH SCENE:

The smell of decay hit me right away, and I knew something was wrong. “Hello?” I called again. I stepped forward, down the dingy corridor, assuming Ruth was, as always, in her backroom. My foot brushed against something on the floor. I looked down. Ruth lay crumpled at the foot of the stairs.

For a moment, I just stared at her, unable to move. Ruth was on her side, her body bent almost in half, her glasses askew, her mouth hanging open. One arm was thrown out from underneath her body, the other curled up by her abdomen. Her hands were like claws, the knuckles enlarged and misshapen.

“Auntie Ruth!” I bent down and touched her face, and recoiled quickly. Her skin was cold. Her eyes were open, staring sightless, and there was no movement in her chest. Her body looked twisted and distorted. It was quite clear she was dead.

DEATH SCENE is now available from Lyrical Press, Inc. If you've got a Kindle and would prefer the one-click option for purchase, you can buy direct from Amazon (this link if you're in the US, and this link if you're in the UK).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't Forget to Turn Out the Lights and Lock the Door Behind You

The Bookstore officially closed its doors this past weekend, ending a nearly four-decade existence. While one could blame the plethora of e-readers and the economy, apparently another contributing factor was the transition of the Armor Library from Fort Knox to Fort Benning.

Those who know me will tell you I'm not a sentimental person (cats excluded). But as I walked those aisles for the last time, perusing the shelves and noting titles for future reference, a pall hung over the store. I had to smile when I saw a display of Yasmine Galenorn's books which were gone a few minutes later. "Happy reading," Only two days earlier my husband had bought me Teeth (ed. Ellen Datlow), Camera Obscura (Lavie Tidhar), A Madness of Angels and the Midnight Mayor (Kate Griffin), and an angel statue. Now I had returned to pick up a copy of one of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series. I'd hoped to buy The Iron King but Jerry told me that was sold out, so I bought The Iron Daughter. (On a side note, I will kick myself for missing Julie's signing there back in April.) Along with Julie's YA fantasy, I bought Where Angels Fear to Tread by (Thomas Sniegoski) and Demons are a Girl's Best Friend (Linda Wisdom).

Do I wish I could have afforded more books? Hell, yeah. Although I'm pretty sure my husband would have something to say about all the books piled against the walls. He claims I have too many books and I rejoin that I'm a writer and one can never have too many books. (Disclaimer: The DH isn't a bibliophobe. He likes to read non-fiction. And no, I don't know if "bibliophobe" is a word or not, but if it isn't, it is now.) :-)

But there it is. Farewell, Jerry, and thanks for all those years of supporting local writers. I don't know whether or not Jerry will open a used bookstore, but my fingers are crossed. While I regret I only knew about The Bookstore a year or so, I'm glad I got the chance to not only buy books from an independent bookseller but to attend two signings by JR Ward.

I'm taking some great memories with me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Bradbury Institute

I have a project that I work on for fun, usually on weekends and sometimes when the main work in progress isn't, um, working. It's something I have no intention of submitting anywhere so I've decided to post it as a free weekly serial.

A bit of background from the Stories page:

The Bradbury Institute is a small private organization dedicated to the study of magic and the occult. Its members are scholars, magicians, psychics, plus a few individuals of … unique origin. In addition to academic research members are often involved in the search for rare magical artifacts, as well as a larger secret mission.

Stories will include dangerous grimoires, fantastical creatures, heroes and villains, and whatever else the author can come up with. Also adult language, occasional violence, and quite probably sex - so consider yourself warned.

And here's a brief blurb about the first story, The Key of Darkness:

The Key of Darkness is an ancient grimoire designed for summoning and subjugating a powerful entity from deep within the lowest levels of Hell. The sorcerer who utilizes the Key will have unimaginable evil at their fingertips, to do with as their darkest desires dictate.

The Key was meant to be entrusted for safe-keeping at the Bradbury Institute but it has been stolen by an impulsive young thief. Now the race is on to retrieve the grimoire before he sells it to the highest bidder.

A new chapter will be posted every Wednesday. The Key of Darkness began this week so go on over to The Bradbury Institute and check it out. I'm having a lot of fun writing this and I hope readers enjoy it too!