New Releases List

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Survived the Hurricane

I own an inn on the south side of the valley and couldn't get through to my innkeeper, so I ventured out yesterday. It's usually a fifteen minute drive but it took more than two hours to get there, finding road after road washed out, plus a couple of detours to take pictures of damage and rescue a snapping turtle I found high and dry (who thanked me by stinking up my hands). The good news is that the inn is fine, and the two main bridges, plus the foot bridge all survived. One minor leak that developed in the ceiling.

It took me over an hour to get back, but I think they'll be able to get the main route open again in a couple of days. There's one main bridge that is blocked off as unsafe that gets us out of the valley going north, but once they repair the road heading up over the hill to our northwest, there will be an alternate. I saw a lot of damage, though, including some really old houses getting basements pumped and a few knocked right off their foundations. Really sad.

Another positive is the amount of community spirit in the north country. People have joined together to pass along information and have joined together to participate in the cleanup, as well as setting up community funds to help those who have suffered losses in the storm.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Work on the Righteous Revisions

I had a nice conversation with my new editor from Thomas & Mercer on Friday. I've known there were a few things I wanted to do with the second book, Mighty and Strong, to hook it in better with the other two books and the overall arc of the series, but he had a few other suggestions. They were spot on, but it is kind of strange to turn my attention back to a book that I haven't worked on for a couple of years.

The schedule is aggressive. I only have a couple of months to finish the revisions for the three existing books and then I have to turn in the other two books by March 15 and June 15 respectively. Yikes.

The last few weeks have passed at a leisurely pace. Since I released The Devil's Peak on August 1, I've kicked around with agency stuff, some desultory brainstorming on book #4 of The Righteous series, and then recording and editing the audio for The Devil's Deep. I've uploaded the last two episodes of the podiocasts, just waiting for final release, so there are no more excuses on that score.

Interestingly, both my agent and my editor like The Wicked the best of the three. There is no question that by the time I'd written that third book, I had greater command of the craft than when I began. The Righteous was the sixth book I'd written, and I'd also written over 100 short stories, so I wasn't exactly a beginner, but it was the first time that I felt a sense of mastery over some elements. By the time I wrote The Wicked, I'd also written Devil's Deep, State of Siege, Mighty & Strong, Implant, and The Red Rooster. Having said that, the first two books had a discovery of character that the third book doesn't enjoy. I would think that it would be less satisfying for that reason, if nothing else.

Also, I wrote the book at lightening speed, working harder than I'd ever worked, and progressed from first words to final draft in three months. This gives credence to my believe that fast does not necessarily equal bad.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Writer's Brain: Sibel Hodge

Sibel Hodge is an indie writer to watch. She has fun covers and titles and is writing playful chick lit and romantic comedies that appeal to a lot of readers. Her books rack up tons of raving reviews and she seems to be collecting a larger and larger collection of loyal fans who will buy anything she writes. In spite of her success, she's not afraid to try something new, as with her latest book, a psychological thriller.

From her bio: Sibel Hodge has dual British/Turkish Cypriot nationality, dividing her time between Hertfordshire and North Cyprus. She is a qualified personal trainer, sports and massage therapist, and writes freelance feature articles on health, fitness, and various lifetyle subjects. Prior to this, she also worked for Hertfordshire Constabulary for ten years.
Michael: How long have you been writing? Do you talk about your writing with family and friends?

Sibel: I was always scribbling stories when I was a kid but I’d hate to see any of those published! I started writing a novel when I was about 18 and never got further than the first 3 chapters so I binned it. I started another one when I was 27 and ditto (hmmm…pattern there!). Then I had an idea for my debut novel, a romantic comedy called Fourteen Days Later, and it literally flew off the page. I haven’t looked back since, and have written 4 novels, a novella, and a short story collection in the last 4 years. I talk about my writing with my hubby. If I’m stuck for material we’ll crack open a bottle of wine and throw ideas around. Well, that’s my excuse for getting the wine out!

Michael: What sort of pre-writing or research do you do before you start your first draft?

Sibel: If I need to do research, I do it as I’m writing a particular scene, not before I start my first draft. I used to work for the police for ten years, so for my Amber Fox mystery series I don’t usually have to do much research on police procedures etc, which is handy.

Michael: Why did you start writing in your particular genre or category? Is there anything else you'd like to try?

Sibel: I write mostly chick lit, and I think the genre was dictated by my personality because I’m fun, quirky, and slightly nuts sometimes. I have just released something VERY different for me - it’s a psychological type thriller about the victim of human trafficking. It’s exciting and scary to do something completely outside your normal genre, but the reviews have been great. Instead of working on something that made me crack up laughing when I was doing it, this brought tears to my eyes and shivers down my spine. If I can also portray those feelings to readers, then I’ve done my job right.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

Sibel: I’d love a movie deal! I think Fourteen Days Later would make a fab romcom movie. It’s Bridget Jones meets My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

Sibel: I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my Wonder Woman knickers kind of gal! I go all stressy-head if I have to think too much about plotting in advance. I think it stops my creativity. Most of the time I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write until it tumbles onto the page. Creative or crazy? I’m not sure which!

Michael: What is your favorite part of writing?

Sibel: That teeny weeny idea that starts off as a spark and then grows into something big. The possibilities are endless!

List of your books:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The World is Always Changing

I have been reading the history of the small Mormon town where I grew up in Utah. This was written in 1909, when the last of the original settlers were dying out and someone thought to record something about the pioneers and their struggles with the Native American tribes living in the area when they arrived. Suffice it to say that the world has changed as much since this was written in 1909 as it had from the time when the settlers first arrived in 1850. I don't know what is more stunning, the casual racism or the fact that the supreme, boastful confidence of white settlers has turned almost 180 degrees in two generations.

As for the pioneers, their days are numbered, their life's work is done and that it has been well done none will care to dispute. The rude forces of Nature were made subservient to their will and to minister to our comfort and pleasure. The wild Indian who once owned these fair acres and who roamed at pleasure, hunting and fishing upon the grassy expanses and beside the streams and lake in our beautiful valley, stands now a melancholy specter upon the horizon, as he is about to disappear forever from the haunts of men. But few of the Red-men remain to tell of the rude race that has been supplanted by the restless and progressive Pale-face. The conquest was inevitable. The two races could not live in the same valley, and as Fate has ordained, the weak gave way to the strong. It has been so from the morning of time. The room of the inferior races has been more desirable than their company, and acting upon this theory the superior races have, with almost ruthless hand, swept everything undesirable to themselves, or that retarded their progress, to the wall.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Going to Bouchercon

I'm going to be at Bouchercon in September, if anyone else is going and wants to say hi. I've never been before, and haven't been to any sort of convention for years. I did go to a Backspace "meet the agent" event in NYC several years back and in the 90s I went to numerous sf/f conventions, most of them out west. I always had a great time, but it was more of a substitute for vacation than any sort of professional development. I decided I had a lot of other places I wanted to see in the world besides the inside of hotels. This is when I started some of my solo travel through Latin America, North Africa, and Asia.

But I'm excited to be back among fellow writers, talking about the craft. A number of other Thomas & Mercer authors will be there, such as Joe Konrath and Blake Eisler, as well as my new Amazon team of editors. Also, I'll have the chance to see St. Louis for the first time and see some good friends living in the area who I haven't seen for years.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Writer's Brain: Gordon Ryan

Gordon Ryan comes to the indie biz from traditional publishing, having enjoyed considerable success over the years. He has taken advantage of the ebook revolution to re-release many of his successful books, such as the Pug Connor thrillers and the Callahan family sagas as ebooks. What's more, he has shown an ability to improvise, to try different strategies, and has recently achieved growing success with his work. What's more, Gordon is a gracious writer and I count him as one of my first and best friends among the indie writer crowd.

Gordon: Michael, thank you for inviting me to participate in your Indie Author interview process. I have met some wonderful writers since becoming associated with Indie authors.

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

Gordon: I cannot claim that I was “called” to write. The desire came quite late in life with my first novel, Dangerous Legacy, being written in 1993 and published in hardback in 1994. I was nearly fifty when I determined to write for publication. This came during a career of city management where the most tedious document produced was usually the annual budget and capital improvement plan. Perhaps this is where the desire to create fiction originated. However, once I started, creating stories and characters has become the focal point of my professional life. Now that I am retired from city management, I devote full time to the process and find that it fills both my mind and my days with enjoyment.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written? Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

Gordon: I have published a dozen novels. Like most parents who feel that each child is unique, I can’t say that one book has taken my fancy more than others. Some characters have ingrained themselves into my psyche (or mine into theirs) and I continue to use them, or similar characters, in various other stories. The one story that continues to re-circulate has been the historical fiction series, The Callahans. Originally titled Spirit of Union in three hardback volumes, I have reproduced this series, adding two volumes. It currently has obtained public acclaim in the Indie market with volume one, The Callahans: Destiny, being offered for free on Kindle.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

Gordon: In my opinion, fiction is primarily for entertainment. Therefore I desire that the reader complete my book having escaped from the reality of their world and entered my fictional environment for a brief moment. All writers put some of their own philosophy into their stories, intentionally or otherwise. I admit that my characters possess some of my personal value system, seek gratification in areas that I find important, and they try to instill some of these principles into the readers’ thinking process.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

Gordon: I have not sought accolade nor attribution from industry award with my writing. I derive my most enjoyable satisfaction from a reader review where they tell me that they laughed, cried, got angry, or were moved by actions, or inactions, of the characters. The specific goal of my writing is to release the stories and characters that will fulfill a readers’ desire to be entertained.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

Gordon: I wrote my first novel with a full chapter by chapter outline. I have never done so since with over a dozen additional novels published and available in eBook format. I have a good idea of where the story is going, what main points need to be addressed, but from that point I allow the characters to tell me what they want to do. Yep, strange as it sounds, these fictional characters seem to have a mind of their own. I alternately love and hate them for their obstinate determination to redirect my fingers on the keyboard.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

Gordon: I have several family members who are avid readers and I will often share portions of the story with them. I respect their opinion and value their input. My daughter, Kate Armitage, has been a stalwart confident from the very beginning of my writing career and in fact was the one who suggested I give it a try. I am indebted to her and several other family members who continue to improve my storytelling.

Gordon Ryan's Books:

The Brainstorming Phase

In my earlier days as a writer, I used to just sit down and start writing once I had an opening, a bit of an idea, or felt it was time start writing a new story. This led to a lot of crappy fiction with a snippet or two of something usable thrown into the mix. Over time I've come up with a method that leads to much stronger stories while still preserving the fun part of writing, which is the discovery process.

I'll start with an idea, which may be nothing more than "time to write a new book" or it might be well developed, such an idea with established characters and the ideas of a plot that is the next book in a series. I'll open up a new document and start brainstorming. All sorts of stuff will go into this file: fragments of dialog, my goals for the book, character sketches, questions that are unresolved. Over the course of a few weeks, this document will grow into 30-40 pages. Ninety percent of this will be dead ends or otherwise unusable, but over time, an actual plot will start to come through. I'll have major turning points, mysteries, revelations, set pieces to work toward, some scenes. Before I'm ready, I like to have an understanding of the major characters, the opening few chapters plotted out, at least one major set piece where things will blow up in the middle, and a rough idea of the ending.

At that point, it's a question of setting a date to begin the actual writing. I'll go back to the brainstorming document as I work and I detect major plot holes. And I don't feel obliged to stick to the quasi-outline, but use it more as a rough guide. Sometimes (usually?), the plot takes major detours. I do find, however, that having this document to refer to keeps me from wandering down blind alleys that can waste weeks of time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Writer's Brain: K.C. May

K.C. May is an inspiring story for any indie writer. After working hard at her craft, and experimenting with ways to get her books noticed by readers, she has gone from modest success to top-tier status in a short period of time. The covers for her Kinshield Saga are possibly the best indie fantasy covers I've ever seen and look better than most mainstream fantasy covers, which is a genre that produces a lot of gorgeous art work. The Kinshield Legacy and The Wayfarer King are both at or near the top 10 for all epic fantasy novels. Take away George RR Martin and those books are the #3 and #4 epic fantasy novels in the Kindle store.

Think about what that means. At the time of this post she is currently selling more ebooks on Amazon than Robert Jordan or J.R.R. Tolkein!

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

K.C. May: I started writing for fun in high school, but I knew when I was 11 or 12 that I wanted to write a book some day. I didn’t start writing seriously until about 20 years ago. It’s definitely a calling. When a story forms in my head, I must write it down or it won’t leave me alone.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written? Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

K.C. May: I think I’m most proud of The Venom of Vipers because of all the science I had to learn and get right to make the story work. The climax scene was probably the most difficult because there were a lot of things going on in a confined space (plus getting everything to line up right to put everyone in the room at the same time.)

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?
K.C. May: A fun escape. That’s what I love most about reading fiction, and if I can give that to others, I’ll be happy!

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

K.C. May: I’m happy knowing that readers enjoy what I write, but the next Big Dream is to see one of my stories made into a movie! If I could earn a living writing fiction, I’d be thrilled.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

K.C. May: Mostly I have an outline, but it’s not terribly detailed. It consists of plot points. How I get from plot point A to B is more seat-of-my-pants writing.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

K.C. May: I keep it to myself. In the early stages, it doesn’t usually make a lot of sense, and there are too many details to work out before I can comfortably talk about it. Once I have a full draft, I’ll start to share it with trusted friends for feedback.

Twitter: @GASciFiAuthor

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Writer's Brain: J. Carson Black

 J. Carson Black is one of the top indie writers in the world, up there with Amanda Hocking and John Locke in terms of sheer success. She has had numerous top 100 books on the overall Amazon Kindle bestseller lists, and her books have sold tens of thousands of books in each of the last several months. She comes from a traditional publishing background and is a fellow Thomas & Mercer author with the new Amazon thriller imprint.

In spite of her galloping success, I have found her one of the most down to earth writers, always gracious and friendly. Interacting with her online, you have to discover for yourself just what a great writer she is and the sheer magnitude of her success, because she is not the sort to blow her own horn. Nevertheless, she gives off a polished, professional vibe and even a brief interaction lets you know this is someone to watch.

Note especially what she says about her desire to improve her craft. As good as she is, this is not a writer who mails it in, relying on past success to carry her.

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

J. Carson Black: I always was a writer, from an early age. My parents gave me a manual typewriter all my own when I was nine years old, and I wrote and illustrated a ton of Chapter Ones with titles like HOTSPUR, A STALLION.  I was influenced by horse stories, but the book that made me want to be a professional writer was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, by Ray Bradbury.  I wanted to own a story like that, top to bottom.  Years later, after letting myself be shunted into music (a Bachelors and Masters in Voice), THE SHINING came calling.  I’d spent the summer in Austria pursuing a career in opera (and coming close enough to realize I didn’t want that life), got a sinus infection, and came home. I wanted to live in the desert and write books.  So I wrote my first novel, a ghost story called DARK COUNTRY, which was sold to Kensington under the title DARKSCOPE.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written?Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

J. Carson Black:  I think I’m proudest of DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.  I’d been dropped by a publisher and was down in the dumps and realized I needed to raise my game.  So I went at it with a will, and I did raise my game.  I love that book.  I could explore my old haunts in Tucson, and the character, an Arizona Department of Public Safety detective who troubleshoots homicide investigations in small towns, intrigued me.  A couple of years later I was out on my you-know-what again, and I decided I needed to raise my game some more. I wrote THE SHOP.  I loved writing from the point of view of a hired killer.  Cyril Landry, a former Navy SEAL, works black ops for a company that does the dirty work for the U.S. government---talk about outsourcing! At the beginning of THE SHOP he’s part of a team sent to kill a celebrity, Brienne Cross, and her housemates. She is asleep when he reaches her.  She wakes, and looks into his eyes.  He kills her, but you could say he is star struck.  After that, his mission is to find out why he was sent to kill her.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

J. Carson Black: I just hope readers will enjoy them.  Entertainment is most important. I read a lot, and I love to be drawn deeply into a story and enjoy it.  If there are larger issues that I can spotlight, great, but the main thing I want to do is entertain.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

J. Carson Black: I want to become a better writer. In the arts, in writing, you often get better for a time and then you backslide---that’s part of the process. Not every book is as good as the other. It’s kind of like the tide. You surge up the shingle, and drop back.  But hopefully it’s high tide and you’re going farther up the shingle, not sliding backwards.  I want to be known for writing good books.  I read the best in my genre, and so I keep striving for a personal best.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlinesor fly by the seat of your pants?

J. Carson Black: I cannot write a whole outline.  I can manage a detailed outline when I’m halfway through, although I’m fudging the ending. I had to do that when I was writing for New American Library.  I try to follow Elizabeth George’s way of doing things: sketch out the next several scenes, but without looking too far into the future.  Just enough to keep from boxing myself in with something that will take the story in the wrong direction.  I can’t say I’m always successful at this.  It’s imperfect at best.  When I sketch my scenes out, I think, “Where is the character right now?  What has just happened?  What is his trajectory?”  I also set the scene in my mind, the character’s goal, the point where things change, the character’s attitude, the place (I love place), and whose point of view.  As I say, I do this sometimes, but sometimes I just write.  And often I’ll start one of these scene descriptions and suddenly I’ll be off and writing the scene itself.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

J. Carson Black: I definitely discuss the idea with my husband. We brainstorm a little.  But when I get into the nitty-gritty of writing, I don’t like to talk about it much.  When I’m asked, “How’s it going?  Do you want to brainstorm a scene?” I get crabby and impatient, so much so I don’t get asked that question anymore!

But I do love to talk about the concept of the book.   For instance, the book I’m working on now, ICON, is about an actor, a box office franchise named Max Conroy, who escapes rehab in the Arizona desert. The self-made guru who owns The Desert Oasis Healing Center in Sedona has screwed with Max’s mind, and Max suffers from hallucinations and worse.  Max hates his life, his faithless wife, and all the pressure of being a star, so he tries to be Everyman, which of course doesn’t work.  And then he realizes that someone is coming to kill him…

List of J. Carson Black's books:

Website (and blog)
Twitter: @jcarsonblack

Time Management for the Writer

Thomas Edison: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Or, to put in modern terms, one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent not wasting time on the internet. Once I've overcome the inertia of between-project laziness, the trick to productivity is to find a way to avoid all the other distractions at hand. It isn't easy. Emails come in randomly and regularly. There is always someone wrong on some forum and spoiling for a good argument. Facebook is eager to tell me what my friends are having for breakfast, and my blog feed is stuffed with interesting observations. Heck, chances are there are writers reading this very post who should be doing something more productive with their time than listening to me babble on.

Yet in spite of all of these distractions, I can sometimes manage incredible bursts of sustained effort. I wrote The Wicked in a three month period from mid-February to mid-May. I started the first draft of The Devil's Peak on June 1, and released it on August 1. Here are some techniques I use:

1. Write every day. The hardest part of starting a new project is the first day, with the second day being only slightly easier. If I take a single day off it feels almost like starting over again. I try to write through illness, holidays, vacations, etc.
2. Start as soon as I'm done with breakfast and finish by noon. I found a number of years ago that if I had a whole day to write one hour's worth of work, I was less likely to finish that hour than if I had an hour to do an hour of work. Time pressures, like the guillotine, tend to focus the attention nicely.
3. Don't wait for inspiration. Inspiration comes as soon as my fingers start typing, or within a few minutes. I swear this is true.
4. Cut myself off from the internet while I'm working. This is difficult, nearly impossible some days. A moment of difficulty or distraction and I've got my browser open. I may intend to check "just one thing," but it never works out that way. I have used Freedom, which is a program that cuts you off from the internet for a specific period of time, and an egg timer.

One big problem with writing productivity is that nobody cares if you write. Even if you have a contract and a deadline, each individual day or week or even month has no milestones, no boss looking over your shoulder, no accountability. People who can work with the boss's whip at their back, doing drudgery work, often cannot motivate themselves to do work that they love and do for nothing more than the glory of the human spirit.

The key to productivity is to trick the mind into thinking there is a man with a green eyeshade and bifocals comparing your time card to your output.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Writer's Brain: Aaron Patterson

Aaron Patterson is the successful and hugely ambitious author of Dream On, Sweet Dreams, and several other books. In addition to his success as a writer, he is also the publisher of StoneHouse Ink, the force behind Vincent Zandri's meteoric rise to the top.

He has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time and if you doubt his ambition, check out his writing goals below.  He also seems to be one of the hardest working writers in the business and a creative marketer, among the quickest to recognize the new trends and opportunities of the indie publishing model.

Michael: How long have you been writing? 

Aaron: 2 years.

Michael: Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

Aaron: I fell into it. I am a big reader but never thought I could write as I can’t spell and have terrible grammar. As soon as I discovered that it is not just one person writing but a team to make a book happen I started to write.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written?

Aaron: Airel. It is my new teen thriller and I poured a ton into it with emotion and just the time it took. I think it will really have an impact on people.

Michael: Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

Aaron: I write it from the 1st person and from a 17yeard old girl… took some thinking but I think it works.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

Aaron: I hope you will have fun, I want to make you think and scare you a little bit.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

Aaron: Yes, I want to sell a million books and have 100 titles by the time I am 50. I think I can do it but it is going to take a lot of work.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

Aaron: I fly and just let the story come to me as I go. I always have a small idea of what is going on but most of the time I just write.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

Aaron: Both, I talk about some of it but keep the main stuff close to my chest. I want them to be shocked and so on… got to keep it interesting. 

By Aaron Patterson:
In Your Dreams (Coming this fall)

Michael (Coming spring of 2012)

Short Stories:

Web Sites:

The Devil's Deep Live on

The podiocast version of The Devil's Deep went live this morning and I already have quite a few listeners. It's an exciting new step for me and it will be interesting to see how it goes.

Meanwhile, the book made a nice little run yesterday after a mention on eReader News Today, reaching its highest ranking ever in the Amazon store, at 280. It is still in the 300s and it would be great if that held for a few days, but either way, it was fun to watch. It's previous high was around 1,200, if memory serves me right. At the time, the book was priced at $2.99, so that was a nice little payday when it came. The book is currently only 99 cents. The reviews have been so strong that I still feel like it has a long way to go before it finds its audience.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Writer's Brain: Mel Comley

I was a little intimidated by Mel before I met her. She had these great thrillers, a genre I was writing, and I pictured her a little like her protagonist, Lorne Simpkins, an aggressive, go-for-the-throat type. The reality, as I quickly learned, is quite different. Mel is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you will meet and thousands of sales later just as nice and helpful to other writers as she always has been.

Her best-known books are the Lorne Simpkins crime novels, Impeding Justice and Final Justice. I am told that the third book, Cruel Justice, is the best of the lot, but it is currently in the hands of a top agent, who is looking to place the book with a traditional publisher. I wish her success, but there's no question the indie world will miss Mel if New York and London snatch her up.

If you need one other reason to envy Mel Comley, she has moved from her native England to the north of France, where she is able to devote much of her time to writing new books.

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

Mel: I’ve been writing full-time for the past ten years, before that I used to write the odd short story when I wasn’t working 70-80 hours a week at my ‘proper job’.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written? Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

Mel: That would have to be my latest thriller, the third book in the ‘Justice’ series. The opening scene of Cruel Justice grabs you by the throat but it’s the end of the book, where the heroine’s life is in jeopardy that I found exciting to write. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge though. Also, in Impeding Justice there’s one particular scene that I found emotionally challenging to write and it reduced me to tears.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

Mel: Hmmm…Interesting question. I hope that readers will foremost enjoy my stories and root for my protagonist. But the main reason I wrote the Justice series is because I wanted to highlight a woman’s role in the police, I hope I’ve achieved that with Lorne Simpkins.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

Mel: I’m not in it for the potential money I can earn. I mainly write because of the enjoyment it gives me and hopefully my fans. I believe I have a gift to entertain readers, saying that you’re never going to please every reader who reads your books.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

Mel: It depends, initially I have a plan in my head, when I first started writing I used to set out every chapter but as my confidence grew I’d create a general outline and as you say, now I ‘fly by the seat of my pants’. ;-)

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

Mel: I never discuss a new book with my family, to be honest they’re just not interested in what I do, that might change if I become rich though! I do discuss, if I have some plot issues, with a group of writers I’ve become very friendly with, we support each other’s work and are not afraid to tell it how it is, which is what you need being an Indie writer.

Mel's books sell well on both sides of the Atlantic. Impeding Justice is currently only 49 pence in the UK and 99 cents in the US, which is an inexpensive way to be introduced to her books.

Impeding Justice
Final Justice
A Twist in the Tale
High Spirits

Her blogs:

Little Sahara

When I was a boy, we used to go out to a desolate part of the state called Little Sahara, where you could play on the dunes and I could do my favorite activity: hunting lizards. I remember one time going into the desert with my father and my best friend. We arrived after dark, set up camp next to my father's car, with nobody around for miles, and listened to an AM station on the car radio. There was a creepy old mystery on the radio, and we sat there, listening to the night sounds of the desert and getting spooked out over the program.

I went back to the Little Sahara as an adult with my wife and two friends and it had turned into dune buggy central. In spite of the clear signs that indicated quiet hours between ten and six, parents turned over the keys to their kids to race through the campground until about two in the morning. They started up again by five. It was not a restful night.

Other evocative spots I have visited in the deserts of Utah: Goblin Valley, Topaz Mountain, the Devil's Garden, the Fiery Furnace, and Skull Valley. I was lost once in the Fiery Furnace, which is a maze-like collection of fins, hoodoos, and spires much like Witch's Warts in The Righteous. I wandered away from the group to--what else?--hunt lizards, and found myself turned around and confused. I was about eight or nine at the time and it took a few hours before I found my way out. A search party had been organized by then.

The Writer's Brain: Victorine Lieske

I'm going to be doing some interviews with some of the more successful indie writers. To start, I'm honored to have the always gracious Victorine Lieske, one of the first and most enduring indie superstars, whose book, Not What She Seems has sold over 100,000 books and continues to sell thousands of copies more than a year after its release.

When I began, I quickly discovered that in addition to being a fine writer and a savvy marketer, Vicki was a great person as well, always willing to help her fellow writers with advice and encouragement. I started a pricing experiment in February to draw attention to The Righteous, which I called The Victorine Method, as it was drawing on her experience with Not What She Seems.

Michael: How long have you been writing? Is writing a calling for you, or did you fall into it by accident?

Vicki: I’ve been writing for about 5 years now. I was an avid reader growing up. Loving books as I did, I always thought it would be cool to write a novel. But I didn’t have the time, and I didn’t make the time, until I injured my back and had nothing else to do. Why not write that novel I had always wanted to write? (I’m that way, I kind of jump into things with both feet.) I wrote the first draft of that book, Not What She Seems, in one week. I didn’t know anything about writing, so it took four years of research, critiques and revising to make that into something good. I was shocked when that book took off and sold over 100,000 copies and made the New York Times best seller list. I didn’t really think of myself as a writer, it was just something I did for fun.

Michael: What is the work you are most proud of having written? Is there a particular scene, chapter or POV that you found especially challenging?

Vicki: The Overtaking was more of a challenge for me to write. There are people in the book who can read minds. It was difficult to show what the character was thinking, what he heard others think, what people were saying and what their faces were showing without confusing the reader. I had to play around with it a bit before I felt like I was on track with it.

Michael: What do you hope they will take away from reading your books?

Vicki: My main goal while writing is to make the reader not want to put the book down. I try to build suspense and throw in clues to the mysteries of what’s going on and string the reader along. I’ve never tried to put a huge philosophical or metaphysical message in my work. It’s all about entertainment for me.

Michael: What would you like to accomplish as a writer? Do you have any specific goals?

Vicki: I would love to be able to live on my writing. I enjoy doing it and I know people are waiting for my next book. I manufacture rubber stamps for a living. It’s very fun but time consuming. If I could hire people to take care of my business and write full time I would love it.

Michael: What is your writing process? Do you write by outlines or fly by the seat of your pants?

Vicki: I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my pants writer. I tried to outline but couldn’t get a grasp on what I wanted to have happen because I didn’t know how the conversations would go. I wanted the characters to be able to drive the conversations and the situations forward. Without knowing what they were going to say or how they would react to things, I wasn’t sure what would happen next. So I threw them into the situations and they did all the work for me.

Michael: When you start a new book, do you like to talk about it with friends and family or keep it to yourself?

Vicki: I will share it with anyone who wants to know. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m annoying to be around while I’m working on a project. I’m always sending out my stuff to my mom, and then changing scenes as I go, so I’m sure by the time I send it to her again she’s confused. I’m trying to get better at this, and only sharing stuff if I’m pretty certain I won’t be switching around major things in the book.

Books by Victorine Lieske:


Monday, August 8, 2011

And Now the Why of Podiobooks

As I indicated in my last post, the publishing of The Devil's Deep as a podiobook is taking a good deal of time. I spent several hours just learning how to get an episode up and running and it takes a couple of hours for each new episode. All of that, just to post the book on a site that gives away the books for free.

First, I'm terrible at networking, marketing, or social media. I need some way to connect to readers and this seems like a good way. I hope that I can have conversations with readers about the book on Writing is a solitary business, and there are very few opportunities to engage with the reader as they're reading the book. I once wrote a fantasy book and sent out chapters, as they were written, to coworkers, who would then discuss the book at lunch and in conversations. I found this energizing. Hopefully, I can capture a little of that feeling.

Second, I've been thinking about the "one thousand true fans" theory of success in writing. Most people who read a book will devour it, toss it to the side, and never think about it or the writer again. If asked a few weeks later, they might have a hard time remembering the name of the writer. This is true whether or not they liked the book.

Every so often, however, you will connect with a reader. I have found a few people who have loved my books and will snap up whatever else I write. My books, for whatever reason, connect with them personally. They connect with the same discussions, the same dilemmas, and the same fears. Since I'm writing the books that I want to read, I imagine that we'd have many of the same books on our shelves. Each of these people represent not just one sale of each book you write, but talk about your books, review them, and otherwise spread the word of mouth. Each one might represent twenty or thirty additional sales.

So if you find a thousand true fans, you've got it made as a writer. You will always have buyers for your books and in sufficient quantity to encourage you to write the next. I believe that the personal connection of having a reader enjoy my book while listening to my voice is more likely to make a true fan than simply buying and reading my book over a few short hours.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Colorado Plateau

I spent a good deal of my childhood on the Colorado Plateau, a high, wind-swept desert encompassing much of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. It is some of the most gorgeous terrain on earth, with eight national parks and several more national monuments. The Grand Canyon is on the plateau, together with Zion's and Arches National Parks in Utah and Mesa Verde, which holds the most spectacular concentration of Anasazi cliff dwellings. There are still undiscovered Anasazi ruins among the thousands of canyons of the plateau.

The population of The Colorado Plateau has increased around the perimeters in areas such as Flagsaff, Arizona, but is still only about a million people in an area the size of California. As you penetrate the interior and find yourself in the red rock canyons or places much like the vast, beautiful, but deadly labyrinth of Witch's Warts in The Righteous, you will enter a wilderness unlike anything else in the world. It is a land of hoodoos, domes, goblins, fins, reefs, and natural sandstone arches.Mountains, river canyons thousands of feet deep, dry creek beds and secret thin, ribbon-like gorges.

I can remember camping under the desert sky near Canyonlands National Park as a boy scout, looking up at the stars as the thin air bled away the heat of the day. Through that desert air, the stars were so close that it felt like I was clinging to the skin of the earth. It was impossible to look up at the night sky without thinking about my place in the universe. I woke up in the night to find gray foxes snuffling near my sleeping bag, looking for bits of food the scouts had carelessly let fall. One turned, his face just visible in the dying light of the camp fire. We looked at each other for a long moment and then he disappeared into the night.

It is no surprise that the desert has given rise to so many religious movements over the years. This is where my polygamists take refuge when the world focuses its frowning attention. It also seems like a good place to wait for the end of the world.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Order I Wrote My Novels

Someone was asking me the order I wrote the books I have for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I'll throw in the year, just for fun.

2004 - The Kingdom of the Bears
2007 - The Righteous
2008 - The Devil's Deep
2008 - State of Siege
2009 - Implant
2009 - Mighty and Strong
2010 - The Red Rooster
2011 - The Wicked
2011 - The Devil's Peak

I also completed novels in 1989, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2001, and 2005. The first two were terrible. I was just a teenager and learning the craft of writing. The books written in 1994 and 2001 were mediocre and will never see the light of day, but the two written in 1998 and 2005 were pretty good and deserve to be published. The problem is that the book I wrote in 1998 is 150,000 words and the first book of a fantasy series. I don't feel I can devote myself to writing another half millions words of fantasy at this time and it isn't fair to readers to release the first book of a series I'm not actively pursuing.

The book I wrote in 2005 is a children's fantasy novel called Moonland and is pretty good, but it needs a fairly significant rewrite. Given that my other children's fantasy, The Kingdom of the Bears, is a book I'm proud of, yet has only sold about 100 copies total in six months, I can't justify spending the time to whip it into shape, to say nothing of paying for editing, a cover, etc.

I was busier in the 90s than it appears, as I wrote over 100 short stories between 1988 and 1998, when I became primarily a novelist. You can also see that in 2007 I got serious and have produced eight books in the last four years.

Steps for a Podiobook Episode

The hardest part of releasing a podiobook is the initial learning curve and the approval process. Now that I have that part down, here are the steps I follow to release an episode.

1. Record an episode. I use a Zoom H1 digital recorder that cost about $120, including accessories.  I find the quietest place in the house for recording, then invariably suffer interruptions of airplanes, loud motorcycles with sound that reaches all the way from the road, and other interruptions. When one happens, I stop, snap my fingers to make a mark in the audio file for editing, then reread the passage.

2. Edit the file. I use Audacity. I listen through, isolating and deleting noise. Once I've got a cleaned up file, I run normalize, then import my outro (the little bit at the end: "Thank you for listening to the Devil's Deep, etc."), then export a wav file.

3. Run the file through Enlevator. This evens out the loud and quiet parts to make it all roughly the same volume.

4. Add the music. I have created a file with background music for the intro and outro. This file took some effort to create, but now that I've got it done, it's just a question of queuing it up in the proper location of the file.

5. Export as mpeg. This is where I tag the file for release, at least partially.

6. Finish tagging in iTunes. This loads up the art and readies it for release.

7. Upload to There is a third-party software system that handles this, and there are a few additional fields to fill out, as well as a description of the episode, etc. At this point, I wait for the site owner of to either approve the episode or point out some deficiency.

Yes, even though I know enough of what I'm doing not to spend all day on this, it still takes a couple of hours of work in order to give away part of my book for free. By the time I'm done releasing the book, I could have written a good chunk of a novel. I'll explain in a future post why I'm going to all the trouble.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Polygamy Anecdote

My great-great grandfather went on a Mormon mission to Ireland. While in Ireland, he found a second wife. His first wife (born in England), wasn't overly keen to discover this young, attractive, and not particularly deferential new woman arrive in back of the wagon to their house in rural Utah. She made my great-great grandfather build a second house for his second wife and the subsequent children, rather than share a roof. When he wasn't there and people stopped by to ask "Where is Brother H--?" she would answer, "He's spending the night in Ireland."

I won't say that polygamist wives in 19th Century Utah had it easy, but they weren't doormats, either.

Conference Call

I had a conference call with my new publishers yesterday, Thomas and Mercer Amazon). They will be assigning me a dedicated publicist to deal with the release, and I had a chance to hear some of their other thoughts about marketing. More and more I'm glad I went with Amazon, as I can really see how they give me the best chance of casting the widest net for new readers.

I don't yet have a development editor, but hopefully soon. I have some rewrites to do on those first three books and want to tackle that before I dig into the first draft of book #4. Book 4 is due in March and Book 5 in June. Ten months to write two novels. I can do it, but it will require some dedicated time when I'm not worrying about other stuff.

In other news, The Righteous got a mention in The Huffington Post yesterday. That was fun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures in Audio

Or maybe that should be adventures in podio, since I'll be releasing my audio books on The audio release of The Devil's Deep is currently scheduled for August 10, with the first half dozen or so episodes going live and at least one more episode coming online each week until they're all available. Right now, I'm getting a few episodes done per week, so it might only be a couple of weeks until it's all up.

Why am I doing this? The podcasts will be free, so unless people are generous with the tip jar on podiobooks (unlikely), it is unlikely to earn me any money. Of course, it's unlikely to cost me any money, either. I figure every listener is someone who wouldn't have otherwise come into contact with my work. I've also just released the sequel to the book, The Devil's Peak, so maybe a few more people will wander over and pick it up. This is the same reason that I've lowered the ebook price of The Devil's Deep itself to 99 cents.

My goals as a writer remain writing + audience + income. I have no great ambition to be rich and famous (in fact, I think I'll be happier if I'm not), but I'm finally at the point where I have a growing audience and the encouragement to keep writing, and even the earning a living part is within reach. The audiobooks are largely about targeting the audience goal.

Next post I will give some of the details on how I've been producing a podiobook and the learning curve I've been climbing. I won't pretend it hasn't been a lot of work.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Book and a Contract

I've signed a contract with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer thriller line. You can read all the details here:

Michael Wallace signs five book deal.

My plan is to continue writing new books for my indie line as well. In fact, I just released the sequel to The Devil's Deep on Monday, called The Devil's Peak.