Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Breathing New Life into Orphaned Books

How would you react if your publisher suddenly died and orphaned your series? Panic? Tears? Or would you follow the trend and republish the books yourself? Few publishers will consider a series after the third novel is published, so I resurrected my small press, which I operated years ago to feature fledgling authors.
I’m electronically challenged, but my husband learned to upload files for both ebooks and print editions. And, because the books were previously published, there was little editing to do. It wasn’t long before we had seven books online as well as local stores stocking them.

Fortunately, I’ve served as a news, magazine and small press editor, and my husband does a good job designing book covers. We’re both bibliophiles with a large home library, so our love of books keeps us motivated.

The next problem is how to promote our books. With so much competition from more than a million ebooks, and thousands more published each day; we need to find ways to make our books stand out. But how to do that? Too many blurbs on Facebook and other social media sites only turn readers away. So how do you let readers know about your books on a limited budget?

Besides guest blogging at popular sites, I decided to take part in virtual book tours. The best part of blog tours was hearing from readers who stop to comment about our books. Having someone say, “My husband grabbed your book before I had a chance to read it,” really makes a writer’s day—an entire week even. 

Before I close, I’d like to ask you, my visitors how publishers 
attract your attention and what makes you decide to buy their books? I appreciate any comments you’d like to make.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jeffrey "Hammerhead" Philips

Jeffrey Knox Philips, an internationally known underwater naturalist, has pursued his passion for large marine animals such as hammerhead and tiger sharks, humpback whales, sea lions, and manatees around the world from Bridgetown, Barbados; Peti-Goave, Haiti, to Lucuala, Fiji. Twice winner of the Okefenokee Wildlife annual contest for his underwater photography, his photographs often appear in the pages and on the covers of half a dozen dive magazines. 

His articles have appeared in Florida Scuba News and Shark Diver magazine and his video footage has been used in several documentaries aired on the Discovery Channel. As an underwater naturalist he often is interviewed on TV by CBS affiliate WPECand NBC affiliate WPTV in south Florida, as well as nationally, which has helped to get the word out about the destruction of turtle nesting sites, over harvesting of lobsters and anchor damage on the coral reefs. He also offers advice on undersea homeland security issues. So when he decided to write mystery novels, the sea was a natural setting.

Jeff, you have an impressive background in underwater photography. How did your interest in large marine animals come about?

It is easier for a large animal to fill the viewfinder than it is for a little guy. Photographing flighty palm-size fish becomes frustrating unless you have lots of patience. The key for me was to start with slow moving, fat creatures. Manatees are easy to learn the craft. After gaining confidence and experience, I set my lens on french angelfish, queen angels, rainbow parrotfish, each species getting a little larger. The most curious were nassau groupers who seemed to enjoy seeing their reflection in the dome ports or lens glass.

What’s a shark rodeo? And why do you prefer to photograph hammerhead and tiger sharks?

I believe “Shark Rodeo” was first coined by the dive staff on Walkers Cay, Bahamas in the ‘80s. They would take a 50 gallon trash barrel, fill it full of fish and freeze it, thus making a chumsicle. Once frozen, they’d take it out to a sandy bottom site that is surrounded by brain corals with a boat load of nervous divers. Over the years the sharks learned that anytime they heard the whine of a particular boat propeller, that they would get fed. While revving the diesel engines , the Bahamian boat captain said “I’m ringing the dinner bell. Time for supper.”

The divers then descended into about 30 feet of water and laid or knelt on the sandy bottom. The frozen chumsicle, tied to a float ball, would stay suspended about 15 feet below the surface. As soon as the ball started to melt, the sharks swam in. Not a few, but around a hundred. Nurse sharks, black tips, Caribbean reef, and bull sharks. The divers had to follow one rule, don’t touch the bait and stay at least 15 feet away from the frozen fish chunks. The sharks would circle the bait ball, tearing bits out of it, just like a wild rodeo. The sharks often swam between the divers, over the divers, around the divers. Strobes firing from cameras, newbie divers and first timers wide eyed. Definitely a heart pumping, adrenalin pulsing time. Often nurse sharks would lie beside divers to rest and hope to get scratched. The encounter lasted little over an hour. Plenty of time to capture an award winning shot and memories never to be forgotten.

What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in underwater? And how did you survive?

The most dangerous situation? Sun burn. And so far I’m surviving. The dermatologist says I have perfect skin. Some of the more interesting: Cave diving at a place called Eagle’s Nest. After squeezing through a chute about the diameter of a fireplace chimney, I popped out into an opening larger than a small island. OK, maybe not that large, but large enough that my silver-cadium battery lights didn’t reach the cave’s sides. Another one of interest, swimming into a school of silversides that blocked out all sunlight. Or being boomed by a 300 pound goliath grouper. Every bone in my body vibrated. Maybe dancing with a six foot green moray. Or how about a bull shark biting into my fin and giving it a shake so violent I thought he broke my leg. It’s hard to decide the most interesting. I always say, the next encounter I’m going to have.

Why did you leave corporate America at the height of your career ten years ago to take fledgling naturalists on dive trips to educate them about coral spawning, turtle nesting, fish dancing and other wonders of the deep?

It was an easy decision. Should I stay in a high rise tower with a window view of the world, or take my friend’s job invitation to work every day on the ocean? Working in corporate America has many advantages, job security, health care benefits, paid vacation, a nice salary, and more. But when I started sitting in the bathtub every night wearing my mask, fins, and snorkel, my wife said it was time to change jobs and be a dive guide. I left an environment where people were unhappy, always striving to produce more, work harder, meet unrealistic goals for a work atmosphere where every day I met happy people. Divers who look forward to see sights most people in this world cannot even imagine. How do you compare anything to watching at 2am a 200 pound loggerhead turtle lug her body up on the sandy beach, spend an hour digging a nest, laying 200 eggs, then crawl back to the sea. How about coral spawning? Around midnight on a full moon in August seeing millions of BB size eggs being ejected out of star coral, floating to the surface and fish coming in to gorge themselves. Some people comment on the beauty of a blue sky. That is pale when descending into the depths of blue in the ocean. The shades turn darker and more vibrant in the depths. Once the ocean salt entered in my veins, I keep being called back like an outgoing tide.

When and why did you decided to write underwater mysteries?

I was told to write about what I know. But better advice, write about what you love. The ocean has me handcuffed to it. I feel at home in salty water. Ever since I was a kid pulling on my first set of fins, I loved to read mysteries. Thus the two just naturally formed.

Tell us about your protagonist .

Jesse Stoker is also a man who loves the ocean. The only thing he really wants to do in life is take people diving, show them the wonderful fish, and insure they have a great time. But he has demons. His wife disappeared in a scuba diving accident, the Coast Guard says her body descended into the depths and will never be found. Stoker holds himself accountable. Then a local radio personality goes missing from his boat on a night dive and it is up to him to find her and clear his name.

Your wife holds a 100-ton Coast Guard captain’s license? Please explain.

My wife, Kitty, the prettiest mermaid in the ocean, wanted to captain the dive boat we owned, while I dove with the guests. Out boat was big enough to hold 24 divers, which required her to have a 100 ton vs. a 50 ton license.

Thank you, Jeff.

You learn more about Jeffrey Phillips at his website:, his blogsite: and his Facebook page. He says, "I’m the one standing on the stern of a boat in front of a yellow shark cage cutting bait. Please 'friend' me.'" You can also find him at GoodReads, MurderMustAdvertise, Coral-reefs, Flsnorkeladdicts, Floridascubadiving and Scubadiving2.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Writing a Series

After you write that standalone novel, your publisher may suggest that it become a series. So it’s important that you like your protagonist(s) and want to continue writing about them. Agatha Christie grew tired of writing about Hercule Poirot and wanted to kill him off, just as Conan Doyle attempted to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes.

When I began my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I named my two protagonists Shirley Lock and Dora Holmes. They were known as Shirl Lock & Holmes, a corny spin on the detective and his physician narrator. When my publisher closed its doors, I resold the series and changed the names to Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty. By that time my two women sleuths had become like old friends, whom I enjoy visiting to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Dana is a bit autobiographical while Sarah is similar to my friend Marge, who is outspoken and often so funny that she has me laughing tears. Dana is a mystery novel buff, who, with her friend Sarah, a private investigator’s widow, buy a motorhome to travel the West, as I’ve done. Making the two women mobile provides them new settings in each novel. Although two of their motorhomes have been wrecked in the first three books, Dana’s wealthy sister dies and leaves her a considerable sum of money as well as a Wyoming mansion. The money allows them 
Sixth in my Logan & Cafferty series
additional   mystery solving opportunities as well as extensive travel.

Most protagonists have a job and the author needs to be knowledgeable about the occupation, or at least know the basics. And above all, enjoy writing about the job on a continuing basis, without becoming bored. Another pitfall is to change the tone of the writing. For instance, you shouldn't  begin writing a cozy and decide in the middle of the series to darken it to a noir. Readers will complain. I’ve covered various subjects in my series, including adultery, drug gangs and homegrown terrorists, blackmail and extortion, mental illness, serial killers and wolves, but with humor, so I’ve been able to get away with subjects not usually associated with two 60-year-old feisty amateur sleuths. And readers have fortunately told me that each book has been a fun read.

If your series becomes popular, you may have to continue writing it longer than you had planned. J. K. Rowling was able to discontinue her Harry Potter series after seven books, but Sue Grafton is committed to 26. Her schedule has changed over the years and she now only writes three hours a day with one published novel every two years. Now in her early 70s, she’ll be nearly 80 when Z is for Zero is released, but she plans to continue writing about her private investigator on a standalone basis after the series ends. She admits that Kinsey Millhone is her alter ego and that she enjoys writing about her.

I can't imagine writing 26 novels about someone you don't like and I'm glad that I enjoy my characters, especially my lovesick sheriff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Visit with J. A. Jance

Bestselling novelist J.A. Jance has two recently released novels, Fire and Ice from HarperCollins and Trial by Fire by Simon and Schuster. She's pictured with her dogs, Aggie (with the white face) and Daph, named for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier.

Judy, when did you first know you wanted to become a mystery writer?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in second grade. I didn't specifically want to be a "mystery writer" but because I always read mysteries it was a natural fit.

Tell us about Fire and Ice and Trial by Fire.

Fire and Ice is the second pairing of my two detectives, Joanna Brady in Arizona and J. P. Beaumont in Seattle. They are working seemingly separate cases but, by the end of the book, they find the two are definitely connected. Beau's parts of the story are told in his first person voice. Joanna's parts are told in the third person.

Trial by Fire, Ali number 5, has her working as a newly appointed Media Relations Officer for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department. When eco-terrorists burn down a supposedly unoccupied house, Ali is part of the investigation that first must identify the victim before locating the killer.

How did your J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come into being?

Until Proven Guilty, the first Beaumont book was published in 1985. When I wrote it, I thought I was writing a one-time book. I was new to Seattle, but the character was a Seattle native. I had to do a lot of research to make that work, and writing in from a male first person point of view was challenging. After writing nine Beaumonts in a row, I was growing tired of the character.

My editor suggested I come up with some other character so I could alternate. When I wrote the first Joanna Brady, Desert Heat, I knew I was writing a series but I used my experiences of being a single parent, of living in the Arizona desert, and of working in a non-traditional job to create her character. Ali Reynolds grew out of seeing a longtime Tucson female newscaster pushed out of her job due to age factors.

What in your background prepared you to write grisly crime and horror novels?

I have the dubious honor of having spent sixty days of my life in the early seventies being stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison as I write this. During that time I wore a loaded weapon, and I was fully prepared to use it. I used some of what I learned from that investigation to create the background for Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, and Day of the Dead.

Where do you do your best writing, in Seattle or Tucson, and why?

I write in both places. It remains to be seen which writing is best. And I don't have to BE in Arizona to WRITE about Arizona. It was in trying to turn the landscape around Bisbee into words when I finally realized why with the red shale hills and the limestone cliffs that Bisbee High School's color are red and gray.

Who are your favorite authors and which one most influenced your own writing?

I started out reading Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene. But I read John D. McDonald and Mickey Spillane. Those were the people who showed me it was possible to write a series of books for adults.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day?

Since I'm on a two book a year schedule, I write every day. I don't have a set number of words. I'm also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life.

What are the basic ingredients for a bestselling novel? How long did it take you to reach the list?

I don't know the basic ingredients. I guess I'd say characters and plots. As for when did I make the list? Fifteen or twenty books ago probably, but making the lists is entirely arbitrary and based on decisions that are made far away from the author's effort. I don't think the books I wrote before making "the list" were of any lesser quality than the ones that have.

When did you begin donating a percentage of your bookstore earnings to charities, and which ones?

Very early on. I don't remember exactly. I've been involved with the YWCA, the Humane Society, the Relay for Life, ALS research.

Advice to fledgling writers.

When I bought my first computer--1983--the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so every time I booted up the computer, these were the words that flashed across the screen: A writer is someone who has written TODAY! Those were words I clung to when I was a "pre-published" writer and that still resonate with me today. Today I AM a writer. I'm working on Chapter 5 of the next Ali book.

J. A.'s website is She also has a blog there as well as at in the City Brights section.