Saturday, January 31, 2015

Do Blurbs and Reviews Sell Books?

Every writer covets a great review from Publisher's Weekly, but how many readers base their purchases on reviews? Nothing I've written so far has grabbed PW’s attention although one of my novels, Murder on the Interstate, has earned some good comments, starting with a nice blurb from bestselling mystery novelist, Carolyn Hart: "
Careen into crime with two intrepid sleuths who outwit terrorists in a fast-paced plot taken from today's headlines. A page turner."                                                                                                                                                       Unfortunately, it didn’t jump start book sales, nor did Lefty Award Winner J. Michael Orenduff's colorful review, which I love:

Murder on the Interstate burns rubber right out of the gate and exceeds the speed limit on every page. With all the car chases, gun shots, screeching breaks, and crashes, the movie version could be the sequel to one of those car-heist action-films. Except for the fact that the protagonists are two women approaching Medicare, and their vehicle is a motorhome. Dana and Sarah are stalwart, clever and funny characters, and author Jean Henry Mead caroms them from one tight situation to another as they weave along the Interstate and into a high stakes mystery.”

I thought, WOW, that ought to stir up interest, but it must have only reminded readers of the tire tracks on the first cover, which has since been changed. Marilyn Meredith’s great blurb came next:

“Full of surprising twists and turns, Jean Henry Mead has produced an RV adventure with her two senior sleuths in hot pursuit of a murderer, but the tables turn and the two women learn that not only are they in danger but so is our national security. An exciting mystery that will keep you turning pages."

Book sales numbers barely budged. I thought maybe the counter was broken or everyone hated the cover. I received several additional reviews, including one of my favorites from Earl Staggs, who said:

"I don’t expect an amateur sleuth novel to start fast. I expect to spend time getting to know the protagonist, then get a feel for the setting, and maybe get to know another character or two before the story begins to move forward. That doesn’t happen in MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE. Jean Henry Mead kicks it off in high gear and doesn’t slow down. This is the kind of novel I enjoy.”

By then I was in the midst of a virtual book tour and Molly’s online review had this to say:

“This was good. REALLY good. REALLY REALLY good. So good, in fact, that I have GOT to go back and get the first two in this series! It was a LOT better than I was expecting. It really gripped me and kept me hanging on, until I was, sadly, on the last page. I couldn't believe the ups and downs and twists and turns it took me on. FANTASTIC!”

Readers didn’t take Molly seriously, so I decided the book’s salvation rested with Kindle and Nook. Murder on the Interstate is now available on in this county as well as in the UK and a number of other countries ebook and print editions. And I'm hoping to attract a narrator to record the novel in an audio edition like eight of my other books.

Are readers forsaking print editions for ebooks? How about you? Do you still prefer print or have you joined the ebook revolution? I asked that question in 2012. Now I'm asking if readers are forsaking ebooks for audio books?

And do reviews influence your book buying habits? Writers (and publishers) want to know. :)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Buffalo Bill's Grandson was a Chip Off the Old Block

Buffalo Bill's grandson not only followed in his boot prints as showman, dude rancher, soldier and entrepreneur, he made history of his own. The unpretentious Harvard Law School graduate surrendered the most American troops in Europe during World War II, married more often than the average American, and lectured to more students about their heritage than any of his fellow countrymen. Among his many accomplishments, he learned to downhill ski at 65.

William Cody Garlow was born at the Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, January 4, 1913. His mother, Irma, (Buffalo Bill’s youngest child) returned to Cody, Wyoming, with her two-week-old son and his older brother Fred and sister Jane. The children were orphaned in 1918 when their parents died two days apart during the influenza epidemic. Their grandfather, William F. Cody, passed away the previous year and his wife Louisa adopted their grandchildren and reared them until her death in 1921.

Bill Garlow was four when his illustrious granddad died. “I remember him distinctly only three times,” he said. “Once at the TE Ranch west of Cody, on his deathbed, and at his funeral on Lookout Mountain.”

Bill and his brother Fred were "installed in a military school" in southern California by their grandmother when they were six and nine. Bill continued his education at the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, where his grades fluctuated according to the season and he studied six years, instead of four, to graduate. “Periodically I was excellent,” he said, grinning. “And other times I got lousy grades. It all depended on hunting season which started about the same time as school. I had to go hunting first.”

The trim six-footer studied pre-law at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1936. He then enrolled at Harvard Law School. “Very early in high school I decided to become a lawyer. I visualized justice, equity and all that I wanted to participate in, but when I became a lawyer, I found that it was an entirely different ball game, so I practiced two years and quit.”

Following graduation from Harvard, Garlow enlisted in the army as a reserve commissioned second lieutenant. A platoon leader, he was later promoted to the ranks of captain, company commander and major. In 1944, he was transferred to the 106th Infantry Division and sent to Germany where his troops were caught in the Battle of The Bulge. Surrounded by German artillery troops, Garlow’s 423rd regiment, commanded by Colonel Charles Cavender, was stationed on the Schnee Eifel, attempting to fight its way west to the German town of Schoenberg.

Just before daybreak on December 19, 1944, Cavender gathered his three battalion commanders and staff in a small open field to discuss their next line of action when a German artillery shell fragment killed the officer standing next to Garlow. After the initial volley, American troops assembled to coordinate an attack westward across the hilly Schnee Eifel, but the entire command was caught in the open where artillery fire was inflicting heavy casualties. Colonel Descheneau of the 422nd gathered field officers in a bunker to discuss the graveness of their situation. Food and ammunition supplies had been cut off, and the colonel concluded that the only way to save the lives of the 5,000 men was to surrender.

Garlow volunteered to negotiate the surrender although he and several other men had planned to escape through the woods, with the colonel’s permission. He decided to hand over his gun and borrow white handkerchiefs to wave as he ran an erratic path down the side of the hill into German-held territory. There he was grabbed and stripped of “his most prized possessions.” He spoke no German and was unable to communicate his intent to negotiate a surrender until a young German lieutenant, who spoke English, came to his rescue and ordered his men to return Garlow’s watch, pint of bourbon and candy bars. He was then taken to a major who also spoke fluent English.

John Eisenhower describes the scene that followed in his book, The Bitter Woods:

Turning to the lieutenant [the major] snapped orders in German which Garlow soon learned charged the lieutenant with conducting a patrol of nine or ten men to accompany Garlow back to the American positions. Faced with a tense situation, the young volksgrenedier’s personality instantly changed. He jabbed Garlow in the back with his Schmeisder burp gun. “If this is a trick, Major, you’re dead.” Garlow winced under the painful blow: later turned out his chivalrous enemy had broken two of his ribs. But the lieutenant’s former friendly attitude returned. Keeping Garlow covered, he let the American guide his patrol up the hill to Descheneau’s CP on the Schnee Eiffel, where they found that Descheneau had prepared everything. Weapons were broken . . . 

And many American soldiers were in tears. Garlow, therefore, held what he termed “the dubious honor or having negotiated the surrender of the largest number of American soldiers in the European theatre;" surpassed only by the Bataan surrender in 1942. Members of the 422and and Garlow’s 423rd regiments spent the rest of the war in German prison camps and were awarded purple hearts for the frostbite they suffered as a result of their capture. Garlow was also “unofficially shot in the leg.”

Following the war, he returned to “Cody Country” where he practiced law for two years and helped establish the local radio station. He was one of the founders of KODI, later serving as owner-general manager and on-the-air personality. He then moved to Texas where he “got into the oil business,” the drilling end of it. He went broke after a while, he said, because of his preoccupation with “having a good time and chasing girls.” So he once again returned to the town of Cody, where he established a river float business, later run by his son Kit. In 1969, he married for the fifth time.

His first marriage lasted six months. He married again while a law student at Harvard. The union produced four sons: Bill and Jack Garlow and Barry and Kit Carson Cody. He remarried after his sons' mother died, but was divorced after only a couple of years. A fourth marriage also failed, but he remained happily married to his fifth wife Barbara, some forty years his junior, until his death. Together they purchased a rundown guest ranch and established it as one of the most highly rated resorts in Wyoming. Located on ten acres of leased government land, it lay halfway between Cody and the east entrance to Yellowstone Park, adjoining millions of acres of national forest.

He began making public appearances for the Daisy Air Rifle Company in 1968 when a new line was introduced called the “Buffalo Bill.” The promoters insisted that he legally change his name from Bill Cody Garlow to Bill Cody for the television and radio commercials as well as public appearances. “Bill Garlow just wouldn’t do,” he said. “But I may have already been a Cody because my grandmother adopted me. I never thought to check the courthouse records. So with all my marriages and the change in name, I have the Cody family book well fouled up.”

Buffalo Bill’s grandson appeared on some 3,000 television shows, thousands of radio programs and various promotions during the next nine years. He also lectured to junior high and high school students about their “American heritage” while on the road making public appearances. He talked to “more youth in person than any other American” during 1,171 lectures in forty-two states. At the time of the interview, he still had hopes of speaking to students in all fifty states.

He said, “That’s my kind of pony express.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

Ernest Hemingway has always been my writing role model. Not only because his work changed the face of writing, but because he was a novelist as well as a journalist, as I am. And maybe because we shared the same birthday, July 21st.

The following are a few of his quotes:

~There's no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.

~Will work again on the novel today. Writing is a hard business, but nothing makes you feel better. 

~I love to write. But it has never gotten any easier to do and you can't expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do.

~The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life--and one is as good as the other.

~A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.

~Whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.

And when asked what the best early training is for a writer, Hemingway answered: "An unhappy childhood." Whether his answer was tongue in cheek is irrelevant. I'm sure he meant that emotions such as sadness, anger, rebellion and depression are remembered emotions which contribute to good writing. And writing that elicits reader emotion is the primary ingredient in a successful book.

(Quotes from Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips, Scribner, 1984)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Creating Novel Characters (Without Getting Sued)

Some of us are tempted to create characters based on people we know. And that's fine as long as you don’t describe them accurately. Your relatives probably won’t sue if they find themselves in your novels, but others might. Especially if they find themselves the villain.

To successfully sue, a plaintiff must prove that your fictional character is negatively based on her, and has injured her emotionally, financially or socially. It’s safer to write about a public figure or someone deceased, although their relatives can sue for defaming them posthumously. To avoid lawsuits, disguise your characters in ways to make them unrecognizable. That includes physical appearances as well as mannerisms. By combining the traits of one person with another, you'll have a unique character.

How much disguise is necessary? There aren’t any hard and fast rules but merely changing a person’s name will not keep you out of court. The only safe way to avoid litigation is to change the character’s name, sex, age, occupation and appearance. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be better to create an entirely new character?

Creating enough characters to inhabit a novel is easier if the writer is a people watcher. A good imagination is also a plus when you flesh out your characters so they're real to your readers. It’s also true of names. You have to be careful what you name your villains because someone with the same name may take offense and claim to have been libeled. To avoid this, give your villains simple names such as Bob Smith, Joe Brown or Pat Wilson. If you’re unsure, there’s a website, How Many of Me? which lists how many people have a certain name. I also check with various people finders online to make sure no one has the name when I decide on an unusual one. I was surprised to learn that out of more than 400,000,000 people in this country, no one else has my name.

Character names are important because they conger up images in a reader’s mind. You wouldn’t name a contemporary character Ebenezer any more than you would call a Roman Emperor Mike. Sometimes you can get away with stretching the rules. In my second mystery/suspense novel, A Village Shattered, I named one of my contemporary characters Elisibub because his southern parents named him for his great-grandfather, a Civil War captain. So everyone calls him “Bub.”

Writers can create some wonderful names for their characters by reading newspapers or the phonebook. I knew a western writer, Stanley Locke, who chose Ormly Gumfudgin as his pen name. I’ve also known people with unusual names such as Fayfern Dinkle, Damery Binkle, Wakley Peacock and Sissie Muddle, but I wouldn’t dream of using them in a novel. Like my name, they’re one of a kind, but that doesn't stop me from tweeking them a little and coming up with Wilber Birdsnest, Damer Winkle and Fannie Dinkley. I like to insert humor in my work, including my nonfiction books.

Male protagonists with names like Daniel, Michael, George and David seem to instill confidence in the reader that they will accomplish their goals or overcome a problem before the end of the book. Female characters have an ever wider range of names and writers have been known to create some unusual ones. I prefer short, common names such as Dana, Sarah, Micki and Carole, which are characters in my first mystery novel. It’s only when I choose surnames that I'm creative.