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Archive for December, 2011

Being a middle child, a nice person, and a workaholic, I’ve spent my life trying to do the right thing and make people happy. As a member of a dysfunctional family, I’ve given up the goal, but as novelist, I’m still trying to satisfy my current readers while reaching out to new ones. Some days though, I’m not sure what I should be doing.

The new catch phrases in marketing are content and engagement. Content seems easy: Just keep writing stories that people want to read. But the experts say that’s not enough. They say I need to pen informative blogs, write short stories to give away, and create entertaining videos. So I’m doing all that.

Engaging readers is a less-concrete concept and I’m starting to think the idea is more hype than practicality. For example, a well-read post recently advised authors to do the following:

  • Listen—Create ways to listen to your readers and collect data about what you hear; use focus groups and surveys to support regular listening mechanisms.
  • Customer knowledge—Find out why people buy your products (or not), why they recommend you to others (or not), why they are repeat buyers. Understand what else they buy. Understand who your buyers are, what segment and communities they belong to.
  • Conversations—Find unique ways of connecting with readers, ways that will enhance your brand as an author, ways that enable dialogue, not one-way broadcast.
  • Collaborate—Go beyond listening and conversation to collaborate with your readers, perhaps testing your products in advance of a full launch or soliciting ideas for additional content.
  • Community—Build a community of your readers. Facilitate mechanisms for readers to interact with one another as part of this community and to broaden the reach to additional readers.

Some of this is intuitive and I’m already doing it. But surveys? As a consumer, I hate surveys, and I’m not likely to ever clutter my readers’ in-boxes with a questionnaire. Collaborate? Meaning ask readers where they’d like me to take the series or characters? I’d get as many different answers as there are readers.

In fact, that’s the biggest problem with engagement. Some readers like to interact with authors. They send e-mails, go to conferences, and participate in online discussions. Many readers, perhaps the majority, would rather not engage with the author. They simply want to read the books and move on. I’ve heard some readers say they don’t even like seeing an author bio in a novel, because they enjoy the story more if they don’t know anything about the author.

I understand and respect this. I also love readers who contact me to talk about my stories. So I’m trying to find the middle ground and make all my readers happy…without wasting time on activities that readers will ignore or find annoying.

Readers: How much and what kind of engagement with a novelist do you want?

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This is my favorite time of the year. It’s not just celebrating the true meaning of the Christmas Season that I love. It’s not the month of December and the hustle and bustle of this time of year. It’s not the presents or the family and friends that will join us for this special time. It’s also something more specific. It’s this one day of the year that I love – Yes, I love today! December 26.

Why do I love today? Because:

The frantic rush of the season is over. Family has gone home and the house is finally quiet. Everything is back to normal (although that’s a relative term), and for the first time in months I am able to relax for a few moments to take time to reflect on the blessings of the past year.

One of the blessings I am most grateful for are my readers. Thank you all so very much! Because of you, 2011 was an unforgettable year! I reached milestones I only dreamed I would reach. I cannot express how grateful I am to each and every one of you.

But life gets better!

In exactly one week, I will enjoy my second most favorite DAY of the year – Yes, you guessed it! NEW YEAR’S DAY!

Why, you ask? Because:

On this day every year, I formulate my writing goals for the year. I set my plans for the next twelve months in action. I prioritize what I intend to accomplish and set my writing schedule in motion. I can tell you that 2012 promises to be a very exciting year! I have several new stories to share with you.

Look for the release of INTIMATE DECEPTION early in the year. Shortly after, THE MOST TO LOSE, the first of a two-book series. In addition, I will release the second in my Most to Lose Series, plus one more Victorian historical romance later in the year.

So, thank you, readers! You have made my life such a rich experience.

I wish you all a Happy and Most Blessed New Year!

Laura Landon

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From Bob Mayer . . .

The end of the year is a time to reflect.  I just moved across the country and am settling into a new home so we can be close to our son and daughter-in-law, who expect to deliver their first child in early January.  The fact that I can write for a living anywhere in the country made this possible, and it’s readers who make that possible, so I’m feeling very grateful.

And I’m getting psyched because while 2011 was the year of breaking out in eBooks and starting in audio books, 2012 will be the year of writing, when I can push forward several of my series and introduce some new books.

First out of the gate will be I, Judas; The 5th Gospel, a thriller that I’ve just about completed where it appears to be the beginning of the Apocalypse and deep in the Amazon, Judas Iscariot is telling his 2,000 year old story to two intrepid survivors of an expedition sent to assassinate him.

A new Duty, Honor, Country will be published, moving Elijah Cord and Lucius Rumble forward from the ending of the first book, starting on the pivotal first night of battle of Shiloh and further into the Civil War.

A new series spinning off of Area 51 will launch in 2012:  Area 51: Nightstalkers.

Chasing The Dead will feature Horace Chase from Chasing the Ghost in a new adventure.

And The Kennedy Endeavor will take the characters from The Jefferson Allegiance and thrust them into another national security issue based on a historical secret dating back to Robert Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile crisis.

On the non-fiction front, 2012 will bring The Green Beret Survival Guide for the Apocalypse, Zombies and Other Lesser Disasters.  I’ve set up a crossbow range in my new backyard and am honing my skills.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there are a couple of other projects in the developmental stage that I’m very excited about.

So, thank you for 2011, and let’s hope 2012 is just as exciting and fulfilling!

From L. J. Sellers . . .

I love this time of year because it marks a milestone, and for me, each New Year is a fresh start. It’s a time to reflect on the past, express gratitude for the bounty in my life, and make plans for the coming year. Last year, I gained a huge new readership, people who love my work and reach out to me to express their enjoyment. This has been such a blessing. Thank you for buying my novels and offering your verbal and emotional support as well. I am deeply grateful.

In 2011, I published four books: 1) Dying for Justice, my best-reviewed novel yet, with nearly all five stars, 2) The Arranger, a futuristic thriller, with almost as many great reviews, 3) Write First, Clean Later, a collection of blogs and nonfiction articles, and 4) Liars, Cheaters & Thieves, my latest Detective Jackson mystery, which released a week ago. Next year, my goal is to write and publish three more novels. I also plan to take some time off in the summer and to read more, year round. Best wishes to all of you in 2012.

From Laura Taylor . . .

Christmas is a time when we gather to celebrate the season and to set goals for the coming year.  Because of you, Readers, 2011 has been a joyous year for me.

I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to all of my romantic suspense readers for your enthusiastic reception of INTIMATE STRANGERS (which is currently free at Amazon Kindle), FALLEN ANGEL, DESERT ROSE, and MIDNIGHT STORM.  Thanks, too, for all of your supportive emails and 5 star book reviews – they mean the world to me.

I’m particularly blessed to celebrate this holiday season with the release next week of HEARTBREAKER.  2012 will, no doubt, be a hectic year for all of us. Under the heading of setting goals, my publisher will release several more of my romantic suspense novels.  You can visit my website (www.AuthorandEditor.com) for book release updates, or you can contact me on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter (AuthorLTaylor).  Drop by and say hello.

Meantime . . . thank you, Readers!  My wish for each of you is a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Hugs all around, LT

From C. J. Lyons . . .

During this holiday season I would like to take the time to thank all my readers. 2011 has been a banner year, and I couldn’t have done any of it without you!

2012 looks to be even busier. BLIND FAITH, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times list and spent six weeks on the list, was bought by St. Martins Press and will be re-released in August, followed by two more in the Caitlyn Tierney FBI thriller series.

You guys asked for “More Lucy, please!” so early 2012 will see the release of BLOOD STAINED, the sequel to SNAKE SKIN.

Readers have also been clamoring for Book #3 in the Shadow Ops Series, and it’s coming this summer! Finally Billy and Rose will have their chance at a happily ever after while they search for a traitor in their ranks.

FACE TO FACE, Book #3 of the Hart and Drake medical suspense series, debuted last month and immediately hit bestseller lists on Amazon. More importantly, it led to hundreds of readers writing to me and begging for another Hart and Drake story. I’m working hard to make it so.

While I’m busy writing, please feel free to keep writing or posting on my Facebook page. And if you want to keep up with all things CJ, sign up for my monthly newsletter at http://www.cjlyons.net

As always, thanks for reading!

CJ

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From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“Cadets!” Master of the Horse Rumble snapped as he took the familiar spot on the floor of the riding hall.  “Assemble, in-line, one rank.”

The cadets of the class of 1862 scrambled out of the stands and fell in to the left and right of Rumble.

When all were in place, Rumble issued his second order. “Cadet George Armstrong Custer, front and center.”

With a self-confident grin, Custer stepped out of the ranks and double-timed to a spot just in front of Rumble. Custer was just shy of six feet, broad shouldered and athletic.  He had blue eyes and golden hair that lay on his head in a tumble of curling locks.  The word circulating in Benny Havens was that Custer was quite the lady’s man off-post.  The word circulating in the Academy was that Custer was not quite the academic man, the Immortal in every section, overall ranking last in his class and lingering very close to being boarded out.  In some ways, Custer reminded Rumble of Cord, but there was a dark edge to Custer that disturbed Rumble.

“Double-time to the stables, Mister Custer, and bridle your horse.” Rumble made a show of looking at his pocket watch.  “You have three minutes.”

Custer dashed off.

“Cadets, at ease,” Rumble ordered.

An instant buzz of excited conversation filled the riding hall. War was in the air.  And not just war, but Civil War.  Many southern cadets had already left the Academy, the first as early as the previous November, when a South Carolinian had departed, in anticipation of his state’s secession.  He was followed by all the rest of the cadets from South Carolina, three Mississippians and two Alabamians.

The divide touched the highest ranks of the Academy as the Superintendent appointed back in January, G. T. Beauregard, had lasted only five days before being relieved for his southern sympathies after advising a southern cadet who sought consul on whether to resign: “Watch me; and when I jump, you jump.  What’s the use of jumping too soon?”  With his departure, old Delafield resumed the post for several months before a permanent replacement was appointed.  Delafield was still on post, awaiting his next assignment.

The overwhelming feeling in the press was that most of the Academy was pro-slavery. But that was only to those outside of the gray walls.  Rumble knew the cadets better than they knew themselves and it was more the fact that the southerners who remained were the loudest and most outspoken, airing their opinions freely and to anyone who would listen.  The northern cadets had some sympathy for the plight of their southern brethren, but that sympathy had not been put to the test.  There was a sullenness and brooding among the Northerners that few could interpret.

Behind Rumble, seated in the corner of the stands, writing in a leather journal, was Ben, now a young man of twenty. He’d grown with a spurt when he was sixteen, and was now two inches shy of six feet, but as slender as Grant had been as a cadet and Rumble feared his son would never fill out.  Ben had his mother’s face, soft, freckled and open.  His most distinguishing feature was his bright red hair.  He could be recognized all the way across the Plain from that alone.

This was his first trip back to West Point since Rumble had maneuvered his son’s dismissal from the Corps and his entry into college in Maine. The few days had not been enough to thaw the chill between the two and Rumble had little idea where his son’s feelings lay or what his thoughts were.  But he had kept his promise to Lidia and saved his son from four years of hell and that was enough for now.

Custer came galloping back into the riding hall with a flourish.  He urged the large horse toward the far end of the hall. Despite it’s size, the horse was no York, at least a hand smaller than the long-deceased legend of the riding hall,

“Cadets,” Rumble cried out.  “Attention!”

The line snapped to.  Rumble called out the names of two cadets to take the center position. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Delafield, his hair whiter than ever, had entered the hall.

“Gentlemen, hold in place, wings forward to observe,” Rumble commanded.

Using the two cadets as anchor, the lines on either side moved forward until all could see the two men in the center.

Custer reached the far end of the hall and waited.

Rumble turned to the line of cadets and raked his gaze left and right.  He remembered Matamoros and the Mexican line, the steel glinting in the sunlight.  He shivered and focused, once more grateful Ben did not wear the cadet gray.  “Mister Custer, you may—“

A plebe came running into the riding hall, uniform collar unbuttoned, face flush with excitement.  “It’s war!  Fort Sumter has been fired upon!”

Discipline vanished as the remaining southern cadets broke into cheers.

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When I come to the end of a writing project, I often indulge myself in a self-made “film fest” during the final editing stages.

I find that watching tons of movies helps to cement the three act structure clearly in my psyche as I can “see” how a well-done plot unfolds in two hours better than I can when dissecting each line of a 100,000 word novel.

This year, since I want my next project to echo the same themes as one of my favorite filmmakers, Frank Capra, I went on a Capra-binge.

For those of you who only know Capra for It’s a Wonderful Life, you should be aware that Wonderful Life was actually one of his last movies.  The culmination, if you will, of decades of telling David v. Goliath stories with the recurrent theme that he finally verbalizes in Wonderful LIfe: No man is poor if he has friends.

The New York Times  did a wonderful deconstruction of Wonderful Life and I was taken by how film critic Wendell Jamieson’s analysis mirrored my own.

Wonderful Life isn’t really the magically uplifting movie we all think it is–or should I say, we all FEEL it is.  And therein lies the magic of Capra.

He was one of the first filmmakers to use “real life” subject matter for his movies.  His first major film, American Madness, was filmed during the Great Depression (as opposed to the Not-so-Great Recession we now find ourselves in) and told the story of a bank that has a run on it and is failing.  It is saved because of the past actions of the good-hearted bank manager who had faith in “little people” when his friends call upon them to help him out in his time of need.

Shades of Wonderful Life–but many of Capra’s films have shades of Wonderful Life in them.  Even the music and words of Auld Lang Syne are repeated in several of his movies.  His heroes are almost uniformly Davids caught unprepared for their Goliaths–they are innocents thrust into a dirty street fight that is the “real” world.

And Capra’s heroines?  They also follow a repeated theme of redemption.  They begin as conniving, world-weary professional women (remember this is seventy years ago, the world of the 1930’s and 40’s!) who are redeemed by falling in love with the hero and embracing his idealistic ways.

These themes were repeated so often that the term Capraesque now means anything that evokes a feeling of an optimistic, “feel-good” movie genre, or what some critics call the genre of the “hopeless dreamer”

But one other recurrent theme in Capra’s films–and what truly sets them apart from so many other filmmakers of his era–is that often his Goliaths are never defeated.

Yes, the hero wins--but he wins a battle, not the war.

Potter in Wonderful Life is neither defeated nor redeemed.  Nor is the Hearst-figure in Meet John Doe, or King Wesley in It Happened One Night.

Some nemesis figures are redeemed–Senator Payne in Mr. Smith, the banker in You Can’t Take it with You–but Capra always makes it clear that other Goliaths are waiting to fill their places, so the war is not won.

In fact, for Capra, the war is never won.  Because it’s never won in the real world that he takes his stories from.

He tempers his films with romance and humor to soften this blow, always ends them on an inspirational upbeat note for audiences to carry home, but in fact, he is the master propagandist, preparing his army and sending them off to war.

For a storyteller, this is an awesome power to behold.  One that I covet!

So, I ask myself–and you–if Capra were alive today, what stories would he be telling?  How would he tell them?

What Capraesque moment, in the movies or in real life, has most moved you?

Thanks for reading!

CJ

About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at www.cjlyons.net

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From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Seneca had his cane in one hand, saber in the other and was screaming insanely.  He tripped over a body, scrambled to his feet and kept going up the hill.  The Union guns were less than a hundred feet away.

The two Union batteries erupted.

Seneca was aware he was flying through the air.  Everything moved slowly.  Seneca saw a private hurtling back next to him, head missing, blood spurting out the carotid arteries from a still beating heart.

Seneca hit the ground on his back.  He blinked dirt out of his eyes and stared blankly up at the blue sky for a moment.  He raised his empty hands.  His cane and saber were gone.  That was the first cognizant thought that passed through his mind.

He grasped for the pistol, determined to rejoin the fight.  His holster was empty.  Seneca cursed and looked for it.

His left leg was gone from knee down.

Then the pain reached his brain and he screamed.

*****

The volley of canister had decimated the Confederate lines, but they were too many and too close.  There was no time to reload or limber up the guns to retreat.  The wave of soldiers over-ran the two batteries.

From the flank, Rumble threw the Henry to his shoulder.  He saw a General yelling orders, waving a sword wildly about.  Rumble fired three rounds as fast as he could lever in the bullets and pull the trigger.

The first one shivered the General in the saddle, the second knocked him back a bit, and the third sent him tumbling to the ground.

The assault broke, rebels running to the rear in disarray, but the guns had been over-run and spiked, putting them out of action.

More Union troops came charging over the top over Matthews Hill behind Rumble and down into the low ground in front of Henry House Hill.  Right into a scathing volley from the solid line of Confederates who were holding the position there.  The Union officers tried to rally their men, but southern artillery was now supporting the rebel infantry and the assault wavered.

Rumble ran forward.  He found the General he had shot.  A Confederate lieutenant was trying to stem the flow of blood from his commander’s stomach.  The lieutenant didn’t stop his efforts, even seeing Rumble approach with the Henry at the ready.

“Who is it?” Rumble asked, but then he recognized the wounded man.  Class of ’45 and one Rumble had tested with York’s jump.  He’d stood fast.

“Barnie?  Barnie Bee?”

General Bee looked up.  “Master of the Horse!  Did you see Jackson?  Stood fast.  Didn’t support me.  I had to order my men to halt.  To halt, damn it!  Why didn’t Jackson follow me?”

“He’s holding the line, General.  He did the right thing.”

Bee raised his body off the ground and cried out in a command voice:  “Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Rally behind Stonewall Jackson and the Virginians, boys!”

Then he collapsed.

“Take him,” Rumble said to the lieutenant.  “Take him back to your surgeons.”

The lieutenant looked at him in surprise.  “We aint got no surgeon with the regiment.  Just some old country doc.”

The lieutenant grabbed a couple of scared privates and got them to put General Bee into a blanket.  They hurried away with him as the volume of the battle increased, the Union forces in the low ground unable to maintain their charge, Jackson’s Virginians holding the high ground in front of them, pouring hot lead into the Yankees.

The Confederate left was saved.

Rumble picked his way back among the bodies littering the ground, Henry at the ready.  He passed by a dead man, mouth open in a final scream that had not found voice.  A man in gray was crawling, facedown, clawing at the dirt with his hands, leaving a smear of blood from a severed leg behind him.

“Easy, soldier,” Rumble said, uncertain if he was Union or Rebel, not that it mattered in his condition.

Rumble grabbed the man’s shoulder and turned him over.

“Brother!”

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I’m happy to announce that I’m just days away from finishing Book Number Thirteen—ICON. 

I expect it will all come together, but there’s always some doubt about the outcome, since I’m one of those writers who doesn’t outline my books ahead of time.

Exciting, right?  Through the first two-thirds of the book, it doesn’t seem all that exciting.  It’s more like driving along in the dark, and seeing only as far as my headlights.  And I don’t have high beams. My headlights are wavering and dim.

I know there’s a destination up ahead, and it even has a name—the climax of the story.  Since I write thrillers, it’s usually the time and place where my good guy (or gal) faces off against the bad guy–the personification of evil.  Hopefully, my guy wins. Although sometimes I’m not too sure he will.

The road to this place is rocky and uncertain. Sometimes I go into a ditch and have to dig myself out, retrace my path or find another route.  That uncertainty is always there.  I don’t think of myself as a risk-taking personality, but in this one case, I leave a lot to chance.  Because I’ve (almost) written thirteen books, I am 99 percent sure that everything will come together at the end.

It always has.  

But finishing a book is an article of faith.

So.  This is my advice to writers just starting on their journey. If you love to outline, outline. If you just can’t bring yourself to outline, if that just doesn’t work for you, don’t.  Trust in the process and trust in the magnificent qualities of the human brain.  Your brain is way ahead of you.  It works while you’re sleeping, doing laundry, eating, raising children, going on vacation, or paying your bills.  Your brain is busy down in the mail room, sorting out all that correspondence, working overtime to bring your story to a strong and logical and possibly shattering conclusion.  This is flat-out miraculous stuff, which is one reason I cannot get enough of this whole writing deal.

Writing is about keeping the faith.  On so many levels, writing a novel challenges you as nothing else does.  Where else do you start with nothing—absolutely nothing—and end up creating a whole world?

Pretty darn cool.

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