Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sandy Success Stories--Meg Mims

Welcome to my new blog series highlighting the success of The Sandy Finalists. 
I developed The Sandy writing contest seven years ago for the Crested Butte Writers and have been delighted to see many of our finalists go onto publication.  I thought it'd be fun to follow up with them and see where they are now in their careers. 

What year did you final, with what book and what place did you end up with?

My Lighthouse Mystery mss, FIRE POINT, placed third in the Mystery/Suspense category in 2011.

Are you published with a traditional publisher or are you an indie author?

Both -- I published my first book, DOUBLE CROSSING, with Astraea Press, and a novella, The Key to Love. Then I self-published Santa Paws, a Christmas novella about a rescue dog. The sequel to Double Crossing, DOUBLE OR NOTHING, was just released with Blue Oyster Press.

What’s your story about?
Fire Point -- which I hope to publish soon, is about an artist who discovers a female keeper's body at the local lighthouse in 1909. Think American Downton Abbey, only without a lot of servants. ;-DYou write historical mysteries as well as contemporary romance novellas.  What is it about the historical genre that attracts you and why set your mysteries in the past rather than present day?

I'm a history buff and research fiend. I could research the day long! I think I was born in the wrong era. Only I love my laptop and my indoor plumbing, my dishwasher, my microwave. There's a reason my heroines usually have a maid to do the housework. LOL

I believe that through the writing of a book, each story comes with its own lessons for the author. Does that hold true for you?

I think so too. I was surprised to discover I could "pants" with my novellas, and keep an outline in my head -- while I spend weeks on my full novels outlining and doing character sketches. Of course, the novellas are contemps. BUT I still have to research outfits, cars, houses, etc. And each character, historical or contemp, has to grow in some way. I try to incorporate a few things I've learned in my life into that character arc. It's fun, and I hope the reader enjoys not just the story, but the history and vivid details I put into all my books.

What are you most proud of in your writing journey?
Winning the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Book of 2012 was a true shocker! The actor Wes Studi handed out the awards, and I got to shake his hand -- he's an incredible actor, and so different in real life, funny and friendly. I truly am proud of all the wonderful reviews for Double Crossing.

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?
Double or Nothing continues the adventures of Lily and Ace from Book 1. They're both stand-alones -- I kept any spoilers for Book 1 out of the sequel -- but to get the full effect, they ought to be read in order. And there won't be a third book.

In a nutshell, Double Crossing is True Grit mixed with Murder on the Orient Express. Double or Nothing is a blend of The Fugitive with Clint Eastwood's Hang 'Em High -- Ace is wrongfully accused of murder, and Lily must prove his innocence before the noose tightens.

Anything else you want to share?
I hope readers will find me on my Amazon Author Page, my website, on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where I have boards for each of my books and also my characters from the Double Series.

I truly believe unpub contests like The Sandy helped push me to keep writing, submitting and finally reach my dream of being a published author. Thanks for having me today!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sandy Success Stories-Kaki Warner!

Welcome to my new blog series highlighting the success of The Sandy Finalists. I developed The Sandy writing contest seven years ago for the Crested Butte Writers and have been delighted to see many of our finalists go onto publication.  I thought it'd be fun to follow up with them and see where they are now in their careers. 

Kaki Warner is The Sandy’s first big success story, I think. After finaling in The Sandy, Kaki went on to get a three-book contract from Berkley Publishing, followed by her Runaway Bride series and a third trilogy, The Heroes of Heartbreak Creek, which begins in August with Behind his Blue Eyes. And in between all that, she gave us a sweet Christmas Novella.

What year did you final in The Sandy, with which book, and what place did you end up with?
PIECES OF SKY placed second in the romance category in 2007. After carefully going over the valuable feedback I received from the Sandy Contest judges, I made needed changes, and in late 2008, sold the manuscript to Penguin/Berkley as part of a three-book deal. The next year, 2010, PIECES OF SKY won a RITA for Best First Book. I believe the Sandy and several other writing contests I entered were instrumental in helping me achieve that goal.

In six years, you’ve written nine long books (each one around 115,000 words, right?) and one novella? Not that I’m complaining—‘cause I’m a huge fan of yours, but . . . are you trying to make the rest of us look like slackers or just plain crazy? How come?
You’re as good at math as I am, Theresa, LOL. Actually, I’ve been writing forever, but have only been under contract for a little over four years. In that time, I’ve released six books and one novella, a seventh book is on its way to production for an August release, and a short story for an anthology is slated for release in early 2014. I’m under contract for two more books, then I’ll probably vacuum. Releasing two books a year is pretty standard in this business, although I whined about being a bit overwhelmed, so in my last contract I finagled eight months per book, rather than six. That’s why it helps if you have a backlog to work from when you finally take the plunge—either into traditional publishing or self-publishing. Alas, when I sold, even though I said PIECES OF SKY  was book one of a trilogy, I had only that one complete manuscript, about fifty pages on a second, and a vague idea about a third. I lied. Big deal. It’s what I do for a living.

Publishing is changing almost daily, it seems. In this day and age when self-publishing is becoming a commonplace occurrence, do you think writing contests will be a thing of the past? Do you think finaling or winning a contest still has value?
I will ALWAYS think writing contests are a necessary step in the journey from writer to author. It’s a huge help to get feedback from experienced writers and judges. Contests also toughen us up for the hard rejections ahead. If you don’t have a decent critique group, feedback from a contest is a must. I don’t know of any writer who has made it without one or the other.

You recently released your first novella, what was it like writing such a short story? Do you think there’ll be more novellas in your future? Speaking for myself, I’m not really a fan of novellas in general, because I hate for a good story to end, but I can appreciate its function of tiding your fans over or whetting their appetite for the next release. I wonder how your other fans felt?
The novella was harder than I thought it would be. It still has all the elements of a longer novel in terms of conflict, setting, character growth…and it still has the same requirements (strong opening, good balance of narration, introspection, dialogue, action, and a satisfying ending). It’s just condensed—less backstory, less introspection, less everything. Every word counts—there can be no fluff. I did it as an exercise toward trimming and tightening my longer novels. I usually take a long time developing the characters and the romantic relationship. But I didn’t have the usual 110,000+ words to work with, so I had to get to the point sooner. I like the story and I like the characters, but I suspect five years from now, I could write it better. But then, that’s probably true of all my stuff. It was also a way to get an offering out there at a lower price, hoping to attract a wider readership. I have no idea how it did yet (it came out in December, and sales figures only come out every six months). 

Not under a bed, but . . .
I also recently had to write a short story for an anthology (with Jodi Thomas, Jo Goodman, and Alison Kent). This one was even more restrictive in word count—20,000 words (the novella came in at 37,000 words). I made it as hard on myself as possible by trying to incorporate the growing romantic relationship with a mystery. I haven’t gotten any feedback from my editor yet, so I’m not sure if I pulled it off. It’s a little more open-ended than the novella or my other books, so it might serve as an intro into another series with the same characters. They were really fun to write. Who knows? That anthology, BOOTS UNDER HER BED, will be out early next year.

What are you most proud of in your writing journey?
I’m pretty ding-dang proud of just getting published. Then getting a RITA, of course. But I guess what I’m happiest about is that I did it my way, and wrote the story I wanted to write. It went from my editor straight to copyediting without any revisions, which was a huge relief. I was sure they would ask me to smut it up since they were marketing it to the romance genre. But they didn’t. Not that I have anything against a little smut, but this wasn’t the book for it. And it’s not my style.

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?
BEHIND HIS BLUE EYES is the first Heroes of Heartbreak Creek novel, and will feature a new hero and heroine, plus all the old characters from the Brides Novels. Here’s the back cover copy:
Hoping to escape his past, Ethan Hardesty became an advance man for the railroad. Only two things impede his desire to transform Heartbreak Creek into a thriving town once again—a vandal bent on stopping the railroad, and the beautiful but hardheaded woman who won’t sign over the final right-of-way through the canyon.
Audra Pearsall has good reason for not allowing a train to pass within yards of her home, no matter how persuasive the handsome Mr. Hardesty can be. But when vandalism escalates to murder and fear stalks the canyon, Audra doesn’t know who to turn to—until the man she thought was her friend proves to be an enemy, and the man she wouldn’t allow herself to trust becomes her reluctant hero…

The second book takes place in Scotland where Ash and Maddie and their wrangler have gone to buy Thoroughbred breeding stock for Ash’s growing horse herd.
And the third book will be Thomas and Pru’s story. Finally.

Thanks much for Kaki sharing her writing journey and best wishes for continued success!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The 2013 Crested Butte Writers Conference!

Wow—we have a treat in store for everybody this year at the Crested Butte Writers Conference June 21-23 2013. 

Take a look at the wealth of talent!

Editors: Christian Trimmer with Disney Hyperion and Jessica Williams with William Morrow.  
Agent: Carlie Webber of CK Webber –formerly from Jane Rotrosen
Industry Pros: Mark Coker—CEO of Smashwords
Kristen Lamb –social media guru
Kimberly Killion and Jennifer Jakes of The Killion Group—cover designers extraordinaire and marketing pros
Authors: Tessa Dare—NYT bestselling author and RITA winner for Historical Romance
                        Anne Eliot, Michelle Major & Lana Williams
                        Sandra Kerns and Annette Elton

Take a look at some fun from last year.  Lisa Gallagher was the only one brave enough to come on the zipline with me.  Hope we have more adventurous people this year. 

As Barbara and I are both Irish Italians, we love to eat, so take a look at this yummy hot breakfast included in the conference fee!

Everybody really enjoyed the Advanced Read Master Critique Classes!

Join us this year!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Research --Thou shalt not make thy readers eyes glaze over

            Ah, realism. Nothing perks up a manuscript like a liberal sprinkling of facts, fun or otherwise. They add detail, make your character sound intelligent and your action authentic, and really plump up the word count. Not to mention the fun of researching--we can spend an afternoon wandering through downtown shops to gather local color for the pivotal scene in chapter thirty--and tell ourselves it’s research. We can lounge on the patio with a glass of experimental cocktail and a biography of Catherine the Great--research. Or fill the house with smoke brewing up a batch of gun cotton after failing to notice that ‘cosmetic puffs’ are not the same thing as ‘cotton balls’--research. But where do we start, and where do we stop?

            I’m a forensic specialist, and my character is a forensic specialist; my pitch is that my books are more realistic than CSI. This requires both more and less research than people expect. For the areas in which I regularly work or worked--crime scene, fingerprint comparison, hairs, fibers, even some DNA--I can write the whole book without stopping to fact-check. For areas I don’t work in, such as ballistics, questioned document examination or forensic linguistics, I have to pull out some textbooks or email some friends. Or ask my great good friend Google. I often wonder what a Big Brother type spy would make of my browser history. At the moment it holds plastic explosives, Nazi nuclear projects, the menu at Sokolowski’s University Grill, jail design, the composition of concrete, what is a tidal bore, and available flights from Prague to Bordeaux, France. (Hint: Take Air France. For some reason Czech Airlines will take twice as long and cost twice as much.)

            I also stayed on good terms with my college chemistry professor. I haven’t seen him since graduation but he’s always only an email away. It’s a wonder Homeland Security hasn’t taken more of an interest in our correspondence.

            Basically research boils down to two thoughts. One, if I’m going to have my character test a spot on the victim’s couch for blood, there’s no excuse for, say, having her use a black light without spraying a reagent, or misspelling phenolphthalein. Two, you do not need use every single piece of information you run across. The readers do not need a paragraph on the advantages of Hemastix versus phenolphthalein in terms of sensitivity, cost and ease of use, or a history of my character’s relationship with the TriTech Forensics sales rep. Unless he gets killed in the next chapter.

            My advice for the effective use of research is:

            1. Obviously, keep in anything that’s relevant to the plot, moves the story along or judiciously sets the scene.

            2. Leave out anything that’s going to make the reader’s eyes glaze over. Remember, you are not writing a textbook. Readers are not going to have to pass a final after the last chapter. Summarize, condense or just skip (“ten minutes later, she had completed the assay…”) the really mundane stuff.

            3. Don’t keep in enough detail to allow readers to become better criminals. My characters have mixed up plastic explosives, cooked meth and home-brewed chloroform, but you would not be successful in any of these pursuits by reading my books. Like a competitive housewife, always leave an ingredient out of shared recipes.

            4. If something has nothing to do with your plot but is just too fun to leave out, find another way to work it in--as a source of conflict between two characters, as the detective’s child’s school project, as the subject of a movie the quirky romantic lead suggests as a way to get closer to your protagonist.

            Balance, as always, is the key. My books need those pieces of hard, cold realities to pave its road--when readers pick up a forensic mystery, they expect some forensics in it, and they expect those forensics to be accurate. But they also want a story that’s not just a collection of facts. I don’t want to bore, and I don’t want to gross out. Saying that flies had found the corpse is fine. A quick explanation of how we use insects to estimate time of death is better. Two pages on the anatomical changes during the pupa stage alone, well, deserves to be swatted.
Blunt Impact will be available April 1, featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean and a series of murders surrounding a skyscraper under construction in downtown Cleveland. The first to die is young, sexy concrete worker Samantha, thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11 year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mother’s killer, and Theresa will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe.
Also, Kindle owners can find a bargain in my new book The Prague Project, written under the name Beth Cheylan. A death in West Virginia sends FBI agent Ellie Gardner and NYPD Counterterrorism lieutenant Michael Stewart on a chase across Europe as they track stolen nukes and lost Nazi gold, hoping to avert the death of millions of people.

         Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

          See my website at: www.lisa-black.com


New Series! Sandy Success Stories

Hi all,
As most of you know, I started The Sandy writing contest for the Crested Butte Writers seven years ago.  Since then, a great many of my finalists have gone on to publication.  I am very proud of these talented people and thought it'd be fun to highlight them in a series of blogs, so keep your eye out for these Sandy Success Story Profiles.

Happy March!