Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I-Spy something beginning with ... Research!

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... Research!

Authors have to get their facts straight. Authenticity is a huge part of storytelling. It's true! For me, that means getting my boots on the ground. It's no secret I'm a total research nerd, and immersion is by far my favorite method for getting the details perfect, especially when it comes to locale. I can watch movies and tourist videos, review photos and ask questions, but there are some things I just have to experience to understand. Culture is one of those things. So, I travel. (Hey, what can I say? It's a tough job). Once I've exhausted all the resources available from home, I compile a list of my remaining questions, buy my plane tickets and wave adios to rural Ohio. C-Ya!

My latest destination? New Orleans. July 28th - August 2nd. It was Ah-Mazing.

**I was there. I took this photo. I still can't believe it.**
(That's St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter)

I'd read about the city for months, years really, it's been a lifelong dream of mine to visit. I'd even interviewed several lifelong residents, but I still didn't know what it felt like there. I needed to know. I'm very "method" like that. I have to experience things as a means for understanding them. It's how my brain works.

(This was my new boyfriend... until he dumped me for a voodoo doll)

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Despite all I'd read, I still didn't know what NOLA air felt like on my skin or what it smelled like. What was the vibe there? How about the people? The accents? The traffic? Road conditions? How about the most common expressions, attire, sights, sounds...I could go on. I really could. I have a list. So, when one of my 2014 mysteries was named a finalist in the BTS eMag Awards in New Orleans, I made plans to get answers for my research, and while I was at it, I'd attend the Red Carpet Awards! Look at me getting all the birds with just the one stone!

 **Red Carpet Awards selfie.** Told you I was there!

Okay, but before the awards, I spent about three months making an hour-by-hour itinerary for six days beginning at 6:00 am each morning and ending at midnight each night. I stayed three nights in the French Quarter and two in the Central Business District. In the Quarter, my hotel (Dauphine Orleans) was haunted and so was May Bailey's, the attached bar and former brothel. The bar was haunted by brothel workers and Civil War soldiers, in case you wondered. People really think this. Ghost hunters have been there to *document* the happenings. It's adorable. The hotel was one little block away from Bourbon Street, so the only strange things I saw during my stay came crawling home at dawn in last night's clothes....or lack thereof.

As an aside: everything in NOLA is allegedly haunted. NOLA folks are incredibly superstitious and believe all the things, so I learned quickly to nod, appropriately wide-eyed, in faux agreement. They didn't understand or appreciate my: Ohio people think that's hokum attitude, so I adjusted. I mean, when in Rome, right? Haunted, you say? 0_0 Oh, my!

Anyway. I took a three hour segway tour around the neighboring boroughs, visited Armstrong Park and fun places like Treme.

I rode streetcars and took a jazz dinner cruise up the Mississippi.

I took the ferry to Algiers.

Toured a convent and two cathedrals.

Went on a culinary history tour through the French Market and watched them make beignets and pralines. Yum!

I did a Ghost tour through the French Quarter, and a historic pub crawl down Bourbon Street,

(That's me in the center with my go-cup)

two cemetery tours,
( I don't know why this is left aligning :-/ Pretend it's not doing that)

I enjoyed a delightful walking tour of the Garden District and got tons of details for my book,

The true crime tour wasn't as fabulous as the others, but I went! I also visited three local museums including the 1850's house, the Cabildo and the Presbytere, where I learned about the city's history from actual city historians,(My inner nerd is still amped about this) plus I read up on the evolution of Mardi Gras and saw tons of jaw dropping displays.

I sobbed inside the Katrina museum like a baby. I just can't with that. SMH.

I had the muffaletta at Napoleons

and a purple drank at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. (Not a typo. It's called a purple drank).

I ordered cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and they were delicious.

Spoke to fifty cabbies and soaked in three hundred years of everything in roughly 120 hours (traveling, even by plane, took the better part of two of my days - one going and one coming BUT I took notes on that too, all in the name of research). Oh, and did I mention the Faulkner House Bookstore in Pirate's Alley? Gorgeous. I died a little in there. Happily.

I loved this trip more than most. It was a lifetime in the making for me, and it culminated in a little extra unexpected baggage for the plane ride home.

I won at the Red Carpet Awards! My novel, Murder Comes Ashore, took first place in the Mystery category and earned an honorable mention for their readers' choice novel of the year!

Ahhh, I miss you already, New Orleans, but you've cultivated a place in my heart, and one day I'll have novel proof of your impact on me. *Stage sigh* I seriously LOVE research!


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Creative Process

Many artists would consider it heaven to practice their particular talent and have an outlet waiting to take their product off their hands and sell it for them. The money they’d receive would make it possible to live a comfortable life. They would be able to purchase more material or equipment to continue their art. No one would pressure them to work faster than they desired and they had no responsibility to market and promote. Heavenly, for sure.

As an author for more years than I care to admit, the reality—from a writer’s perspective—is really more like this:

 –     Get a super idea for a book with the perfect hero(ine) and unique setting.
 –     Tell your friends/co-authors you are going to write said book. They ask you for the working title.
 –      You sit down and create a list with the perfect key words for your title (you do know about meta data right?).
 –      Take your title and go to Zon to research how often it’s been used in your particular genre. Find it 46 times and discover the latest title was a bestseller last month. Protecting your creative spirit, you look for less overused titles and keep researching. Two pages of scratched out titles later, you decide the heck with it and go back to the first title, figuring your publisher/agent will change it anyway.
 –      Sit down to write the book and research a lot as you go. Part of the art you thrive on is discovering everything is not smooth sailing, and your characters or research take the story in unexpected directions (ie. dead ends). You throw out a few chapters, add a new secondary character or antagonist, make some plot notes to take you to the end, and march on.
 –      If you are already a published author, this is where distractions will come into play. Your publisher wants revisions on the last book you submitted or has asked that you update your website, Facebook header, Twitter header, and/or blog to reflect the upcoming book. Oh, and have you submitted the necessary things for your blog tour/book signing/interview?
 –      During a writing break, you check on your books that you put up on retail sites after getting backlist rights reverted and creating a company to handle the process. Darn, still not enough sales to worry about having to pay quarterly taxes.
 –      You discover the indie books, though, have actually sold more copies than you imagined. Is a book/series ready to take off? Should you write more in that series and hold off on the next book to your agent/publisher? Can you?
 –      Ads…should I be doing ads to keep the momentum rolling on Facebook, Twitter, Bookbub (who won’t take your ad without a gazillion reviews), or the dozens of sites that advertise they will help market your book? Oh, yeah, about getting more reviews….
 –      Indecisive, so go back to writing. Critique partner calls and asks what $wag are you taking to the next convention (bookmarks, trinkets with your logo, goodies attached to business cards, cups, mugs, screen cleaners, nail files). You set out to order some and go through the process of wondering if any of it does any good. Your sales don’t seem to skyrocket after the piles of expensive items disappear into conference bags and goody rooms. Your friends claim it is helping in name recognition. Sure. Right.
 –      You continue the process above until the current book is done. You send it off to your agent, while guiltily thinking you should be putting it out via your indie company.
 –      Agent suggests you change the title and asks for revisions before she/he sends it off.
 –      Sigh. The cycle goes on with unexpected variations every day.

What part of the creative process do you find rewarding, or fun, or a pain in the backside?

Sandy loves the creative process with all its quirks. Her current books are action-adventure, suspense, with humor, sexy characters, and team work. She has a new book at her agents, and is managing backlist titles, in particular a historical paranormal romance series (written with her sister) which takes place in Salem, the perfect read to get ready for Halloween.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Writers Police Academy - Things That Boom!

Last week I attended the Writers Police Academy. The Writers Police Academy got its start when a group of law enforcement officers recognized too many authors got the details wrong because they’d never had the opportunity to interact with professionals who knew--and were willing to share--the correct procedures.

That germ of an idea—allow writers to ask a million questions and try their hand at skills taught by active-duty police academy instructors and law enforcement experts—outgrew its beginnings at Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina. The 2015 version, with the entire cast of experts, descended on the Fox Valley Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, WI. 

The buses rolled in--and so it began...

What a great training facility with room for fire vehicles, ambulances (they mapped every bump in Main Street and programmed the sequence into the vehicle's shocks to simulate actual road experience for EMTs-in-Training), skids pads, firing ranges and even an airplane for hostage and terrorist training. 

There's a lab for CSI techniques, classes on interview/interrogation, fingerprinting, autopsy and booking techniques, firearms and drug identification, and the challenges women face in the field and workplace. Secret Service and undercover cops talked about what makes their missions succeed--and the mindset of the law enforcement professionals. Firefighters demonstrated rescue techniques and handlers put their K-9 partners through drills from finding drugs (oops, dog nails scratch unmarked cars) to taking down uncooperative Bad Guys.

The collection of buildings dubbed “River City” (you can see a portion above with the airplane) gets burned, stormed and robbed on a regular basis, as police academy cadets learn their craft and nearly three hundred writers watch, take notes, and try their hand at those same skills. 

While I didn’t get to attempt the Shoot/Don’t Shoot simulator (damn lottery!), I tested for blood in the CSI lab, learned about blood splatter, and tried out the cooler replacement to Luminal. I breached buildings, learned how to make things go BOOM, and (my favorite) discovered the beauty and control of flow martial arts. 

(Note to the master – I’m trying to locate a dojo for Aikido. If not, there’s always Tai Chi.) 

Mostly though, I talked with terrific instructors and listened to their stories. I connected with friends and made new ones. What a great weekend. 

Thanks to all the folks at WPA and its host of volunteer organizers for providing a unique opportunity to “get it right” in future stories. 

What about you? Is there a law enforcement experience you’d love to try first hand?

An award-winning author, Cathy Perkins works in the financial industry, where she's observed the hide-in-plain-sight skills employed by her villains. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters' lives. A member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America (Kiss of Death chapter) and International Thriller Writers, she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, handles the blog and social media for the ITW Debut Authors, and coordinated the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for CYPHER, HONOR CODE and THE PROFESSOR, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


There's a lot of discussion these days as to whether or not reviews matter at online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks. What's the big deal about reviews? Do we authors really need them so much? There are several dissenting views, but after sorting through many of them in an attempt to make my own rational, business-based decision, I've come to the conclusion that they DO matter for a number of important reasons.

First, more reviews means you and your book(s) receive more visibility. Visibility increases your chances for discoverability, which in this crowded publishing marketplace of today, is critical. More reviews also lead to more opportunities for promotion. Some of the important book promotion sites will not feature your book without a certain number of reviews. Promotion equals increased sales, including things like daily deals and special features. I've also learned that the more reviews you get, the more you are featured in such cross-promotions such as: "Customers who viewed this book, also viewed this book" type of advertisements.

There are people who actually spend days sorting out Amazon's complicated algorithms to determine what's that magic number of reviews (50? 100?) before you get a decent push. Trying to figure out those numbers makes my head hurt, but it does make me realize that at some point, reviews are directly connected to increased visibility and sales. The reason is that if people don't see your you or your book, then they can't buy it. Reviews matter for those reasons alone.

So, how do we encourage our readers to write reviews? That's a tough one. I usually celebrate a book review milestone, such as 50 or 100 reviews reached by giving away a free book or a prize. I always thank those readers I know who alert me they have written a review. I also try to remember to write a review for a fellow author's book that I've read and enjoyed.

I don't know the secret method or formula to increase reviews. I just write the best book I can in the hope it will inspire my readers to let me and other readers know just what they thought of it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

An Out-of-Mind Experience

Some people talk about having out-of-body experiences but as a writer, I feel like I have those almost every day. I "play" in my head with fictional characters and plot on a daily basis. So much so that sometimes I have trouble switching back to the "real world."

With two intense deadlines this summer, I spent most of the past couple months lost in my books. Which means I was in my head. A lot. 

So when I met the first deadline a few weeks ago, I sought an out-of-mind experience as a reward. I needed to get out of my head and ground myself. I scheduled a massage. I hadn't had one in over a year (mostly because I was so achy after the last one, but also because I'm horrible at taking time for myself). I was amazed at how that one hour of simply laying on a table brought me back into myself. 

After meeting the second of those pesky deadlines on this past Friday, I decided to ground myself again. After turning my book over to my editor, I visited a relative in the hospital (nothing like seeing the pain others are going through to forget your own issues), took the family out to dinner at a new restaurant, and spent Saturday reading on my covered patio, enjoying the warm breezes against my skin and the sound of hummingbirds zipping by. It was a re-awakening of the five senses.

As I write this, I have another day off before I need to start working toward my next deadline. In my crazy 2015 schedule, today I’m supposed to be looking over another book I’ve started and try to add more words (as well as compose this blog post), before starting back on edits on a different book tomorrow. Instead, I’ve decided to spend another day getting outside of my head. I’ll play with the kids, take a walk, and help that relative check out of the hospital. I’ll take my dad and my kids out for pancakes at one of their favorite places. I may even start reading a new book.

I’ll just be. With myself, no characters. 

Because while I love escaping into the stories in my head, sometimes I need to leave there and be more aware of myself and my surroundings. Hmm… Maybe I’ll sign up for the yoga class across the hall from my massage place this week. It's important to take time for myself as much as my characters.

What do you do to ground yourself? Any tips for centering yourself in the real world?

She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com. There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Not Your Usual Suspects: MATERFAMILIAS

Not Your Usual Suspects: MATERFAMILIAS:      Metta Victoria Fuller Victor wrote under the names Corinne Cushman, Eleanor Lee Edwards, Mrs. Orrin James, Mrs. Mark Pea...


     Metta Victoria Fuller Victor wrote under the names Corinne Cushman, Eleanor Lee Edwards, Mrs. Orrin James, Mrs. Mark Peabody, Mrs. Henry Thomas, Rose Kennedy, Louis LeGrand, Walter T. Gray, The Singing Sybil and authored many other works anonymously. She chose Seeley Regester as her pen name when she wrote The Dead Letter published in 1866 and became the first female writer of a detective novel.
     Credited with writing over 100 dime novels for Beadle’s New York Dime Library she introduced a new and successful series between the mid 19th century and the early 20th.  During that period, workers could attend school, learn to read and relish the written word, distribution had grown with the development of rail and canal transport, and books could be bought at newsstands for a price a low wage earner could afford. Maume Guinea, and Her Plantation “Children” became one of Regester’s biggest sellers and won the acclaim of President Lincoln, Henry Ward Beecher and antislavery supporters.
     A fertile and inexhaustible author, Victor wrote poetry, fiction, articles, humor, cookbooks, books concerned with temperance, books about slavery and, in later years, books spiced with romance. Her first book, written at the tender age of fifteen was Last Days of Yul, A Romance of the Lost Cities of Yucatan.
     In 1856, she married Orville J. Victor, an editor for the Daily Register in Sandusky, Ohio and signed a contract with The New York Weekly. The Weekly won sole rights to her stories for five years and Metta received $25,000—a hefty sum in those days. Orville and Metta had nine children but Metta managed to keep right on writing until she passed away in 1885. Her books are still available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and many other sites where books are sold.
     She stands as a materfamilias and inspiration to us all.