Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reposting Blog Etiquette

A popular guy on Twitter recently asked: “Doesn't it seem like poor etiquette to post a copy of a guest post you wrote on your own blog? You guest wrote it for someone else, right?”

Good question! I have done that, reposting here modified versions of guest blogs I wrote for other sites. But in all cases, it was at least six months after the blog had been originally posted somewhere else. And I noted at the top of the blog that it was a reposting, so if a reader had, by some chance, seen it they could skip it.

Do others bloggers repost material?

My thinking is that the traffic on the other blog site is likely to be different from the traffic I now have on my site. So if it’s fresh content to most of my readers, why not use it? Sometimes, it’s challenging to come up with new material twice a week! Reposting parallels like the practice of repurposing information gathered for an article your wrote for publication. As long as you modify the focus and/or arrangement, it’s acceptable (and common practice ) to pitch similar stories to other magazines with different audiences—using the same material.

What’s your take? Is it okay to repost guest blogs you’ve written?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Odd Facts About Me

I'm behind today, so I'm reposting a slightly modified list I put together for a Facebook tag. Here's 12 random facts about me:

  1. I spent my early childhood in Las Vegas, then the rest in Cave Junction, Oregon. Had my family not moved to Podunk, I would probably be a stripper instead of a writer.

  2. I once rode my bicycle from Eugene to the Grand Canyon, crossing Donner Pass, an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Three straight days of uphill, heart pumping fun.

  3. Every birthday, I ride up a long steep hill just to prove to myself that I still can.

  4. I am addict . . . who no longer indulges in much of anything. I quit drinking December 17, 1989, and I quit smoking cigarettes January 1, 1991. New Year’s resolutions can work.

  5. My favorites foods are grilled ribeye steak and cold watermelon. If had to choose two things to live on forever, they would make the cut.

  6. I go bowling with my three brothers once a week. I never seem to get any better, but I don’t care. It’s fun and I love my brothers.

  7. I worked on a pharmaceutical magazine for almost a decade, so I know a lot about drugs.

  8. I was born in July and love summer! The only time the world seems right to me is when the sky is blue and the air is warm.

  9. It’s hard to chose, but I think my life-long favorite author is Lawrence Sanders. He’s so versatile—police procedurals, futuristic thrillers, and the lovable Archie McNally.

  10. I took a vow at the beginning of 2008 to not buy any clothes, shoes, or purses for the entire year. I broke it only once in October to buy a business/casual jacket for Bouchercon, then didn’t even wear it because the weather was so warm.

  11. I’m always swearing off of something. (See #4) This year it’s diet Dr. Pepper (love it!) I never had a problem with drinking too much of it until they made caffeine-free diet Dr. Pepper, which you drink right up until bedtime.

  12. My goal for the end of 2010 is to have four books on the market (and two more in production): The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, and The Baby Thief.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Things I Don’t Miss

Today, I’m simply grateful for how much easier the little things in life are now because of technology. So here a few things I don’t miss:
  • Writing out a check for every purchase and household bill and keeping up with the damn little check register, subtracting as I went along. Love online banking and bill paying. They do the math!

  • Running to check the answering machine the minute I got home to see what calls I missed (and often swearing as a result). Love cell phones!

  • Muting commercials and waiting endlessly for them to be over. Love digital recorders! (TiVo especially.) Recording programs and skipping through the crap is the only way I can watch TV.

  • Walking around Blockbuster reading the back of DVD cases, trying to find a decent movie. (And don't get me started on the damn late fees!) Love Netflix! And its new “Watch Instantly” feature.

  • Sending every single agent/editor query by mail and waiting months for responses. Love e-mail queries! Rejection is easier when it’s faster—like ripping off a band-aid.

  • Sending files to Adobe’s free converter program and waiting days to get the PDF back. Love making my own PDFs from Word and InDesign.
What have I forgotten? What don’t you miss?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meet Karen Olson, Mystery Novelist

If you like mysteries with original flair, great dialogue, and sassy humor, let me introduce novelist Karen Olson. I recently read Shot Girl, featuring newspaper reporter Annie Seymour, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (And as I may have mentioned recently, I don’t finish many of the novels I start.) Shot Girl opens with Annie musing over the dead body of her ex-husband. Who can resist that? Then it gets rolling when the police, while fetching flip-flops from her car for her, find a gun that matches the shell casings by the body. This fast-paced delightful tale is the last installment in the series, but Karen is busy writing another set of mysteries starring a tattoo artist. Sounds like more good fun. Karen was also sporting enough to answer a few questions.

What is the elevator speech for the novel you’re writing now?
The book I'm working on right now is Pretty In Ink, the sequel to The Missing Ink, which will be out in July. Since I'm still not sure just what Pretty in Ink is about (I don't outline and work by the seat of my pants), here's my elevator speech for The Missing Ink.

Las Vegas tattooist Brett Kavanaugh gets mixed up in the disappearance of a woman who was last seen in Brett's shop making an appointment for devotion ink to surprise her fiancé, whose name is not the name she wanted on the tattoo.

What is your best moment as a novelist?
While I'm writing and the story begins to build momentum and it takes on a life of its own.

What is your worst moment as a novelist?
Worrying about whether I'll get another contract.

If you could get one
do-over in your career, what would it be?
I might not have given Annie as much of a potty mouth. I had no idea how people would react to that, and while it's not gratuitous at all, I do know I've alienated some readers because of it. I do feel like I've got a second chance with The Missing Ink, though, and there is no cursing in that book at all. We'll see if it makes a difference as far as readers are concerned.

What was the last book you read that made you think “I wish I’d written that”?
Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing.

Where can we find you on the web? and Wednesdays at First Offenders

Readers: Don't you think Karen should let her tattoo artist swear just a little? Do you have a tattoo? Would you read a mystery about a tatooist?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love It/Hate It

If I have learned one thing in these past few years of writing/reviewing, it is this: The reading experience is completely subjective. Of course, we’ve always known that some people like romance novels, while others read sci-fi. But even within a genre such as mysteries, the opinions about a single novel vary greatly. As proof, year after year, the 4 Mystery Addicts listserv asks everyone to send in their top 10 reads of the year and their bottom 10 reads. Inevitably, several books repeatedly make both lists.

This year, 17 books made a least one top and bottom list. Here’s the five most loved/hated mystery books (according to 4MA), with the first number in parenthesis representing how many top 10 lists it made, and the second number representing the bottom 10 lists:

Another mystery listserv, Dorothy L, also asks for best reads of the year, and oddly enough there’s very little overlap in the two groups’ favorite books (with the exception of Blue Heaven and The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly).

It’s also been interesting to observe reader discussion about Oprah’s recent pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Some readers rave about it; others find it completely unreadable. Stephen King’s Duma Key has generated even more conflicting reaction.

Why do some books make the lists for both best and worst of the year? You tell me.

What were your favorite books of last year? Your least favorite? Have you ever read a book and loved it, then read it later and hated it?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to Create a Character Database

I recently set up a character database in Excel, and when I posted about it on Twitter/Facebook several people contacted me and asked “What’s a character database?” Sensing that this subject might be interesting to others, I decided to share the details. First, let me say that I’m not an Excel whiz kid, so trust me when I say that this file set up is really straightforward.

This type of database is especially useful if you write a series, and I finally set it up because I got tired of having to look back to see how I had described a character in a previous novel or to search endlessly for the name of a street. I started the file in a Word document, but that was too messy and didn’t allow nifty sorting features.

First, I established the column headers across the top. I’m still tweaking as I go, but for now I have:
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Category
  • Role/Function
  • Description
  • Car, address, phone
  • Other details
  • Book title 1 (The Sex Club)
  • Book title 2 (Secrets to Die For)
  • Book title 3 (Thrilled to Death)
  • Book title 4 (The Baby Thief)
Most of these headers are self-explanatory, but the Category column is where I assign the character’s level: 1=main character/recurring, 2=main character/specific to novel, 3=villain, 4=secondary character/recurring, 5=throwaway characters.

Next I listed the characters by row and inserted relevant information. I still have to go back into The Sex Club and find/input all the secondary characters, but with my new novel, I’m adding to the database every time I add important details to the manuscript. (For example, if my character dyes her hair, buys a speed boat, or adopts a pet monkey.)

What’s great about this file is that each column can be sorted individually. I separated out the first and last names so I could alphabetize/sort each list individually. So if I come up with the name Kirstin, I can quickly sort first names and check the middle of that column and see how many characters have first names that start with K. Yikes! Better come up with a different name.

The purpose of the book title columns is to be able to sort by title. I simply put an X in each column title that the character is present in. Then if I’m working in book 3, I can sort by that column and have all the book 3 characters come to the top of the spreadsheet, allowing me easy access to their information. And if I have one of those moments when I’m wondering, Was Officer Chang in my first story or just my second?— it’s easy to find out.

Important reminder: Even if you’re sorting by a single column, be sure to highlight all your data so the information for each row/character stays together. I hope you find this idea useful (and comprehensible). Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions. It’s not perfect by any means.

If you read my blog regularly, thank you. And, it would be great if signed on as a follower and/or linked to my blog from yours.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why I Put Down a Novel

I start many novels; I finish few. After years of writing, editing, and evaluating works of fiction, I have reader ADD. I read mostly crime/mystery/suspense and some sci-fi, but here’s what makes me put down a book:
  • Slow start with too much day-in-the-life detail or too much backstory (I like it when a novel makes me think Oh shit in the first few pages)
  • Protagonists who do stupid things (especially before I start to like them)
  • Stories that jump back and forth in time for no good reason
  • Characters who have cutsie names or are obsessed with their pets (Sorry!)
  • Detailed gratuitous graphic violence
  • Detailed graphic sex scenes (They’re all gratuitous unless you write erotica)
  • Characters who bicker with their siblings or spouses (I’ve seen a lot of this lately!)
  • Too many characters introduced in the first few pages with no real explanation of who they are
  • Pages and pages with no dialogue
  • Protagonists who engage in immoral acts, like harming an innocent person (I need at least one person to root for)
  • Long, meandering side stories that take me out of the main plot
  • Serial killers (No offense if you write them, I’m just burnt out)
What makes you put down a book?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Goals for 2009—What's Really Important?

I must start by saying 2008 was the best year I’ve ever had! I wrote and sold a novel in the space of ten months. I garnered great reviews for my published novel. I established a significant online presence and attended a major mystery convention where I met and networked with others in the industry. Just to name some highlights. Some people would look back and say it was also the worst year we’ve ever had, with both of us unexpectedly laid off in March and our 401Ks devastated.

So at the beginning of 2009, I’m struggling with a weighty decision. I just found out that the health insurance I was counting on through my husband’s new job will cost $575 a month—and who the hell can afford that? So I have to rethink my strategy going forward. Is having health insurance important enough to make me change directions and get an outside job?

The thought breaks my heart. The best thing about 2008 was that I was able to focus on my novels—to put writing at the top of my to-do list for the first time in my life. Even the freelance work I did moved me closer to my goal of working exclusively in the fiction writing/editing industry. I believe a job, even a part-time one, will move me away from that goal. And looking for a job will be a major time suck.

So I’m vacillating. My mother wants me to get a job with insurance and security. My sons say to follow my dream—that I’m healthy and I’ll be fine. My husband is smart enough to stay out of it, accept as a good sounding board.

My thinking (at this moment) is to give myself more time and keep the momentum going. To finish the novel I’m writing (March is my goal), put it on the market, then reassess the situation at that point. I also plan to look into joining writers’ associations that offer insurance. (Does anyone have any experience with these policies and their cost?)

Meanwhile, here are my writing goals for 2009:
  • Write 1500 words a day, 5 days a week until my new novel is completed.
  • Outline the next (fourth!) Jackson novel between now and March.
  • Sign a publishing contract for this novel (the third in the Jackson series).
  • Sign a contract for my standalone thriller, The Baby Thief.
  • Write the fourth Jackson story before the end of the year.
  • Attend Bouchercon and possibly ThrillerFest (if my credit card mileage points allow).
  • Blog twice a week, write/develop a speaker’s presentation, and write three magazine articles (among other things).
Now that I’ve put that all down in writing, I realize that achieving those goals depends on having the freedom to write first, edit/clean later.

What are your goals? Any opinions on my dilemma?