Monday, 24 November 2008

It’s not about the drugs

In my novel Sleep Before Evening, a brilliant teenager named Marianne finds herself slipping down the treacherous path of heroin addiction. While the novel is ultimately redemptive, with a positive outcome and a positive message, it isn’t meant to be salutary or didactic. But fiction writers don’t dabble in solely made-up worlds. If your characters don’t follow a path which is realistic and utterly believable, they won’t work for the reader. As an author, you have to go mentally and sometimes physically to the places your characters go, even when those places are black indeed. It has to be real. It has to have the kind of truth that is truer than nonfiction, because you are also taking your readers there. You’re showing rather than telling, to cite that old writer’s chestnut.

Someone I work with asked me what Sleep Before Evening was about and it was hard for me to convince him that the novel wasn’t about drugs. Of course the protagonist’s heroin addiction is a critical component of the story, as is her recovery through a 12-Step clinic, and other types of support she receives. But the novel certainly isn’t about the drugs, because even a ‘real life’ drug addiction isn’t about the drugs. It’s about the impetus for the addiction—the underlying pain and hunger that drives the addict to seek the kind of comfort he or she feels drugs (any kind of drugs) can provide. And they do provide that kind of comfort, at least initially, while simultaneously increasing the hunger and pain. Because drugs malnourish the pain and hunger, rather than feeding it. It feels good, but only so long as the buzz lasts. And it doesn’t last. It can’t last. There’s always a crash.

The story isn’t about the drugs or the pain or the crash. It’s about the need that all of us have for self-actualisation; for discovering our voice and finding a way to let that voice out. That’s what the protagonist in Sleep Before Evening finds. She was lucky. And fictional, which makes luck a lot easier. She had help from a benevolent god (that’s me in this case). It isn’t always so easy. But the answers are almost always the same. We all have the need, the hunger and pain, and we all have to find some way – hopefully a way that’s positive and that can last, to feed that need. We all have to find our voice. That’s what the book’s about.

Magdalena Ball is author of The Art of Assessment and Quark Soup. She runs the popular Compulsive Reader website. Her short stories, editorials, poetry, reviews and articles have appeared in many printed anthologies and journals and have won several awards.

Magdalena's debut novel, Sleep Before Evening, was published by BeWrite Books in 2007.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Harry Hughes podcast

Listen to Harry Hughes discuss the social science behind Bela Lugosi's film 'Bowery at Midnight' on UEN SciFi Friday.

Harry also talks about his varied career and his novel 'The Bait Shack'.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Free books up for grabs

Win a free, signed copy of Silenced Cry by Marta Stephens along with other cool stuff to enhance your next reading experience, in a Christmas Murder Scavenger Hunt - see contest details here

Brian Kavanagh is giving away a paperback copy of Bloody Ham, the third the Belinda Lawrence mystery series, to the lucky winner.

But that's not all!

He's also giving away an eBook (PDF) copy of the first book in the series, Capable of Murder.

To enter, please sign the Guest Book on Brian's web site, and specify which book you want, the paperback or the eBook. Names will be placed in separate hats and the first name drawn will be the winner in each case. Winners will be notified by email.

Brian Kavanagh's website

Friday, 14 November 2008

Developing an Internet Presence: Spread the Word

Spread the Word

Authors have an amazing power at their fingertips and it’s not a magical wand. It’s called the Internet, but what he or she does with it is the make or break difference in their success to reach a global audience. Let’s say the author has a website, a blog, and a book on Amazon -- that’s not enough. They must network to gain global exposure. Think of it as multi-level marketing. She tells ten people about her book, they tell ten people, and so on and so forth. The obvious difference between the standard concept of word of mouth, face to face communication, and the internet is that one person has the potential to reach millions of people with a few key strokes.

One of the easiest, cost effective, and most immediate forms of communication, of course, is e-mail. Build a mailing list of friends, family, and readers, professional contacts and referrals. When you have a book signing, ask those who buy your book to sign a guest book and provide you with an e-mail address for updates about your writing. Send out periodic announcements to your fans about signings, contests, appearances, and other milestones in your writing career. Make it personal by maintaining a land mailing address list and mail out signed postcards announcing the launch and pertinent information about your new book. You’ll be out of the cost of printing and postage but the returns can be magical.

Author/reader groups and forums.
Word of mouth is still the number one best way to sell your book even if “word of mouth” takes on a different form of communication. The Internet is overflowing with groups that bring authors and readers together. Don’t limit yourself to one or two groups. Social networks, forums, critique groups, and professional writers’ groups are key to today’s Internet marking. Many sites will allow members to create a profile page that offers the capability to post book covers, the author’s photographs, bios, book trailers, and blogs. Some groups also include forums for the exchange of information and ideas. They’re a great way to meet others who have similar interests and will often lead to many positive connections.

The interactions we have with one another are the cornerstones of relationships. Therefore, the key to success in these groups is to give as much as you receive. Make it a point to respond not only to the messages posted on your page, but get in the habit of interacting with the other members via their posts. Get involved in group discussions whether they are related to writing/publishing or not. Few authors have the luxury of writing full-time which means they work outside the home and often are highly skilled in other areas of expertise. Share your know-how, when applicable, with others. Members will support fellow members they have come to know. I belong to a number of author/reader groups and have found each through links that members from other sites have shared or invited me into. In return, I invite them into my groups and also pay it forward. Eventually your base of contacts will grow into a wonderfully diverse set of cyber friends. After a while, you’ll start seeing familiar faces at the different sites who by now have met new contacts for you to contact.

One argument against social networks is the amount of time required to keep active; some can be quite demanding of your time and expect you to post on a regular basis. Blogs and forums can become addictive if you let them. Let’s face it, if you’re blogging, you’re not writing. Fortunately, you’re in control of your time, right? Allow yourself say, 20-30 minutes a day to visit a select group of sites. If you don’t make it into all of the groups, visit the next set of groups the following days, but don’t exceed your allotted time on the blogs. Review the posts, respond to those you are interested in, certainly support the member who have been supportive of you, and get out. Set your e-mail preferences to daily or weekly digest which will only send out one e-mail listing that day’s or week’s activity for you to select from and read. This will also cut down on the number of e-mails in your mailbox.

Join a professional writers' organization.
Organizations are as varied as there are genres; Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America are just a few. This link lists several groups:

Some membership fees are hefty and carry a minimum criterion for acceptance into the group. Do your homework and see which one best fits your needs. The advantages of a membership in a professional writers’ organization are that:
  1. active participation in a professional group, reflects the level of time and financial commitment an author is willing to make in his or her writing career.
  2. these organizations provides support for authors by promoting the author’s work to the membership and others in the publishing business, provide a networking system, announce upcoming events, contests, and other opportunities, and pass on valuable information about current publishing trends to the members.
Conferences are another great way to connect with others in the publishing business as well as readers. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to speak on a panel and/or have a book signing, make sure you have ample bookmarks to pass out that include your website and e-mail information along with a picture of your book cover and blurb. The costs of some events can be prohibiting. Plan ahead and select one or two key conferences per year to make those critical connections.

media releases to the major newspapers and radio stations in your state and ask for an interview – not a review. Most newspapers no longer write book reviews. Follow up with a phone call to the appropriate editor to make sure he or she received it and to check if additional information is needed. Continue to focus your marketing to posting articles in high traffic blogs. Journalists often go to web sites to find their next story. Here are some useful links:
Create a blog on Amazon and take advantage of all the features Amazon offers to help get your book in front of readers. One important feature is the tags that the author may type in to help readers in their search. Shoot for a minimum of 60 – the more the better.

Set up a Google Alert.
This is a free feature through Google that will e-mail the author when someone does a search by the key words the author has stipulated (i.e.: book title, author’s name, genre, etc.). It’s best to create very specific key words otherwise, let’s say you key in the word “romance,” you will receive an e-mail every time someone searches on that word.

A questionable promotional tool is the flyer. Choose your target audience carefully. If the intend is to mail flyers to bookstore owners, be sure to include a picture of the book cover, author’s picture, bio, book blurb, publisher, ISBN, cost, distributors, and author and publisher contact information. These are most effective if sent to local bookstores owners who know you and will be more inclined respond to your mailing. The chances for a response from bookstores owners who are not familiar with you or your work outside your immediate area, diminishes drastically. Mailing lists can be purchased. Read the fine print for the minimum number available and the cost. These can run up a tidy bill of thousands of dollars without a guaranteed return in sales. This expense is in addition to the cost of printing and postage. I acquired a list of mystery bookstores located in the US and Canada through a writer’s organization. Although the list was free to members, most of the 200-300 envelops were returned marked undeliverable. Live and learn.

The use e-mail address will give the sender immediate notification if the address is invalid. Although this method will eliminate costly printing and postage expenses, it still doesn’t offer a guaranteed response. Unsolicited mails might be considered spam and automatically deleted. My suggestions on the use of flyers is to do the homework and proceed with caution.
  1. Developing an Internet Presence: An Author's Website
  2. Developing an Internet Presence: The Public Author
  3. Developing an Internet Presence: Book Trailers
  4. Developing an Internet Presence: Spread the Word
  5. Developing an Internet Presence: Virtual Book Tours
  6. Developing an Internet Presence: The Hometown Advantage
Marta Stephens, a native of Argentina but a life-long resident of the American Midwest, began her career as a fiction writer in 2003. This evolved into a life-changing passion that has led to the birth of her Sam Harper Crime Mysteries and her debut novel, Silenced Cry. She runs the popular Murder by 4 blog along with her fellow crime authors at Murder by 4. She also has several short stories and flash fictions to her credit.

Marta's debut novel, Silenced Cry, was published by BeWrite Books in 2007.

Her second novel, The Devil Can Wait, was published by BeWrite Books November 3rd 2008.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

From the desk of Sam Harper

It’s snowing again. Big wet flakes plunge from the evening sky to the streets below. From my fourth floor window the scenery looks as peaceful as the pictures on the Christmas cards Emma keeps on her desk. But the new layer of snow reminds me of the bodies piling up in the morgue. I close my eyes – each victim’s face flashes before them.

I curse under my breath and try to make sense of the killings.

Superstitions and biblical prophesies – old wives’ tales told to scare the shit out of weak men, and innocent children. Delusions of twisted beliefs rule the mind, poison the heart, and push unsuspecting fools to the brink of insanity.

To hell with what anyone says. There’s nothing supernatural about those boys we pulled out of the bay. They were dead long before their bodies surfaced and washed ashore. It was the water and natural processes, not demons that left us with little more than the discarded remnants of a madman’s fury. Yet the crimes are precise, planned like a well-choreographed dance, but even the most deliberate acts of violence are rarely perfect.

On the streets, tinsel and bright colored lights can’t mask the undercurrent of fear that has spread through the city and reporters are pressing for answers. All I need to hear is a slip of the tongue – just one mindless deed and the killer is mine. But solutions are in short supply and every minute measures another segment of time without answers. One inaccurate statement from me is all it would take to feed the media frenzy. This pack of journalists can lick their lips and starve before I’ll give them a crumb to feed on.

It’s late, I’ve thumbed through the case file a million times and the lack of evidence stings like a sharp blow to the jaw. Facts seem distorted, leads haven’t panned out. Just when I thought I was close, the evidence pointed in a different direction. A familiar, unsettling jerk in the pit of my gut yanks harder with each ring of my cell. I know what’s coming. Don’t need to answer the call to know the killer has struck again. This time, that nagging little voice in the back of my head tells me I’m in for a long ugly chase down a narrow path that leads straight into hell.

The Devil Can Wait by Marta Stephens. A Sam Harper Crime Mystery. The city of Chandler, Massachusetts is plunged into terror when the bodies of three local teenagers wash ashore. While homicide detective Sam Harper hunts down the guilty, a sinister plot emerges overseas. From the Vatican to the jungles of South America, a cursed black pearl ring, the demonic prophecy it represents, and the men who pursue its powers find their unfortunate way onto Harper’s turf.

Enthralled by the ring’s story and a front-page spread, newspaper reporter Jennifer Blake agrees to pick up the ring at a local pawnshop for her former college professor. When she does, unforeseen events shoot Blake to the top of Harper’s prime suspect list. Soon, the seemingly unrelated cases converge and the heat is on for Harper to expose the truth behind a Vatican secret and stop the self-righteous man who does the unthinkable in the name of God.

Print ISBN: 978-1-905202-86-7 | eBook ISBN: 978-1-904492-87-4

BeWrite Books are available from: BeWrite Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and other online booksellers and to order from high street bookshops.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Devil Can Wait by Marta Stephens - Out Now

A Sam Harper Crime Mystery

The city of Chandler, Massachusetts is plunged into terror when the bodies of three local teenagers wash ashore. While homicide detective Sam Harper hunts down the guilty, a sinister plot emerges overseas. From the Vatican to the jungles of South America, a cursed black pearl ring, the demonic prophecy it represents, and the men who pursue its powers find their unfortunate way onto Harper's turf.

Enthralled by the ring's story and a front-page spread, newspaper reporter Jennifer Blake agrees to pick up the ring at a local pawnshop for her former college professor. When she does, unforeseen events shoot Blake to the top of Harper's prime suspect list. Soon, the seemingly unrelated cases converge and the heat is on for Harper to expose the truth behind a Vatican secret and stop the self-righteous man who does the unthinkable in the name of God.

Sam Harper is back in the blistering followup to 2007'S SILENCED CRY. Serial murders, small-time crooks, an ancient prophecy tied to a cursed ring, and a beautiful reporter who's as dogged in her pursuit of the truth as Harper himself - Marta Stephens fits the pieces of the intricate plot together with the assured skill of a master craftsman. It's a pure joy to watch it all come together. Shamus Nominee J.D. Rhoades, author of BREAKNG COVER

The Devil Can Wait interlaces a complex plot that grabs the reader and doesn't let go ... Sam Harper is thrust into a world that leads to a cursed papal ring tied to biblical prophecies in the book of Daniel. Sam's not a religious man, but it raises the question of whether a series of unrelated murders are the result of a sick mind or are they actually connected to the beasts in Daniel chapter 7? Harper's investigation leads him on an unpredictable trail making him more of a believer with each turn. This one is a must read. Donna Sundblad

Stephens' compelling characters, razor-sharp dialogue, fascinating forensic detail, and complex plot twists make this second book even more entertaining than the first. Stephens introduces the element of the supernatural into the cutting world of Sam Harper, giving the reader something new to savor, and undoubtedly hooking her fans with longing for the next release in the series. THE DEVIL CAN WAIT more than lives up to the expectation set by Stephens' first book! Jennifer Luzadder, Muncie Public Library

Looking for a deliciously convoluted tale that will twist its way through your brain and keep you up late into the night? Look no further, for Marta Stephens has just released the second book in the Sam Harper crime mystery series, The Devil Can Wait. Stephens has skillfully detailed police procedures in a realistic fashion and has woven intriguing subplots with a love entanglement that thrusts the story forward to its climatic end. The sexual tension between Harper and reporter Jennie Blake is natural and sublime - adding icing to this already delectable confection of supernatural elements, grisly murders, and the stoic talent and courage of one very likeable cop. Don't take my word for it - buy it and read it today. Aaron Paul Lazar

The Second Coming of Sam Harper was not a disappointment. Three times I just knew I had the plot figured out only to have Sam Harper, prove that candidate innocent. Twists and turns take us from a Voodoo Priestess in Columbia, to the bowels of the Catholic Church, to astral projections. A wicked good story by Marta Stephens. Jake George

Read an extract from The Devil Can Wait

About the Author

Purchase: paperback | eBook

Title: The Devil Can Wait
Author: Marta Stephens
Print ISBN: 978-1-905202-86-7
eBook ISBN: 978-1-904492-87-4
Page count: 316
Release Date: 3rd November 2008
Also by Marta Stephens: Silenced Cry - A Sam Harper Crime Mystery

Distributors: Bertram Books, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, Ingrams

BeWrite Books are available from: BeWrite Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and other online booksellers and to order from high street bookshops.