Nancy Lynn Jarvis, crazy cat ladies, and underground sex dungeons

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You’re all fair game to become characters in Nancy Lynn Jarvis’s real estate mystery series.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis finally acknowledged she’s having too much fun writing to ever sell another house and let her license lapse in May of 2013, after her twenty-fifth anniversary in real estate. She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteriesIf you’re one of her clients, colleagues, or contractors, read carefully — you may find characters in her books that seem familiar. You may know the person who inspired them — who knows: maybe you inspired a character yourself.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): Your Regan McHenry mysteries are known for having lots of plot twists and turns. Have you ever drafted an epic twist (à la The Sixth Sense or Planet of the Apes) only to realize that — amazing as it is — it’s just not going to work? 

Nancy Lynn Jarvis (NLJ): I’ve never had that experience, but I have had a character throw a plot twist at me. When I started writing Backyard Bones, I couldn’t decide which one of two characters was the murderer, but knew the choice could be put off until I was part way through writing the book. By the time I reached the deciding point, it was clear neither prime suspect was guilty; the villain was another character. No worries. I thought I’d just go back, do a little rewriting, and plant clues in the appropriate places. When I got to the revision points, the clues were already there. My character was in charge the whole time and laughing at me as much as at my protagonist for missing them.

MFM: Real-life events from your 25-year real estate career form the basis of your mysteries. With all that experience, have you done all the usual realtor things like walking in on naked homeowners, trying to sell a crazy cat lady house, or shoving dirty dishes in the trunk of your car before a viewing? Have you done anything even wackier than that, say, shoving a naked crazy cat lady in your trunk before a viewing? 

NLJ: Several of the wacky things I’ve encountered or friends in the business experienced have found their way into the books. The (very common) naked homeowner story made a great little bit in a book as did the crazy cat lady (mine was a crazy dog lady) who wore tinfoil hats to keep the space aliens from reading her mind. The most unusual wacky story may have been a friend’s experience of finding a dead seller during a showing. The realtor was upset and assumed the potential buyer, who left the bedroom where the body was while he called 911, was too, until he found her in the living room sitting in a yoga pose, communing with the dead seller to negotiate the purchase of his condo. I used that in “The Death Contingency.” FYI readers, all the murders in my books are made up; the real estate stories, no matter how implausible they may seem, are all true.

 MFM: Tell me about the absolute weirdest house you ever took clients to view. Did any elements of that experience find their way into your books? 

Buying Murder 200 x 300NLJ: Let’s see. The one that was so cold the evil in it was palpable? No, I ran out of it and never took clients to see it, although it was the model for The Murder House. The one with the working dungeon dug under the house? Maybe. My clients and I got out of there quickly once we noticed the massive lock on the dungeon door and heard noises upstairs indicating the owner had come home. I haven’t used that one…yet. Oh, I know! The one where the building inspector announced he found Jimmy Hoffa. There was an anomaly in the structure of the house that created a perfect hiding place for a body. The inspector was kidding about Hoffa, but the house and that space are in Buying Murder.

MFM: You’ve now published more than half a dozen books, so I’m sure you’ve learned a thing or two about what works and doesn’t work for getting the word out. What are your go-to marketing strategies? For example, I was thinking about buying ad space for my book series on Kim Kardashian’s buttFront-Cover-Small

NLJ: Back in the day, I had great success offering a free download of a series book. It’s counterintuitive to give a book away to increase sales, but it worked beyond my wildest dreams, which is saying a lot because I’m a writer and dream up all sorts of things. Recently I convinced 128 cozy mystery writers to submit recipes related to their books for a cookbook and asked them to include biographies and links for buying their books. Authors are now a promotional army mentioning the cookbook everywhere. Sales are good and we are all getting publicity from Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes. It doesn’t hurt that “Cozy Food” is full of witty stories, terrific and entertaining recipes, works equally well for recipes and for discovering new authors to read, and is garnering rave reviews.

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Beam me up, Chaplain.

This piece was originally published in the November 2014 issue of the Association of Professional Chaplains Newsletter. Reprinted here with permission.

“For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain…  It wasn’t until I was beginning to do Star Trek that the subject of religion arose. What brought it up was that people were saying that I would have a chaplain on board the Enterprise. I replied, “No, we don’t.” –Gene Roddenberry

“Roddenberry made it known to the writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and mystical thinking were not to be included, and that in Roddenberry’s vision of Earth’s future, everyone was an atheist and better for it.[39] He stubbornly resisted the effort of network execs to put a Christian chaplain on the crew of the Enterprise. It would be ludicrous, he argued, to pretend that all other religions would have become obliterated by this point, or that such a cosmopolitan people would impose one group’s religion on all the rest of the crew.”[40] Wikipedia entry on Gene Roddenberry

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I was intrigued when I discovered recently that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, hated, and I’m talking blood-boilingly, eye-buggingly HATED, the idea of putting a chaplain on board the Starship Enterprise. Before I go any further, let me issue the disclaimer that I’m not an avid Trekkie. While I am a casual fan of both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation, I don’t speak even a word of Klingon and I’ve never seen a single episode of Deep Space Nine. I encourage true Trekkies to boldly go where no Mindy has gone before by engaging in the Trekkie message board discussion about the topic of chaplains, religion, and Star Trek.

Despite my lack of Trekkie street cred, Roddenberry’s stance was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I have a strong suspicion that anyone who’s been a chaplain for more than, say, four minutes has at some point encountered similar antagonism to the mere fact of their existence. I’m guessing this applies in all realms of chaplaincy, but since I know the most about chaplaincy in the hospital setting, I’ll use that arena to illustrate what I mean.

Many hospital chaplains will have run into a doctor who felt that they were “in the way” or even that they were undermining patient care or challenging the doctor’s authority. Or maybe you’ve had an experience in which a patient became enraged at a gentle offer to pray with them. For example, I remember my boss at the Duke University Medical Center coming into my office wide-eyed with shock after having a patient’s family scream at her in the hallway. “You come in here with your soft voice and your little prayers! What good is that? She’s in pain! She’s dying! You’re useless!” (Side note, after the woman died, the family actually sought out my boss to thank her for putting up with them, and for finding snacks and tissues for them).

Sometimes such antagonism is born out of the anger and fear that surrounds a trauma or a death. Other times, though, it comes from a sort of cognitive dissonance. Hospitals are supposed to be shimmering bubbles of modernity — the best that modern medical science has to offer. They’re about stuffing people full of precisely engineered, molecularly-targeted drugs and doing things to them that involve really big, fancy words. Words like stereotactic laser-assisted surgery and autologous mesenchymal stem cell infusions. To some people, suggesting a simple act like offering a prayer to a higher power might be as welcome in such a setting as offering to bring out the leeches and bloodletting tools.

For others, it’s not about the setting; they just can’t get on board with the idea of religion at all. I write novels about a hospital chaplain in a small North Carolina town. In my first book, I included a scene where a patient’s wife tells the chaplain that she doesn’t need the chaplain’s help because she isn’t “superstitious.” BURN! Like most of my best lines and plot elements, that was based on a true event. In that real-life situation, I felt that that word was carefully chosen to be extra insulting. Not just “not religious,” “not a Christian/Muslim/Jew/etc.,” or “not spiritual.” Such people might’ve had a bad experience in the past with someone trying to foist their own beliefs onto others. They may lash out because they feel threatened and might simply not understand that chaplains are not evangelists.

Roddenberry’s anti-chaplain stance also spoke to me as someone who falls on the humanist end of the Unitarian Universalist belief spectrum. I, too, have sometimes wished that we little homo sapiens could move beyond a certain kind of religious expression. It’s hard to learn about yet another zealot overseas beheading an innocent person or a rigid religionist in our own country passing discriminatory laws based on narrow interpretations of their personal faith without wishing that there was “nothing to kill or die for. And no religion, too.”

But Roddenberry fundamentally misunderstood the role of a chaplain, and indeed the role of religion in our lives. I agree that in Star Trek’s science-driven, cosmopolitan future world, it would make sense that some aspects of religious turmoil and even perhaps facets of religious belief would naturally fall away. Let’s sincerely hope we’re done beheading each other in the name of religion by then. But Captain Kirk and his shipmates are still humans. They still live and die, become angry and jealous, confront the unknown, and, most importantly, confront the unknowable. As long as there are humans, there will be a need for those who can help them understand what it means to be human. And that’s why chaplains will be needed every bit as much in Star Date 2364 as they are today.

And now, I present: Brain-achingly terrible limericks.

Last week’s guest Cindy Blackburn‘s terrible poetry inspired me to share some of my own really appalling limericks. Beware, your brain may never forgive you.

IT WAS LATE, AND I WAS TIRED
by Mindy Quigley

This miniature donkey hates lollipops

This miniature donkey hates lollipops.
But for hay in the shape of a ball, he drops
what he’s doing
and commences to chewing.
And when he has finished it all, he stops.

This koala I know hates licorice.
He claims Twizzlers will make his throat ticklish.
But with leafy eucalyptus
he’ll cook a yummy hot dish.
It’s a recipe beloved by the Amish.

This egret isn’t fond of candy bars.

This spectacular egret hates candy bars.
But for mouse meat she’ll happily flap quite far.
To pick up a morsel,
I tell you of course she’ll
fly from here to Cote d’Ivoire.

This panda I met hates bubblegum.
But for bamboo over hilltops and fields she’ll come.
She’ll even fight leopards,
and she once bit some shepherds.
An addict I fear she’s become.

These animals all find it preferable
to eat their favorite comestibles.
So to stay on their good side,
it’s essential that you provide
food they will find acceptable.

If you managed to make it this far, congratulations! Please feel free to leave your reactions (or your own terrible poems) in the comments section.

Cindy Blackburn is gonna get your book club wasted on champagne.

Perky, peppy, and prolific, cozy mystery author Cindy Blackburn is living the dream! She spends her days sitting around in her pajamas, thinking up unlikely plot twists and ironing out the quirks and kinks of lovable characters. When she’s not typing on her laptop or feeding her fat cat Betty, Cindy enjoys taking long walks with her cute hubby John. A native Vermonter who hates snow, Cindy divides her time between the South Carolina and Vermont. In this #TeamFluff interview, Cindy shares her love of atrocious poetry, her advice for using social media wisely, and her strategy for getting your book club trashed on champagne.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): In addition to writing the Cue Ball Mystery series, you publish a regular series of what you describe as terrible poetry on your

Tabby cat in the corner pocket

blog. How did your love affair with silly poems begin? I’m assuming a silly poet bought you a drink, and then one thing led to another…

Cindy Blackburn (CB): Ha! Nope, can’t say that I know any other silly poets. And I imagine silly poets can’t afford to buy drinks for others? I started writing poetry when I decided to blog once a week. Seemed to me, plenty of authors were blogging about “the writing process” and other really serious stuff. So I decided to do something light, funny, and sometimes (okay, often) awful. Nearly three years later and I’m still composing groan-inducing ditties for an update every Sunday. I’m also still waiting for someone to buy me a drink while I recite. Hmm…

MFM: One of your characters is a frenetic, hilariously hyperactive literary agent. Has your own publishing journey been populated with any eccentric nutballs?

CB: Absolutely! I just love, love, love writers. We’re an eccentric and quirky bunch. I met most of my favorite author-friends through Sisters in Crime and the Romance Writers of America—both terrific organizations. I don’t have an agent, but if I did, I’d look for one as fun as Geez Louise Urko. BTW, Louise thinks your questions are fantastical!

MFM: You’ve got a huge Twitter presence. In fact, you and I “met” through Twitter. I have to admit that I secretly hate it. If you appreciate a well-constructed sentence, and, you know, basic grammar, it can make you want to sit in a dimly-lit corner and weep. What are your tips for other authors trying to use Twitter to connect with fans and other writers? I’m specifically wondering how you keep from coming across like an illiterate 14-year-old.

CB: One of my mottos in writing and in life: Leave them wanting more, not less. I love Twitter, since it forces us to get to the gist of it—whatever “it” is. To me, that means good writing, not bad. I also love connecting with thousands of people from all over the world and every walk of life. My tips for other writers? Tweet several times a day, follow new people every day, use the notifications button to see who’s paying attention to you and pay attention to them, re-tweet often and generously. Have fun with it—here I am, doing this terrific interview because we connected on Twitter. Nice! Come follow me @cbmysteries.

MFM: By the way, R.P. Dahlke shared some other tips in an earlier #TeamFluff interview.

MFM: I wholeheartedly approve of the excessive amounts of champagne your characters consume. Has anyone ever made a drinking game out of reading your books? For every glass of champagne drunk in the book, one has to be drunk in real life.

CB: Not that I know of, but I think I’ll steal this idea and use it as an ice-breaker the next time I speak at a book club. And, of course, I’ll try this out when I finally come across that silly poet who’s looking to buy me a drink.

MFM: Your books are available as audiobooks. What was it like to transform your written words into spoken words? Any surprises?

CB: I am SO glad I didn’t have to narrate my books. Caroline Miller (a true professional with a terrific voice) did a great job as “the voice of Jessie.” The surprise was when she put the emphasis on different words and phrases than what I had heard in my head, and when HER interpretation sounded better than what I had thought I meant! Caroline kept track, and there were over 70 different characters (one being a parrot) that she narrated for the 4 Cue Ball Mysteries. Impressive!

Zany, quirky and full of goats.

For readers who enjoy light, funny, cozy reads, the Cue Ball Mysteries are: Playing With Poison, Double Shot, Three Odd Balls, and Four Play. Jessie and Wilson wanted a vacation after Four Play, so I gave them a break and have just released the first book in a brand new series. Unbelievable is the first Cassie Baxter Mystery. And, never fear, Jessie’s vacation didn’t last long. Right now I’m starting her and Wilson on their fifth adventure, Five Spot. They should have that murder solved sometime in mid 2015.

Thanks tons for hosting me on your blog today, Mindy. I enjoyed the visit.

MFM: Thanks, Cindy! Y’all head over to Cindy’s website to learn more: www.cbmysteries.com 

Hospice chaplain Karen B. Kaplan sends a postcard from the edge

In her creative nonfiction work, Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, hospice chaplain Karen B. Kaplan shares her patients’ stories–some heart-breaking, some funny, some profound–and refuses to offer easy answers or sound-bite wisdom about what it means to face death. Excerpted below is Chapter One, entitled “You’re Too Nice Looking to Work for Hospice- -Being Made Welcome to My New Career.”  For more samples of Rabbi Kaplan’s writing and information about her book, check out her blog, offbeatcompassion.com.  She hastens to warn readers of my Lindsay Harding mystery series that her book has no detectives, murders, or blind dates with teenage Zoroastrian Civil War reenactors.

Karen B. Kaplan has some stories for you

Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan:

I started looking for hospice work in 2005 as I wrapped up a three-year contract with Progressive Temple Beth Ahavat Sholom in Brooklyn, New York. As my contract was drawing to a close, I interviewed for pulpit as well as hospice positions, being ambivalent about leaving congregational life. The congregation was unaware that I was considering serving at a hospice. As of yet unannounced to a soul, soon after I got the offer from United Hospice of Rockland, one of these fans said, “Rabbi, I don’t care how far away your next post is, I will follow you there.” I told him I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness and touching sentiments, but that he would not want to fulfill his vow as the only way he would be following me would be as a hospice patient! A portrait painter would have had a heyday capturing the motley crew of emotions all over his face.

And that was one of the more positive reactions to my announcement of my career plans. One person made such an expression of disgust you would think I had already ritually defiled myself from contact with the dead as described in the Book of Leviticus. He was afraid I would be contaminating him in no time. Sure enough, he backed away from our remaining opportunities to get together over coffee. Someone else, upon hearing the news, raised his arms as if to protect himself, emitted an “Oh!” looked away, and retreated a step or two. Mentioning my new career to my congregants definitely was a way to throw a curveball into a conversation. (Nowadays, there is a mischievous part of me that sometimes gets a kick out of springing this surprise upon unsuspecting listeners such as fellow Bed and Breakfast guests.) Yet another congregant gave me a knowing look, saying “That is just the kind of job that would suit you.” Maybe I was imagining it, having been stung by the premature end of my tenure, but it felt like the subtext of that remark was “A pulpit rabbi you should not or could not ever be.” So onward I went, with all these votes of confidence, to life at the edge.

R.P. Dahlke dishes out advice for crafting the perfect author tweet and finding your (fictional) Mr. Right

R.P. Dahlke is the author of the bestselling Dead Red light-hearted cozy mystery series, which features model-turned-pilot Lalla Baines. Dahlke will be at BoucherCon, Long Beach, CA in November 13-16, where she’ll be giving away 40 printed copies of her marketing handbook for authors, Jump Start Your Book Promotions, to attendees of her talk on e-book promotion.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): It’s something of a cliche for a cozy mystery heroine to have relationship problems (love triangles, misunderstandings, going for the wrong type). But your serially-divorced protagonist, Lalla Bains, takes “bad with men” to a new level. Do you believe that becoming a good partner is sometimes a matter of finding the right person (and in Lalla’s case, is her Mr. Right definitely Caleb Stone)? Or do you see more romantic upheavals ahead for Lalla?

IMG_0295.1R.P. Dahlke (RPD): Lalla is a woman who, for all the obvious reasons, doesn’t trust her own judgment when it comes to men, and yet, Caleb Stone proves to her over and over again that he’s not only trustworthy, but he can see beyond her skittish behavior. I hope I’ve answered that question with #4 in the Dead Red Mystery series, A Dead Red Alibi, in which Lalla, feeling she’s been left at the altar, bolts for Arizona with her dad in tow.  Caleb, being the man he is, follows, only to get carjacked and left in the desert. It’s alternately funny, sad, and impressive. I mean, how many men do you know who’d do what he does for the woman he loves? I have a reader who says, “Caleb Stone should be bronzed!” Yep. I think so, too.

MFM: You have an impressive social media presence. I see way too many authors (on Twitter especially) whose whole social media strategy is just to cram their book down everyone’s throats, i.e. @jerkauthor tweets: EVERYBODY BUY MY MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOMETASTIC BOOK RIGHT NOW!!!. And I’m silently thinking: #annoyingauthor #nobodylikesyou. What’s the key to engaging with your (potential) readers on social media without being @jerkauthor?

RPD: Thanks for saying so! Since I interact with authors on a daily basis with DIRT CHEAP MYSTERY READS, my newsletter for mystery lovers, I get an opportunity to see what NOT to do, as well as be cheerleader for all those terrific Indie authors who need the help in promoting. Tweets should be about the book, and I personally insert clips of dialogue or plot points to get the reader’s attention. Then, too, having a free or discounted book is always a good attention getter.

MFM: Speaking of social media, I’ve talked to other authors who describe what a time sink it can be to market your books yourself. Between blogging and tweeting and in-person promos for my books, marketing, for me, has been like having a second, really demanding child. How do you avoid the trap of spending so much time marketing that you forget to write?

RPD: When I wrote my first book, twenty years ago, there was no way to market it other than to get it into a bookstore and then buy a print ad that cost up to $2,000!   There has never been a better time to be an author than right now! Social media along with some very good marketing sites have really leveled the field when it comes to opportunities to promote. Today, an author can promote for free or pay as little as $10.00 to a promo site.

kindleWhen I started selling on Amazon in 2011, I thought that all I had to do was put up a good book with a nice looking cover and sales would happen. And they did–for awhile. But with the glut of new books coming on line every month, authors have to be smart about promoting. I went from spending 10-20% of my sales income (2012-2013) to spending 25% of my income (2014) promoting my own books. Has it paid off? Yes, it has!

I’m also in a “love-fest” with Amazon, simply because Amazon has done the most for promoting Indie authors. For instance, if an author is selling well, Amazon rewards that author with promotion. Indie authors are given the opportunity to give their books away, do short term discounts, and now, with Kindle Unlimited, they have another terrific way to make money.

And yet, I still recommend that authors advertise.  I know I do every single month. I have written a short, concise kindle book on this subject. Jump Start Your Book Promotions is only 99 cents on Amazon/Kindle, and I update it every 5-6 months with new ideas for getting sales and reviews.

MFM: The southwestern setting seems to be encoded in the DNA of your Dead Red Mystery series. I just can’t image Lalla Bains in, say, Peoria, Illinois, and yet in your most recent book, you moved Lalla and her gang from California to Arizona. How important is the setting to you? 

RPD: I believe in writing about what I know. It’s safer that way!

I was raised in the central valley of California, and ran my dad’s crop dusting business for a couple of years, so that was where I set my first three dead red books. But after my son died in a work related airplane accident in 2005, I knew that after my third book, A Dead Red Oleander, that I would have to start a new series. Then something interesting happened.  After going over all the reviews for these books, I realized that what readers liked the most about the Dead Red series, was not the flying, or crop dusting, but the mysteries, and most importantly, the dynamics of Lalla and her family.  So, with A Dead Red Alibi (and coming in 2015-A Dead Red Miracle) I’ve moved Lalla and the gang to Wishbone, Arizona–close to where I and my boxedsetcover2 SMALLhusband now reside after spending four years sailing in Mexico.

Links for R.P. Dahlke:

“I owe my writing career to my dogs,” and other secrets of publishing success. Interview with C.A. Newsome.

C. A. (Carol Ann) Newsome writes the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries, a series of funny, romantic suspense/mystery novels which are inspired by and centered around her mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park with her trio of rescue dogs. She is also an artist with an M.F.A. from the University of Cincinnati, and you’ll see portraits of some of her favorite four-footed friends on the covers of her books. Her other interests include astrology, raw food, and all forms of psychic phenomena. She likes to sing to her dogs. The dogs are the only ones who like to listen.

 

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): There’s an old showbiz adage, “Never work with children or animals,” and yet you’ve chosen to base much of your writing career on dogs, namely your Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. Any regrets? I suppose the clean up and care of imaginary dogs is probably easier

C.A. Newsome (CAN): I owe my writing career (and more) to my dogs and my dog park friends, so no regrets. The nice thing about writing about animals is that they never complain about the way you portray them in books. When I was an artist, I always painted from real life or photographs. I’m like that in my writing as well. My plots are extrapolations inspired by the people, places, and dogs I encounter in daily life.

Another bonus, I think it’s easier to gain a foothold in the market if you publish in a niche category. There just aren’t that many dog mysteries out there, so dog lovers are more likely to take a chance on an indie author.

It’s a double-edged sword, though. My current concern is not getting ghetto-ised as a “dog author.” There’s a lot in the books to appeal to people beyond the furred ones.

MFM: My own second novel, A Death in Duck, features a Doberman. I tried to make him as realistically “dog like” as possible, because I have a serious aversion to anthropomorphic pets solving crimes (although I do make an exception for Scooby Doo, obviously). Where do you stand on this divisive, hot button issue–the cozy mystery equivalent of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

CAN: I loved Spencer Quinn’s Dog On It Mysteries, but I have no desire to write the internal life of a dog. Not that I don’t think animals are smart enough. My experiences with animal communicators has convinced me that dogs are more aware than we give them credit for. But they use their brains to attend to doggie priorities. They sniff out dog treats and dead animals, not murderers.

My fictional dogs act like real dogs. They eat dirt. They steal remotes. They shed. They eat your pizza when you aren’t looking.

MFM: Several of your reviews use words like “easy read” and “light mystery” to describe your books. How do you feel about your books being described that way? Author Julie Anne Lindsey suggested that those of us who write funny cozies should band together under the hashtag #TeamFluff

CAN: Call me light, call me easy, Just don’t call me silly.

I want my books to be easy to read. I want people to forget they’re reading and get lost in my stories. That, to me, is the sign of good writing. And I think we need to take what we do seriously. What we do has proven therapeutic value. We give people a break from their daily grind. We help them shift their mood and their attitude. We make them laugh at the foibles of life. We leave them refreshed and in a positive frame of mind.

MFM: You made the decision to “permafree” the first book in your series, A Shot in the Bark on Amazon, which means that even though it’s been downloaded eleventy gajillion times (exact total as of today), you get zero dollars in royalties from it. How did you decide that the permafree risk was worth taking?

CAN: I’m blessed in my online writer friends. We share our experiences across all phases of our work, from writer’s block to marketing. I was able to see pre and post perma-free sales of other book series, so I didn’t feel like I was taking a risk. Perma-free for first in a series works as one part of a marketing strategy, IF the book is engaging enough to make readers want more.

One of my author associates is Russell Blake (who co-authored the latest Clive Cussler). He’s very open about everything he does to create his success. His blog is http://russellblake.com It’s a great resource for indies.

MFM: I’ve read a lot of blogs with writing advice, including my own(!), but your blog advice for writers is genuinely one of my favorites. I’ll just pick out a couple stellar quotes:

“Most people can knock out 500 words in the time they waste watching a Star Trek rerun.”

“Somebody had to invent Jane Austen with Zombies.”

“While Barbie might be a paleontologist one day and Supergirl the next, your characters may not.”

One thing I think you’re missing, though, is the importance of getting honest feedback from talented writers and/or insightful readers. Now that the Holy Grail of becoming a published author is more attainable than ever before, getting somebody other than your mom to read your stuff is essential for knowing if your stuff is awesome or if it sucks like a medieval leech doctor. Unless your mom is my mom, and then you’ll get PLENTY of “constructive criticism” and “feedback” on everything you endeavor to do. Hmm… I realize that this has become more of a therapy session for me than a question for you, so, I’ll just prompt you in the style of Mike Myers’s Linda Richman character from SNL: The importance of honest feedback for newbie writers. Discuss…

CAN: Thank you for the lovely compliment! I didn’t mention feedback in that particular post because I wrote it for someone who was scribbling and aspiring, but not at the point where feedback would be beneficial. If  you dig further into my archives, you’ll find How to be a Better Beta Reader: http://canewsome.com/2013/10/05/how-to-be-a-better-beta-reader/

I absolutely believe in getting feedback for two reasons. 1) If you plan to publish, you are developing a product as much as you are expressing yourself, and you damn well better have an idea how people are responding to your stuff. 2) Reading a book is usually a one time experience. You cannot experience your own book the way a first time reader does unless you ditch your manuscript and run across it ten years later. Which I don’t advise.

However, for feedback to be useful, you must first be grounded in your own vision.

I learned in art school that when another artist critiques your work, they are  most likely going to tell you how they would do it. So we would have some hot-shot visiting artist come in, and they would tell me what they liked about my work and thought I should do, and it would be the exact opposite of what another hot-shot artist told me the week before. If you don’t want your work to wind up looking like a copy of your favorite teacher, you need to start by pleasing yourself.

You don’t look at your significant other and ask, “Is this how I like my hamburger?” You just know that it tastes good to you and hopefully you don’t care what anyone else thinks about the sardines and marshmallows you put on it.

When I taught drawing, one of my mantras was “Being an artist means having an opinion.” You have to be able to tap into your gut when you look at your work and decide what you want and how you want it.

So I’d get a talented kid who was looking to me to tell them whether something was good, or if they were going about it the right way, and I’d say, “What do you think?” And since they were used to doing what their teacher said and earning gold stars, that would drive them crazy. But the arts are the one place where you can do exactly what your teacher says and end up with an epic fail.

You also need to get feedback from people who like the sort of thing you’re writing. One of my first betas loves John Grisham, and kept suggesting his books to me. I finally picked one up and discovered that the bits she loved, bored me to death. We are both relieved that she no longer reads for me.

Right now, I’m preparing to send my fourth novel, Sneak Thief, out to more than a dozen beta readers solicited through my mailing list. In this installment of Lia and Peter’s story, Lia meets a new BFF, Desiree, who is being stalked by an anonymous admirer. When Desiree turns up dead, Lia is convinced the detectives assigned to the case are on the wrong track and starts snooping. Sneak Thief refers to Desiree’s beagle, Julia, who creates havoc with her larceny.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Death.

There’s a great quote in Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s book Americanah about blogging. She describes a blogger so eager to impress her followers with her wit and freshness that she begins to feel, over time, “like a vulture hacking into the carcasses of other people’s stories.” As I peck at the keyboard in my little corner of the Great Blogosphere, I can relate. I, too, suffer from the blergy, sinking feeling that everything interesting and meaningful that can be said, has been said a thousand times before by people way fancier than I am. Undaunted, I will blog on, because, like Allison Janda, I am a blogoholic. All of which is to say: consider yourself warned that Adiche’s quote is going to be especially true about this blog post, because not only am I going to talk about things that other people have written, but I’m going to talk about, well, carcasses. In this case, human ones.

I’ve written about death on this blog before, so you may already know that I have an interest in the subject. If you are very clever, the fact that I write murder mysteries about a hospital chaplain (whose job in large part involves providing pastoral care to those facing the end of their lives) might also have dropped a subtle hint.

Thus, I was heartened to learn that there are other young women who’ve given this topic some thought. [And, yes, I did just have a birthday. And, no, saying “young” and including myself in that age bracket wasn’t a typo.]

Caitlin Doughty isn’t like stuffed squirrels smoking pipes.

When I first heard about mortician and death scholar Caitlin Doughty’s new book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, I thought it was going to be a piece of hipster shock art, like those weird taxidermy scenes of, say, chipmunks playing miniature banjos or stuffed squirrels smoking pipes. After all, the publicity photos showed Doughty, an attractive Morticia Addams type with black hair and red lipstick, holding a skull. This signaled to me a posture of somehow being “cooler” than death.

But you really can’t judge a book by its cover (or an author by her ability to look sexy wielding a skull). The glossy Betty Page pin-up image is only bait to pull readers into a thoughtful and engaging work about the modern American experience of life and death. There’s humor and humanity in her book, but she never comes across as flippant. If anything, she encourages us to think more deeply, and become more engaged in the essential fact of life that death is. Doughty doesn’t believe in an afterlife; she’s someone who has suffered from existential fears and has stared death in the face…literally. From all of this, she has, in my opinion, grown wise beyond her years.

Another young woman whose writing on this subject I greatly admire is Stacy N. Sergent, a.k.a. Chaplain Jesus Lady. You’ll have to trust me that the Lindsay Harding character who features in my murder mystery series is not based on Sergent, although they’re both funny, young, compassionate, Southern, single and have very curly hair. However, it’s been wonderful to discover Sergent’s blog, which so often expresses views that mirror my own and, by extension, Lindsay’s. As an ordained Christian minister, Sergent falls on the the opposite end of the theological spectrum from Doughty. However, the two women share a passion for advocating acceptance of the inevitability of death and compassion for those facing it. I can’t recommend her recent post “D is for Death” (in her ABCs of hospital chaplaincy series) highly enough. I’ll leave you with the words she closes with:

We are the same. I am with you, as far as I can go. God is with you all the way. You are not alone. Even in death, not one of us is alone.

Free copies of A Death in Duck

Those of you who obsessively check my Amazon and Goodreads pages (or is that just me…?) will have Final-Book-Cover-Vector-v4seen that the cover artwork for the Lindsay Harding series has recently undergone a facelift. In celebration, I’m giving away three signed copies of A Death in Duck with the older artwork (the original Doberman cover) to the first three people who post reviews of either book on Amazon. Or better yet, review both books and then post your reviews on Goodreads as well! 🙂

Book2-v3 (2)Once you’ve left your honest review on Amazon, post the link in the comments section below. I’m interested in your opinion–both critique and praise–so please opine freely!

Reviews page for A Murder in Mount Moriah
Reviews page for A Death in Duck

If you’ve posted a review previously, THANK YOU. Just post the link to claim your free book! I’m also running this contest via my mailing list, so I’ll post updates in the comments section below as the free books are claimed.

 

New cover art for A Murder in Mount Moriah

Genevieve LaVO of LaVO Design has been working on new cover art for my books. She’s just put the finishing touches on the cover for A Murder in Mount Moriah. It won’t be officially launched for a few weeks yet, but I wanted to get some early feedback. So what do y’all think? Are you as excited as I am? Vote for your favorite:

0530treecover (1)
Old cover