How My Writing’s Going These Days

Before I get to today’s topic, just a reminder that BookFunnel’s free ebook giveaway is still available till July 4th, which you can find HERE. My first two Casey Holland mysteries, The Opposite of Dark and Deadly Accusations are part of the roster of over 60 novels.

Now, as writers know, editing is a long-term process that can be frustrating, perplexing, satisfying, and rewarding. But it’s never fast, as least not for me. I’ve read countless blogs, how-to articles, and a few books on the process. The information is sometimes conflicting and doesn’t always work for me, but a huge part of the process is finding what does work.

When I’m editing my mysteries or fantasy novel, original ideas often evolve into something quite different than I originally imagined. Getting the words written is one thing, but telling a story that makes sense and doesn’t confuse readers or leave out crucial bits and nuances is challenging.

It comes down to, does the story work? The question often takes me three or four rewrites to answer. At that point I’m starting to really understand the story’s purpose, theme, and through lines. With this understanding, connections start to zing around my brain, often while away from the computer. This is the part where connections and clues come need to be inserted at specific points in the text.

So, even after four drafts, the focus isn’t on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling, and a final proofread still seems far away. I do make changes as I’m working on the bigger stuff. If it sounds arduous, it is sometimes, but I honestly enjoy the process of making each page more succinct and vivid for readers.

Last week I completed the sixth draft of my urban fantasy, which took about a year, averaging a couple of hours a day. As I’ve mentioned on previous blogs, afternoons are usually slotted for other writing tasks and projects. My goal was to pare the book down from 125,000 words. By the end of draft #6 it was 120,000 words, but I’d also added some key elements, thanks to insightful comments from my critique group. With the seventh draft, I’ll still be looking to shorten it, and hopefully, there’ll be more taking out than adding in.

I’ve been working on the seventh draft for about ten days now and it’s going faster than the previous drafts. Of course, I could be deluding myself. Still, I plan to make a major push over the coming weeks, given that I’ll soon become a part-time babysitter for my granddaughter. That’ll be a whole new challenge in itself, but a joyful one.

New Giveaways and Crime-Writing Award Winners

This month, I’m taking part in another giveaway of mystery and suspense ebooks. For anyone looking to load up on summer reads, this is an opportunity to sample the work of authors you might be unfamiliar with. Please check it out HERE:

Speaking of crime fiction, on May 27th Crime Writers of Canada announced winners of the Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing awards (formerly known as the Arthur Ellis Awards). I’ve been part of this organization for over twenty years and it’s a great one for crime writers. Their link is HERE:

Now for the winners!

Best Crime Novel: The Finder, by Will Ferguson (Simon & Schuster Canada)

Best Crime First Novel: The Transaction, by Guglielmo D’Izza (Guernica Editions)

The Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel Set in Canada: Stay Where I Can See You, by Katrina Onstad (HarperCollins)

Best Crime Novella: Never Going Back, by Sam Wiebe (Orca)

Best Crime Short Story: “Cold Wave,” by Marcelle Dubé (from Crime Wave: A Canada West Anthology, edited by Karen L. Abrahamson; Sisters in Crime- Canada West Chapter)

Best French Crime Book (fiction and non-fiction): La mariée de corail, by Roxanne Bouchard (Libre Expression)

Best Juvenile or YA Crime Book (fiction and non-fiction): Red Fox Road, by Frances Greenslade (Puffin Canada)

The Brass Knuckles Award for Best Non-fiction Crime Book:Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto’s Queer Community, by Justin Ling (McClelland & Stewart)

The Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript: The Future, by Raymond Bazowski

Congratulations to all the winners!!

Darlene Foster’s New Release! Amanda in Malta

It’s a great pleasure to welcome back fellow Canadian author, Darlene Foster, who’s just released her 8th installment in the Amanda Travel Series, Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady. I had the privilege of meeting Darlene in person at a book signing before COVID. We’re hoping to meet again as travel restrictions lift so I can buy a signed copy! For those of you who aren’t familiar with this amazing series, here’s a quick Q & A:

Can you tell us more about Amanda?

Amanda is a twelve-year-old girl from Calgary, Alberta. She is the only child of Evelyn and Don Ross, both accountants. She loves to read, is interested in history and enjoys cooking. Her parents work long hours so she likes trying different recipes for them, especially ones from places she has visited. She is inquisitive and kind and always wants to help people. This gets her in trouble sometimes. She loves animals but has no pets of her own. Once she travelled to visit her Aunt and Uncle in the United Arab Emirates, she was hooked on travel. She never passes up a chance to travel to someplace new. 

Amanda and Leah seem to be very good friends. How did they meet?

Amanda first met Leah when she visited the United Arab Emirates in Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask. Leah lived in the same apartment block as Amanda’s aunt and uncle. The girls got along right from the start even though they are quite different. Leah is English and well-travelled as her father’s job takes them to many countries. After the adventure in the UAE, Leah and her parents invite Amanda to spend a week with them in Spain at their timeshare. She also visits Leah in England and Leah visits Amanda in Alberta. Whenever they get together, they tend to have an adventure or a mystery to solve. Like all friends, they don’t always agree with each other, but they always have each other’s back. 

The Blurb:

 Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

Be sure to read all the books in this exciting Amanda Travels series!

1. Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask
2. Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting
3. Amanda in England: The Missing Novel
4. Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone
5. Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music
6. Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
7. Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action
8. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady

Excerpt from Amanda in Malta:

 Max gingerly stepped out from behind the shrub. 

“Miss Leah is in trouble. Her aunt is being crazy. The mean men want them to steal something and Miss Leah says no.” He gave his head a shake. “It would be very bad to steal from the museum.” 

Amanda gulped. “What do they want them to steal?” 

“The Sleeping Lady. She is very old and was found in the underground temple called the Hypogeum. She is now in the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. They want them to steal her and then they can ask for much money to give it back.” 

“You mean they want to kidnap a lady?” Caleb scratched his head. 

“Well—not a real lady. She is a small figure from a long time ago.” 

Amanda took her feet out of the water and started walking around in circles. “Let me get this straight. Some people want Leah and her aunt to steal a precious artifact from the museum, so they can hold it for ransom. Is that right?” She stopped in front of Max and poked his chest. “Who are these people anyway, and why do they think Leah and her aunt would be willing to do something like this?” 

“I-I am just the messenger, Miss Amanda. You need to come and get Miss Leah out of the house. It is dangerous there. Those men have guns.” 

“G-guns?” Amanda paled. 

“Yes. They use them for hunting.” 

“Sounds like we need to get Leah out of there—and fast.”  

The buy links

Amazon Canada here

Amazon UK here 

Amazon US here

Barnes and Noble here

Chapters/Indigo here

Darlene’s Bio:

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories about a young girl who travels to interesting places. Over the years she worked in rewarding jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, writing whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a house in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she enjoys spending time with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.

Darlene at Popey Village, Malta

Social media links

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DarleneFosterWriter

Twitter https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Blog https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/darlene6490/

Down the Rabbit Hole of Discoverability

Pexels photo by Darlene Alderson

Discoverability is one of the indie author’s biggest challenges and it’s often an uphill climb. Big bookstore chains and stores like Costco don’t often feature indies. The good news is that there are always other opportunities to sell your books. The other day, for example, I found a list of recommended free promotion sites, and thought why not list at least one of my books? And that’s where the trip down the rabbit hole began.

One of the first sites I clicked onto, invited me to list my Amazon Author Central page, which I bookmarked quite some time ago. That’s when I discovered that all of my books except The Opposite of Dark had disappeared from that page. Also listed, was an old blog site I hadn’t used in years. My Author Central page wanted an up-to-date RSS feed to link my blog, which I didn’t have, so I went to WordPress and figured out how to do that. Next, I discovered that I actually had two Author Central pages, so I contacted Amazon to figure out how to fix this. The solution was simple, as Amazon merged the two pages for me.

It was a lot of clicking and searching to prepare for just one listing. On the upside, though, my Author Central pages is up to date. Note to self: check in on these sites more often. How many of you list your books on sites then eventually forget about them? I’ve now started a list of all the sites where I’m listed, which I probably should have done ages ago.

I also listed my Casey Holland series on Google play this week, which took a bit of time, although once I got into the rhythm after a couple of books, entering the metadata, blurb, bio, etc. went much quicker. I have no idea if Google Play will result in any sales, but every time I sign up with a book promotion site the option to add Google Play’s link is available. Apparently, they apparently have over a million subscribers, so who knows?

Needless to say, this week I spent more time on marketing than writing, which is not the balance I want. In June, the emphasis needs to be on writing and editing or I’ll never get anything finished.

When You Have Flowers…

When you have flowers, life feels better. At least it does for me, and this month I’ve been blessed with plenty of gorgeous blooms. Here’s some of the colorful displays that have made me happy this May. First up is the tiny rose plant my daughter and granddaughter presented me for Mother’s Day. It’s been repotted and more blooms have appeared since I took this photo.

Next is the bouquet that hubby bought for our 33rd wedding anniversary. We spent part of the day gardening together and reminiscing about the day we got married in our backyard, which looked much different back then than it does now. We now have a veggie garden, new patio, walkway, and retaining walls all to replace the rotting wooden ones.

In our front yard, we have the most gorgeous orange azaleas. At least I’m told they’re azaleas. They came with the house when we bought it in 1987. I’m no expert. Anyhow, this is their best year ever.

Our red rhododendrons are coming out.

As are the white azaleas.

This year, we’re making greater effort to grow wildflowers in our backyard to attract bees and hummingbirds. I’m excited to see what the seeds will produce. In these COVID times, gardening stores are one of the few businesses that have been busier than ever, for good reason. Growing your own flowers and food is a handy skill to have.

Many writers are also gardeners, and I understand why. The physical labor provides reprieve from sitting at a computer for too long. It also allows your mind to relax and work on those plotting problems. For me, walking, sitting by the water, or even housework, allows the creative part of my brain to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if many story ideas are nourished in your gardens, too. How many of you keep gardens and does it help you with your writing?

Exploring Pantser and Plotting Approaches to Fiction

Anyone looking for how-to tips on novel writing is bound to come across the old debate about whether to outline a book before typing a single word or to just sit down and write. I’ve experimented with both and have found that what works best for me is somewhere between those options.

When I wrote my first mystery, I didn’t create an outline. I simply faced the blank page and wrote down whatever came to mind. This is the pantser method, although I didn’t know the term way back then. Many times I had to go back and fill in the plot holes and logistical issues.

For the second book, I decided to spend more time plotting the novel first by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline. It became important to know who was killed and why before I started writing. Now, this sometimes changed once I got into my second and third rewrites while sorting out the story’s development. It’s also why I believe that flexibility with outlines is important.

Ten books later, I still outline with those key questions in mind, but primarily just for the first third of the book. For the middle section, or second act, I jot down key elements and plot twists that I want to happen. By the last third, there’s almost no outlining as the story is set up to reach a logical conclusion, hopefully one with a twist.

When I began my writing my urban fantasy, I decided to try the pantser version again. Despite the pitfalls, it just felt important to free myself and let the ideas and connections unfold without direction from an outline. Before I started writing, I did a lot of thinking though, and did have four main characters in mind and a good idea of what the book’s theme would be. On this sixth, intense draft I’m going through now, I’m still working on nuance issues and connections that I wish I’d thought of in earlier drafts. Would outlining have helped with that? I don’t know.

After reading every draft, I make notes along the way, which probably sounds familiar to you authors out there. The further into the edits I get, the more I need to check my notes, which is what happened this week. To ramp up the excitement, I introduced another element, which forced me to go back five chapters and rewrite the scene, which created a domino effect for most of the remaining chapters. Despite going back, I’m still moving forward with my improvements, so that’s a good thing. I just wish I’d been a little faster at picking up on the nuances and connections. Thank goodness I’m not writing to deadline or I’d be really hooped.

When I was writing essays and articles twenty years ago, outlining key points was essential, as was giving careful thought to the message I wanted to convey. If I return to nonfiction, outlining will be essential. Should I get around to writing a second fantasy, there will definitely be more outlining but who knows how much?

There are a number of online quizzes to help you determine if you’re a pantser or a plotter, but really the best way to decide is to try both. So, I’m curious about my author friends out there, which method do you use, or have you got a completely different method?

Pondering the Trade Paperback Question

Back in 2015, I parted company with my publisher and got the rights back to my four Casey Holland mysteries and cover art. It was an amicable arrangement and I purchased unsold stock at a really reasonable price. Until COVID, I was selling copies of those four books at various craft fairs, festivals, and other events until COVID.

I ran out of stock on the first book, The Opposite of Dark, so I reformatted the book to match the formatting I did for books five and six. What I didn’t do was create a paperback version on Amazon. Given that my publisher sold few print books through that venue, I never seriously considered this option. In fact, the vast majority of indie authors I know sell few print books on Amazon.

As I suspected, the book cover art that my publisher gave me no longer fits. With my formatting, the font is slightly larger to make the text more readable, but it also adds 40 pages to the book. After discussion with a colleague and some fiddling with my daughter’s help, the cover still won’t fit. It looks like I’ll need to have all four covers reformatted by a professional, which I’m hoping my jacket designer can do.

I haven’t reformatted the other three books yet. I’m down to between 50 and 100 copies of each book, which will last a couple of years or more, depending on how soon craft fairs reopen. Honestly, though, reformatting is a finicky, time-consuming process, especially when I’m busy editing new work and marketing my ebooks. So, now I’m wondering if it’s worth the time and effort to redo the print books now, when I won’t need them for some time and they’re not likely to sell on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t plan to sell at craft fairs indefinitely. I’ve done it for seven or eight years now and, on some levels, I’m ready to wind down that part of my writing life.

I’m curious to know if those of you who are authors consider it essential to have a paperback version of your books available on Amazon and other platforms?

Progress and Nostalgia, an Uneasy Mix

Last week, British Columbia’s lower mainland enjoyed an unusually warm, sunny week. I used the opportunity to walk through my neighborhood and a little way beyond. I live in Port Moody, a city of just over, 33,500 people, one that’s rapidly growing. We’re about about a half-hour drive east of Vancouver, faster if the many traffic lights work in my favor, and share borders with Burnaby and Coquitlam. I’ve lived in this beautiful, mountainous area at the end of Burrard Inlet for over thirty years, and I’ve seen some changes. But when Vancouver’s SkyTrain, our above ground, light rail transit system came to Port Moody four-and-half years ago, things began to change. They’re now changing at a head-spinning rate.

I live in a 40+ year old home a quiet residential street, a 7-minute walk from the local SkyTrain station. So, I guess it’s no surprise that there are four major developments under construction within five minutes of my house. I don’t oppose the six-story rental units because people need them, but as you’ll see below there are also concrete condo towers being crammed onto fairly small lots.

There’s another tower being built behind one of them

These changes and COVID isolation have made me nostalgic for the past lately. So, I thought I’d share some of the structures that represent fond and/or poignant memories. All of these locations are within walking distance of my home. The photo below is a small part of the recreation center where I facilitated writing workshops until last October. It’s also where I brought my kids when they were toddlers to their first play sessions. I miss facilitating.

A newer, larger part of the complex is to the right

Right next door and sharing the parking lot, is Port Moody’s city hall and library, where I’ve done readings, attended launches, presented workshops, and launched one of my own books. I remember when this structure was built. Until COVID, it was bursting at the seams as more people come to our city. I haven’t stepped in the library for over a year.

So many fond memories of the library, on the left side of this building.

The lovely building below is actually a seniors’ retirement home, but the top floor is the hospice where my mom spent the last month of her life. I remember the kindness of the staff and the inviting atmosphere of the lounge, where the larger windows face out onto the street. As you can see, there are plenty of trees around. Mom loved looking at the trees through the window in the room she rarely left.

The lounge winds and building entrance are behind the blossoming tree.

Last but not least, is my friend Julie’s former townhouse complex before she moved to the BC interior. I remember many great critiquing sessions with talented, inspiring colleagues. Julie’s now lives much closer to her family and has certainly enriched the writing community in her area. I know she reads this blog, so shout-out to Julie! See how much the trees have grown around your townhouse?

Port Moody loves its trees!

As you have gathered, I have mixed feelings about my area and about the prospect of leaving it in a couple of years time. We will be moving to a quieter part of the lower mainland, not yet invaded by progress on this scale.

I write about Port Moody in some of my books. In 2008, I published a mystery called Fatal Encryption which depicted scenes of my city. The final confrontation between villain and hero takes place in an empty parking lot at Rocky Point Park (a much-loved landmark) during a stormy November night. By the time the book was published, half of the parking lot had been replaced by a restaurant. Maybe I’ll try to incorporate more scenes of Port Moody in my work as it is now, because tomorrow will look quite different, and one day I fear I won’t recognize it.

Rethinking Audiobooks

Pexels photo by Stas Knop

Back in January, one of my goals was to create audiobook versions of my mystery novels. I began reading up on the topic and one information source, in particular, caught my eye. In fact, information from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is making me rethinking my strategy because this is where I first learned of Audiblegate.

Some of you might be familiar with the term, but Audiblegate apparently stems from an author pressure group known as TERM, The Equitable Rights Movement. They created a campaign known as Audiblegate after determining that there were consistent and significant discrepancies on royalty statements from Amazon with regard to their ACX platform. Of particular concern was Amazon’s “easy exchange and refund” program. They discovered that Amazon was paying for customer refunds through authors’ share of royalties and not their own resource fund, which wasn’t stipulated in the contracts.

This is a simplified version of events and there’s much more to this story. Rather than repeat it all, I encourage you to check out the full background story HERE. There’s also a great piece by a writing colleague from my neck of the woods, Colleen Cross. As a professional accountant and mystery author who has several audiobooks on the market, Colleen’s been digging into the accounting side of things and made some troubling discoveries. Please read her piece on “Should You Sell Your Audiobook Rights?” HERE.

While Amazon has made some improvements and adjustments to their refund program (though not nearly enough for some) they haven’t compensated authors for lost royalties. If you are interested in keeping up to date with developments, check out the Facebook page that’s been set up to address this issue HERE.

Upon further reading, my takeaway is that all is not lost as far as deciding whether to venture into audiobooks. There are several other publishing options with good distribution that don’t involve Amazon at all. One of these is Findaway Voices, a company that works with Draft2Digital. D2D already lists my books for sale via Kobo, Nook, and Apple, among others. Still, I need to do more research on Findaway.

This Audiblegate saga isn’t over, but it does demonstrate how careful we have to be when starting a new venture. Things become sticky when key players either change the rules or don’t clearly spell out the rules in the first place. Meanwhile, if any of you have published audiobooks, I’d love to hear about your experience.

More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.