Saturday, September 19, 2015

One Week Before the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con

For me, publishing and even writing take a back seat for the next week while we gear up to present The Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con is a great chance to spend a weekend with fans and authors of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. For some of us, that’s enough to prompt us to attend, but for you others I’ll count down a dozen more good reasons.
the Mid-Atlantic's coolest literary event of the year.

Reason #1 to register for the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity con today: HEATHER GRAHAM! The ITW’s 2016 Thrillmaster and author of more than 150 novels and novellas gives the keynote address at Saturday dinner.  Later she’ll also give a discussion later, explaining how she has managed to balance real life with her wildly successful writing career.
Reason #2 to register for the C3 Con: F. PAUL WILSON will give Friday night’s keynote talk. This NY Times bestseller and creator of the Repairman Jack series has written horror, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, Young Adult stories and a few works that defy categorization. In a class at the C3 Con he’ll shares how he is able to shift genre, what he has to do differently, and how he decides what he’s writing next.

Reason #3 to register: ANDY STRAKA: Six books into his Frank Pavlicek series, he continues to present a Private Eye who is at once traditional and totally unique. I’ll interview him at Saturday lunch and in a separate class he’ll explain the ins-and-outs of writing detective fiction, and how he decides when to stick with the conventions of his sub-genre and when to throw them out the window.

Reason #4: S.D. SKYE: a former Intelligence Operations Specialist/Analyst in the FBI's counterintelligence program, senior intelligence analyst with the DIA, Coast Guard Intelligence, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She’ll be interviewed at Sunday breakfast, then she’ll give a class telling fellow authors how to write realistically about intelligence and law enforcement – and telling readers how to spot when a writer is just making it up.

Reason #5: John French (crime scene supervisor with the Baltimore Police Department Crime Laboratory) and Dana Kollmann (C.S.I. for the Baltimore County Police Department) will give a team presentation on their expertise and take questions... no matter how weird.

Reason #6: Enjoy 28 panels and presentations of interest to readers, fans and writers.

Reason #7: One lucky attendee will win a new Kindle Fire in our Twitter contest for the most tweets using our hashtag #MdC3Con.

Reason #8: The registration fee includes five meals: Friday’s dinner, 3 meals Saturday and Sunday breakfast. Readers and writers dine side-by-side! (ask those questions you’ve always wanted to ask!)

Reason #9: Every attendee receives a goody bag that contains, among other cool stuff, a copy of this year’s C3 Anthology, our annual collectors’ item collection of short stories contributed by authors in attendance.

Reason #10: authors get to spend time with their fans, and to expose new readers to their writing by presenting on panels.

Reason #11: Registered authors’ books will be available in the on-site bookstore and there will be two giant book signings.

Reason :12: All attending authors are posted on the C3 web site and will be pictured in the C3 program

AND IF YOU DON’T WANT TO REGISTER you can still meet all the authors and get signed novels at the Mid-Atlantic’s biggest book signings. The Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con hosts two book signing events – both free and open to the public. Get novels signed by Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, and 30+ other authors. Grow your collection of mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal fiction with signed copies. That’s Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 6pm

It all happens at the Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Rd, Hunt Valley, MD. Want more details? They’re all on the C3 website –

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Loss of a Legend

The literary world lost more than a great creative mind when Warren Murphy left this world Friday morning. You can read his bio elsewhere, and learn of his exciting life as a journalist, journeyman writer, creator of iconic characters and effectively the originator of a whole fictional subgenre that served as a bridge between pulp magazine stories and today’s thrillers. For me the loss is far more personal. For me, Warren Murphy was a friend, a mentor, briefly a co-writer, and one of the finest gentlemen I’ve had the privilege to know.

I first met Warren at Book Expo America in 2002. I was there with my first novel, Blood and Bone published with a fledgling Print-On-Demand company. I recognized the creator of The Destroyer series I had loved in college. He didn’t just stop and say hello. He posed for a photo with me and accepted a copy of my novel. Of course he said he’d read it, and of course since I didn’t really know him yet I was skeptical. You can’t imagine my joy when I received a blurb form him!

      "Blood and Bone is a hair-raising roller coaster ride of a story, and Hannibal Jones bursts into the        world of the fictional private eye like a pack of high explosives. I can't wait to see him in action          again." - 
        Warren Murphy, two-time Edgar award winner and creator of The Destroyer adventure series.

That year I was elected president of the Maryland Writers Association and was eager to hold a spectacular writers conference. I was a little nervous asking Warren if he’d come talk to an auditorium full of aspiring writers but he was very gracious and not only accepted my invitation, but gave one of the most inspiring keynote addresses I’ve ever heard, before or since.

As we drove him back to his hotel, Warren hit me with this idea he had… a detective agency staffed with quirky characters that all looked just a bit like Warren’s own non-Destroyer collection of characters, all dedicated to helping police in trouble. This agency would be driven by the events of 9/11 and the title he had in mind was Beyond Blue. I was naturally stunned when the great man proposed that we write this book together.

My next great memory of Warren was the Love is Murder conference in Chicago the following year. Imagine sitting at a bar with my wife, telling people I was writing a book with Warren Murphy. And I  kept one photo with him there. I'm standing with a veritable pantheon of thriller gods: David Morrell, Warren, Barry Eisler and William Kent Kruger.

More importantly: We all sat at an art auction that was part of the con. A particular painting caught our eyes, but we were in no position at that time to participate.  Days later
that painting arrived at our home with a card calling it a gift to “the bride,” which was what Warren always called my wife. More than a decade later, that painting still hangs in our dining room, an enduring reminder of this kind, witty, talented gentleman who passed thru our lives.

Of course much has happened since then. Warren battled ill health and turned the Beyond Blue project over to me to complete. He returned to writing when he could. He never stopped dreaming or spinning his dreams into adventures we could all share.

It is easy for me to imagine him up in the clouds chatting with his predecessors and peers. That poker table would surely include Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. They might let Ian Fleming sit in.

We are poorer for his passing, but I can say that my life was greatly enriched for having known him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The First Hannibal Jones Interview

On the run up to the release of the next Hannibal Jones mystery I thought new readers might appreciate a chance to get to know the detective a bit better. So I'm posting here the first time Hannibal agreed to be interviewed by a reporter. He introduces that interview in his own words:

I don’t generally like being in the spotlight. I guess the Secret Service taught me it’s better to keep a low profile.

But I’m not with them anymore, and this reporter Irma Andrews helped me unravel a series of murders that caused a lot of collateral damage among the families of the victims. So when Irma asked for an interview I didn’t see how I could say no. Despite my girl Cindy’s prompting I refused to do a TV piece. Appearing in print is bad enough. At least Irma didn’t misquote me, but I think she left out some stuff that makes the whole thing a little misleading. Anyway, here’s the way the piece ran:

I met with private investigator Hannibal Jones in his office in the Anacostia section of Washington. He offered me an excellent cup of coffee, which he said was made from Costa Rican beans, and sat at his desk with sunlight pouring in through large front windows. The office was small and Spartan, sparely furnished but warm and bright. Significantly, while I took notes during the interview, so did Mr. Jones.

Irma Andrews: Thank you for speaking with me today. You are listed as a private investigator but your card describes you as a troubleshooter. How would you describe what you do, and why is it different from what most P.I.’s do?

Hannibal Jones: Most private investigators do employment vetting, matrimonial and divorce work, insurance claims and that kind of stuff. My work is a lot more focused. My clientele is individuals, not corporations. I work with people who are in trouble and don’t know where to get help.

IA: But you do bodyguard work.

HJ: Sometimes.

IA: And solve mysteries like any detective.

HJ: On occasion.

IA: And if a person has been threatened?

HJ: Look, I do whatever’s necessary to help somebody who’s gotten themselves into a jam. I don’t think much about what that might be, going in.

IA: What qualifies you to do this sort of work? What is your professional background?

HJ: As soon as I was old enough I moved to the States and joined the New York City police force.

IA: You weren’t born in the United States?

HJ: No. I was raised in Germany. My dad was an MP in the army. My mom was a German national. We lost Dad in Vietnam. Anyway, I came to the U.S. to be a cop and I was going to bring Mama over as soon as I was settled but she passed.

IA: While you were away.

HJ: (pause.) Yes. While I was away.

IA: I’m sorry. So, you became a policeman…

HJ: Three years on the force to make detective J.G. Then three more as a detective. Then I passed the Secret Service entry exam. I spent seven years as a special agent for the Treasury Department, in the protective service.

IA: But after seven years, you resigned.

HJ: Yeah, well, stuff happened. I should have been one of the uniforms instead of going to the protective service. You see, in the protective service they expect you to not only protect your principal’s life, but his reputation too. I didn’t think my duty should included covering up a politician’s stupid actions. My boss disagreed.

IA: Any politician in particular?

HJ: Not going to go there.

IA: A national figure? Executive branch or…

HJ: I’m not going to go there.

IA: All right. So you had friction with your supervisor. For that you resigned?

HJ: Yeah. Well, after I knocked him on his ass the service was good enough to let me resign.

IA: Should I print that?

HJ: Why not. It’s what happened. They were actually pretty nice about it. Could have stopped me from getting the P.I license you know.

IA: So why this whole troubleshooter concept? How did you get into this business?

HJ: I guess in a way I did it for Mama. She always wanted me to follow my dad’s example. He was always there for people, always looking out for the little guy. Here in Washington, it seemed like there was an overabundance of little guys that needed looking out for.

IA: How do you get enough clients?

HJ: It was slow at first, but word of mouth is a powerful force in the hood. I did a couple of jobs pro bono - kept a couple of kids from being approached by drug dealers. After that people started to find me when they had problems.

IA: So your neighbors are your clients?

HJ: My clients are people with problems bigger than they are. Naturally that happens more often to people without big money.

IA: I know you’ve also had more affluent clients.

HJ: Well, I do get referrals from old Secret Service contacts. And I get business referred to me by the attorney I introduced you to, Cindy Santiago, my, um, friend.

IA: So you do have entrees into a higher financial stratum, but the well-to-do don’t come to Anacostia. Why have your office here?

HJ: That’s a bit of a story. This building used to be a crack house, believe it or not. I was hired to clear the bad element out of here for the owner. In the process I kind of bonded with the neighborhood. I felt at home here, and I knew if I stayed, the bad element wouldn’t be back. I guess the owner knew it too. He made me a very attractive offer to stay.

IA: Why not join a larger detective agency?

HJ: I like deciding who I’ll take as a client, and what kind of job I’ll do.

IA: What kind of job will you do?

HJ: All kinds. Well, no matrimonial stuff, or spying on people waiting for them to do wrong. But I do personal protection, missing persons, sometimes get hired to prove an accused person innocent. I’ll chase a bad element away like I did here, keep drug dealers away from kids or a pimp away from a hooker who wants to quit. Negotiate with loan sharks. Basically, if you have to deal with the bad guys and don’t want the police involved, I’ll usually handle it.

IA: You carry a pistol. What do you think of gun control laws?

HJ: Good gun control means being able to hit the target. Anybody who wants a gun can get one, so restrictive laws only keep people who obey the law unarmed and unable to defend themselves.

IA: But isn’t it too dangerous for everyone to be able to have a gun?

HJ: Based on statistics, it’s too dangerous for everyone to be able to have a car. Maybe guns should be more like cars. You get a license to carry at 18, after passing a mandatory training course.

IA: Interesting. How would you describe your relationship with the police?

HJ: I’d call it mutual grudging respect. I don’t mess with them. They don’t mess with me.

IA: How would you describe your personal relationship with Cindy Santiago?

HJ: I would describe it as personal.

IA: What have you learned doing this?

HJ: I’ve learned that most people are sheep. They’re not looking for trouble and they’ll do the right thing if you let them. A few people are wolves. They prey on the sheep, and they’re going to do wrong no matter what you do. They need to be shut out or put down hard.

IA: And you? Where do you fit in?

HJ: Me? I guess I’m the sheepdog.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Signing - Be Active

Last week we talked mostly about how to set up a book signing. But what do you do when you finally get there?

Well here’s the number one thing NOT to do: Don’t just sit there. A surprising number of people are uncomfortable about walking up to an author and talking to them. So if you want your event to be a success, stand up and talk to people. Say hello to everyone who passes by. If they speak, or stop, or even make eye contact, continue the conversation. Ask if they like the kind of book you write. Tell them you’re an author – you’d be surprised how many people will see you at a table behind a stack of books and not make the connection that you are a writer. A sign on your table with your name and the words “author signing” can help, but don’t count on the bookstore to supply one.

It’s also a good idea to have something to put in people’s hands. Bookmarks are good. Post cards are good. Flyers are better. People who walk right past you might read the exciting copy (like what I hope is on your back cover) and stop back to chat with you on their way out of the store. Because I write series novels, I have a trifold with the covers and a short blurb about each of my novels. Sometimes people circle back to my table after wandering all around the bookstore, point at one of the covers in the trifold and just say, “I want this one.”

For those that do stop to chat, have your elevator pitch ready. Your one-minute talk should deliver the who-what-when-where, and most important, why someone should want to buy your book. Something like this for my next novel:

“I write mysteries. Hannibal Jones – the star of my mystery series - is an African American private eye based in Washington DC. In my newest novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION, he takes on the most important client of his life: his own girlfriend. She gets taken in a scam so he’s trying to get her money back. When Hannibal finally tracks down a lead he goes to question the woman, but she gets gunned down right in front of him in a drive by shooting. Then her body disappears and Hannibal is the top suspect. So he’s got to clear his name, recover his girl’s money AND solve a murder. It’s a mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end. And I’d be happy to sign one for you.”

It’s less than a minute and leads directly to a yes or no.

More book signing tips next week.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Book Signing - Make it Special

A couple of weeks ago I did a book signing at the nearby Barnes and Noble in Bowie MD with my label-mate DB Corey (Yes, they still have signed copies of our novels. Hint! Hint!) I always enjoy these events. I won’t deny the importance of social media, but for me nothing matches the face-to-face connection I make when I’m talking to people about my novels in person. As cool as it was, my mind has wandered since then, mulling over what could have made that good experience better. A lot of ideas have come to mind, so I figured I’d share.

Of course, it’s hard enough to even GET a book signing. There are fewer bookstores every day, and many of those that remain have no interest in doing author events. Various Barnes and Nobles stores have given me a broad variety of reasons they don’t do signings and they all say it’s “company policy.” I believe the real reason is the manager doubts any writer they never heard of will bring new people into the store. After all, if someone comes in and buys your book instead of another one they would have bought, the store hasn’t gained anything. You’d need to sell a book to someone who would have bought nothing or sell a book in addition to another they wanted. In other words, the manager has to believe you’ll bring your own crowd.

So, when you talk to a bookstore manager (or in the case of Barnes and Noble, the Community Relations Managers) be sure to tell them that you will promote your book signing aggressively through regional media and your  local mailing (you do have one, don’t you?)  And assure them you haven’t done another signing within an hour’s drive of their store. That way they know you won’t burn out your local market before you get to their store.

The store I most recently signed in only does multi-author events and I see nothing wrong with that. More writers usually mean more publicity. But to make the best of it, have some actual activities planned. Want to do a reading? Give a talk? (I plan to do my “why people love mysteries” presentation next time) or offer a workshop? Each author can offer something different and in the meantime the others are available to sign books.

So much for what to offer the bookstore. Next week I’ll talk about what to do when you get there.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pre-Release Marketing My Novel

If you visit here regularly you already know that my next novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION will be released November first. If you’re wondering why I’d be talking about it now, you might be missing out on an important part of getting your books noticed. Promotion for your novel needs to start long before anyone can buy it.

Most of this pre-pub promotion is fun for me. The one part that is not is the very first step. Major reviewers want their Advance Reader Copies 120 days before the release date. That means that review copies went into the mail before July 1. Luckily I have a small press behind me so someone else does the really hard work – build a list, address envelopes, haul books to the post office – but it will be well worth it when the guys at Publisher’s Weekly finally wise up and review one of my novels. So far my biggest successes in this arena have been Library Journal and the local papers.  But I remain optimistic.

Everything else is getting the attention of actual readers and building anticipation. That starts 3 months out. I kick it all off with a cover reveal on Facebook and my web site. Then I leak the story ideas and synopsis. I’m purposely stingy with details because, just like when they’re reading a mystery novel, fans enjoy the suspense.

In September I’ll get help from the characters. I’ll post interviews of Hannibal and his supporting cast. I might let the characters give some more hints as to what the book is all about. All this time I’m also chatting with book stores about staging events around the November release. I’m also bugging bloggers about visiting their pages at release time. Guest blogs are pretty easy – the cover, synopsis, a sample chapter and/or one of the interviews I’ve already created will generally do the job.

I wait until the month before release to start sharing sample chapters. I post these on my web site and leave links on Twitter and Facebook to draw people in. I also plant those links on LinkedIn in the writer and reader groups I’ve joined. Asking other writers’ opinion of your samples can be exciting or humbling, but either way it does get engagement.

If pre-publication marketing interests you, stay tuned. In December Intrigue Publishing will release its first anthology and, trust me, promoting a book when you don’t have an author’s brand as your basis is a whole ‘nother thing. But it might turn out to be even more fun!  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Elements of Mystery II

Last week I listed some of the essential elements of a mystery story and asked what you thought was missing. I got quite a bit of feedback and, luckily, all the suggestions do appear in my upcoming novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION. Here are the elements I didn’t discuss last time.

It’s not really a mystery without clues embedded in the story. It’s best to mix them up between material, behavioral and informational clues. Physical clues can be hidden in the setting or the crime scene. Clues can be detected from interactions with the suspects. The best clues are both subtle and clever. But don’t make the mistake of dropping too many clues. If they’re really clues that makes the solution too easy. If there are a lot of false clues readers will resent the artless misdirection.

Readers appreciate the weapon or means of killing, so a physical description of the “how” (how the victim was killed or how the missing item was stolen) is essential. This offers a great opportunity to embed clues so don’t skimp on the description.

I list tension as an essential element because stories without it are boring. There needs to be dissent between the characters, especially between the suspects and your detective. It’s just not realistic for the suspects to happily comply with the sleuth. Detection is more fun to watch if each clue is hard won.

And there must be misdirection, or at least serious distractions. This is where a writer gets into the art of mystery writing. False clues should be woven in with real clues, or tied to a sub plot. They can’t be used gratuitously. Readers will consider that a waste of their time.

Finally, every mystery must have a logical resolution. For your mystery to be satisfying, you must play fair with your readers. They must see all the clues necessary to solve the puzzle, even if they are cleverly hidden. You must not simply pull the solution out of the ether. The readers must have been able to both follow the path and feel that they could have – and SHOULD have – predicted the ending.

For many mystery writers these elements arise automatically as they create their stories. But don’t trust to luck. If you are a plotter, like me, you should make sure all ten of the essential elements are in your story before you begin to actually write. On the other hand, if you are the kind of writer who flies by the seat of his pants you will need to stay aware as you proceed, and not miss the opportunities to include these elements.

NOW… are there other essential elements you feel a mystery needs? Let me know.