Monday, January 27, 2014

Some Writing Tips

by Miranda Phillips Walker

Using an outline is up to you, but frankly, I don’t use a hard copy outline. I just have in my mind where I would like my story to go. I let my ideas unfold naturally. I do make notes of the characters, places, and most important their names. Speaking of names, try to keep the names you pick different so the reader doesn’t get confused. Like say in your story you might have a Dr. Marywell, a secretary named Mary Manguss, and a cop named Marcus Mann. These names are too similar and will stop the reader; you never want the reader or editor to stop reading!

Now the fun part, just sit down and write. Always start the first chapter in the middle of action. From then on, try to have “heat” on every page (action). In rewrite and edit mode, strike out any idea or sentence that doesn’t move you story along, and be careful when adding any back story. The back story should be added in sparingly. That is allow it to build up throughout the novel. If you “shove in” too much too soon, you will bore the reader—not a good idea. Remember Conflict is King, there should be conflict with your characters from page one to the last chapter. The conflict should build throughout the story. In other words, every time the reader thinks it’s safe and he can breathe, throw in another twist. Also adding a sub-story is fine and fleshes things out, making the lives of the characters more complex—just as in life. But careful not to let it take away from your main story—or detract for overly long periods of time in the story.

I know you’ve heard this a million times: Show don’t Tell. When writing, bring in all 5 senses! What does the character feel, smell, hear, taste, etc. most important Watch Your POV! Stick to one character’s thought the entire chapter. If you don’t it will confuse the reader and stop the storyline.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re in a busy world; we are used to getting everything we want fast. James Patterson, bless his heart, started this Short Chapter business. It’s up to you but most readers including editors like short chapters like 8-12 pages at most, instead of the traditional 30-40 pages. Being a nurse, I love the medical stuff, but most readers will flip past a 3-page autopsy, whereas mine are brief. The characters get the info they need and their out of there!

I read my chapters out loud to myself as I go, and this helps pick out errors and really helps me know if it just sounds right. When you’re ready to let someone else review your work, give it to someone other than a close friend or relative. Why? You know grandma isn’t going to say it’s awful. This may come as a surprise, but your “baby” will be edited several times. Even tossing it in a drawer and leaving it for a month or two, then going back, you will pick up numerous editorial changes and new ideas to develop the story even further. Writers groups are a good resource as well, just be prepared to hear criticism—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You should make an effort every day to write and read the genre you’re interested in writing. Take note on how the masters write. Go to writing conferences, they are a gold mine of ideas and encouragement to all writers. On my website, I having some good writing resources for forensics and police procedurals.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deadwood Dead Men

Bill Markley lives with his wife, Liz, in Pierre, South Dakota, and has had an interest in the West and Western history as long as he can remember. He started writing about the West in 2001, with his first book, Dakota Epic, Experiences of a Reenactor 
During the Filming of Dances With Wolves. You can read more about Bill, his experiences, and his writing by accessing Writers of the West’s Blog Archive, August 27, 2011, and September 3, 2011. Since then Bill has continued to write nonfiction stories and, most recently, has delved in historical fiction.

“I’ve always been intrigued by history, the human personal accounts of people caught up in grand events and how they cope and emerge from them.” James Crutchfield, editor of The Settlement of America, Encyclopedia of Westward Expansion from Jamestown to the Closing of the Frontier, assigned Bill to write an essay for the encyclopedia on “The Military Establishment” and over twenty entries. “Working on the encyclopedia made me realize that there is so much more to learn about the West. No one person can learn it all in one lifetime.”

Bill writes stories for True West and Wild West magazines. “There are so many good untold stories out there yet. It’s exciting to find an obscure story and bring it to the readership’s attention. I recently wrote a story for True West Magazine about a guidon flag that the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center is preserving. The Lakota likely captured this guidon during the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was a pleasure to research its provenance, present the facts to Little Big Horn experts, and have them agree that it likely came from the battlefield. Jerry Bryant, a Deadwood historian and I researched the unsolved murder of Di Lee, Deadwood’s China Doll, for Wild West Magazine. It was fun to delve into a real cold case and speculate on who done it.”

Bill has been a member of Western Writers of America for many years and is currently serving on WWA’s board of directors. “I love Western Writers of America. It is the friendliest, helpful group of folks. If it wasn’t for WWA, I am sure my writing career would not have advanced to where it is today.”

He's a staff writer for WWA’s Roundup Magazine. His column,  "Techno-Savvy," covers the latest developments in writing and social media technology. “When Johnny Boggs, editor of Roundup Magazine, asked me to write the column, I told him I know next to nothing about computers and social media. Johnny answered ‘Good! You can learn about it and explain it to the rest of us.’”

Following a new angle, Bill has entered the realm of historical fiction. His new book, Deadwood Dead Men, released by Goldminds Publishing in September 2013, is a fictional account of events that occurred in Deadwood Dakota Territory in August 1876. “Writing nonfiction can be difficult when there is more than one version of an event, or when a key piece of information may be hazy or missing. So, I wanted to try my hand at telling real stories, but in a fictional manner and that’s what I have attempted with Deadwood Dead Men.

“I picked Deadwood to write about because it’s always been one of my favorite towns. I experienced it for the first time as a kid when I was on a family trip. I still remember walking into the Old Style Saloon Number 10 and seeing the chair that Wild Bill Hickok was allegedly shot in, thinking that was really neat. Although I now know, today that it couldn’t have been the chair since Wild Bill was actually sitting on a low stool. Deadwood has so much interesting history and so many great characters beyond the more famous ones such as Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock. As an example, there was Old Frenchy who had been a slave in French Guiana and had tried to escape multiple times only to be recaptured and whipped. He was one of the first pioneers in Deadwood and was loved by everyone. I also wanted to debunk the way Deadwood was portrayed in the HBO TV series. They played fast and loose with history. Even though my book is fiction, I wanted to make sure that it was as historically accurate as possible. I read journals, and memoirs. I read the newspapers of the time period I wrote about and tried to make sure I followed the events in the papers as close as possible.

“I think one of the surprising things that I found was that Deadwood in August 1876 was such an international town. There were people there from all over the world, including Canada, Bavaria, and other parts of Europe and of course the most exotic to Americans at that time—China. The Chinese were some of the first pioneers in Deadwood and one individual in particular, Fee Lee Wong, endeared himself to the white community and became a bridge between the whites and the Chinese community.

“I hope readers will enjoy how I have portrayed the people of Deadwood. There are no superheroes, only ordinary people who at times have to rise to extraordinary levels. My hope is that readers will enjoy the characters who I have populated the book with. It was a fun story to write and who knows, it just might be true. Okay, that was written as I winked.”

Bill’s advice to new writers is “Write what you enjoy; life is short!” You can learn more about Bill at his website or Facebook Writer Page!/Bill.Markley.Writer

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Are Audio Books Taking Over the Market?

Are audio books taking over the market, crowding out ebooks and print editions? If my latest royalty statements are any indication, my assumption is correct. A writer friend mentioned that his ebook sales had been cut in half during the past few months, as have mine, but that his audio books are selling well. 

I had submitted some of my own novels to an audio company, with negative results, so I  decided to follow my friend's lead by applying to Amazon.To my surprise, my first novel, Escape, was not only accepted but featured in the company's newsletter, and I received quite a few requests to record it from freelance narrators. Written after ten years of research about Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, it's been my best selling book since 1999, with three publishers. Award-winning Kevin Foley narrated the book. And his singing adds to the novel's humor.

I followed Escape with my second Wyoming historical novel, this time a mystery.  No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, was written after more than 20 years of sporadic research. It's the true story of an innocent young woman and her husband hanged by greedy cattlemen. I included a  fictional young Missouri woman determined to homestead on her own, a composite of some 200,000 actual single women homesteaders. Dennis Redfield, a southern California actor, did a terrific job of narrating the book, which is now available at Amazon, and iTunes with three of my other books.

Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews contains some of the fascinating people I've had the pleasure of interviewing over the years. Among them Louis L'Amour, country singer Chris LeDoux, attorney Gerry Spence, Lucile Wright, early aviatrix and friend of Amelia Earhart; infamous grandsons of Buffalo Bill Cody and Presidents Benjamin and William Henry Harrison. They left their own imprints on society, among many others interviewed during my years as a news reporter and freelance photojournalist in California and Wyoming,  Narrator Paul McSorly deftly brings the interviews to life.

Mystery of Spider Mountain was written for middle grade readers and features the adventures of the Hamilton Kids. It's a semi-autobiographical story of my childhood in the Hollywood hills. Chelsea Ward does a great job narrating the novel for 9-12 year-olds and will also narrate the following book in the series, Ghost of Crimson Dawn. 

More of my books are currently in the process of narration and it's been fun listening to them as they're recorded as well as working with the narrators. From now on I'll keep my sentences shorter and narrations in mind as I write future books. All the books are currently on sale at: where you can listen to them by clicking on the small green circles under each one.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why I Write

Publishing is a crazy, unstable business and few writers earn enough money to pay their expenses. The last I heard, 95% of us earn less than $15,000 a year and the average book sells fewer than a hundred copies.

So why would anyone in her right mind devote so much time and effort to writing and marketing books? Is it the desire to give birth to something unique? A need for recognition? Or the desire to inform and entertain? Perhaps I can’t answer the question. I just know that writing is imprinted in my DNA.
I sold my first book in 1981, a collection of interviews with politicians, authors, artists, craftsmen and ordinary people who had accomplished extraordinary things. The book was published by Pruett Publishing in Boulder, Colorado, and sold some 2,000 copies. I traveled around the state to take part in signing parties and sold 40 books the first time at a small town in eastern Wyoming. My signing parties then slid downhill from there.
My second book required more than three years of research and writing and eventually became a college textbook. I shudder to think how little I’ve earned for my time spent although the books have sold steadily over the years from different publishers. My third was a book of interviews with well-known writers of the West, including Louis L’Amour and Hollywood screenwriters. It’s still selling online but I’ve never received a royalty payment because I was told it didn’t earn out its advance.

After checking WorldCat, the library site, I found that there are still copies of Maverick Writers available in 114 libraries, including Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Baverische Staaftsbibliothek in Munich, Germany. Now, there’s a reason to continue writing. The advance I received barely covered travel expenses, so satisfaction and eternal hope are also motivations to continue writing as well as the satisfaction I receive from it.
I then decided to write my first novel from leftover microfilm research. Escape on the Wind took a number of years to write and was helped along by the advice of two award-winning western authors, Richard S. Wheeler and Fred Grove. It’s now in its fourth edition and retitled Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel. It remains my best selling book.

I next began work on my first mystery novel, originally titled Shirl Lock & Holmes, a humorous senior sleuth novel, which was originally published in 1999 as an ebook and later in hardcover with another publisher, which eventually closed its doors. I then changed the characters’ names and it was republished as A Village Shattered in print, Kindle and soon-to-become an audio book.
I’ve written a number of nonfiction books along the way, none of which sold more than several hundred copies, so I decided to write what I enjoy reading most: another mystery novel, Diary of Murder, the second in my Logan & Cafferty series, which was followed by Murder on the Interstate, Gray Wolf Mountain and A Murder in Paradise. I enjoy writing about my senior sleuths, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, two 60-year-old, feisty widows who are not afraid to push the envelope when it comes to crime detection, or to brave the elements by driving their motorhome through a Rocky Mountain blizzard. Dana and Sarah are like old friends whom I thoroughly enjoy visiting each day and eavesdropping on their conversations.

I think I’ve found the answer to the question I asked. I write because it’s fun and deeply satisfying.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Has Your Writing Gone to the Dogs?

by Sue Owens Wright

How do you know when your life has gone totally to the dogs? It could be when you’re published in most of the wag mags, and your third dog lover’s mystery is about to be published. Another clue might be when you’re nominated eight times for a Mighty Maxwell, the coveted medallion awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America for the best writing about dogs, and you actually win a couple of those swell dog tags to wear around your neck. You also could be going to the dogs when you’re invited to Basset Hound Waddles, Slobberfests, and Droolapaloozas to autograph your books and to talk about them on TV and radio. For me, it’s all of the above.

At writers’ conferences I’ve attended over the years, I’ve heard the oft-repeated phrase: “Write what you know.” I never really understood what that meant. What those writing instructors should have told their students to do was write about what’s close to the heart. I believe the same advice applies to anyone who seeks fulfillment in life: Follow your heart.

Edith Wharton once wrote, “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.” There’s nothing closer to my heart than my dogs. Turns out that my best chance for literary success lay right at my feet all along. It was only when I began writing about what I have adored my entire life—dogs—that my work started gaining some recognition.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I was born on January 2, the day of the year when Sirius, the dog star in the constellation Canis Major, appears in the east and orbits across the northern hemisphere. Whenever I have felt a little lost on my life’s course, I like to think I’m being watched over by that bright blue eye of the dog leaping up in the night sky.

I keep a New Yorker cartoon by George Booth displayed near my computer. It shows a writer seated at his desk. Arms folded across his chest, he puffs on a pipe as he stares at the blank page in his typewriter. Clearly, he’s suffering from writer’s block. Surrounding him in his makeshift workspace on the back porch are a dozen or so dogs of various breeds. Through the open door, where his wife is standing and looking exasperated, you can see many more dogs inside the house and others running up and down the stairs. She declares in the caption, ”Write about dogs!” 

That cartoon has become my mantra. While I may not have that many dogs, you still have to move one to get the best seat in the house. Whenever I’ve been in doubt about which path I’m meant to follow—and like my bassets, I’ve strayed far afield now and then—Booth’s cartoon reminds me. My dogs continue to provide me with endless inspiration and inexhaustible material for my books and articles.

Siriusly, my life has gone completely to the dogs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.