Saturday, December 24, 2011

Poetry Corner ~ Calling all Poets

Hi everyone,

It's that time of week again!! Let's make this a great week with lots of page views and some interaction with our readers...don't be shy -- POST A POEM :-)

This week, with the permission of the author, I'm posting a poem that is not one of my own. The first time I read this poem it really moved me and most of the writing by this author has.

Behind Blank Eyes

I was weird
Oddly unique
Rebellious. Yes
With revolutionary ideas
Challenging the comforts of normality
Whatever that is
But they molded me
Conformed me
Unified me with the rest of the world
I am now one and the same with everyone in every way
Except one
I remember what it was like to be ………..


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Importance of a GREAT Book Cover!!

Hi everyone,

Today we are going to touch on the importance of making a good cover for your book.  Should you do it yourself?  Hire a professional?  Can you imagine what it should look like in in your mind?  These are all important questions and decisions...

I can’t stress the importance of marketing and branding your book the right way, as your success will depend on it.   As a matter of fact, I believe that how you present your book – the first thing people will see when they are introduced to your writing - is just as important as the first impression you make on a perspective employer or lover or friend!

There are tools out there that can help you!  For example, before preparing this post I found an online program called "My eCover Creator" that allowed me to create a professional looking e-book cover (see below) in as little as 15 minutes once I figured out a few easy steps; it cost's $3.95 US to download once completed.

Other authors use Photoshop or some other program that allows them to work with graphics easily.  Whatever method you choose to create your cover, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind as you are producing the packaging for your hard work, which are:

  • Do make sure that the tile is legible;
  • Do make sure that the font on the spine really stands out (for printed work);
  • Do make sure that the back cover provides a brief summary about the book’s content;
  • Do make sure that if you are going to include an author picture that it is a head shot and looks professional (for printed work);
  • Do choose fonts wisely!! Each genre of books has similar typeface characteristics. It’s important to recognize these patterns and consider them when selecting cover fonts. For example, the same typeface used for books on sympathy may not be appropriate for a murder mystery; and
  • Don’t try and portray your entire story with cover artwork. Instead, garner a potential reader’s interest and make them want to know more. Keep the front cover simple; it’s the back cover’s job to summarize and provide more information.

Remember the importance of branding!! Your readers identify with your brand more than anything else so stay true to it! If this seems overwhelming to you and you are looking to have someone do it for you, I'm considering offering this as another service for authors and writers so send me a message and I will put my Business Marketing diploma to work for you!!

What other guidelines do you follow when creating your book covers?

Have a great day!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

For Openers: An Interactive Muscle Stretcher

Come here. Closer. Clooooser.... yes. Perfect. Now, who would like to play a game? I want to see the wildest, most intriguing, most tantalizing opener you can think of! In the comments, please.
And leave your twitter name; I will tweet these tomorrow.

One rule: Make it up, right now. Don't use an old one.

I'll start.

It was after midnight. She'd dozed off on the couch again, and the gun had slipped to the carpet. One of these days she was going to shoot her nose off in her sleep, she thought briefly, and smiled. Then she sat bolt upright and silenced her stray thoughts. The television was on, and it was watching her again. Without taking her eyes off it, she surreptitiously reached down for the revolver.

Kate Burns

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Author Interview ~ Allen Schatz

Mystery Writers Unite is PLEASED to be interviewing Allen Schatz, author of THE MARSHALL CONNORS SERIES, which includes GAME 7: DEAD BALL (Book One), 7TH INNING DEATH (Book Two) and RALLY KILLER (Book Three) (see below).
Allen didn’t really start out as a writer and circumstances (read: "life") led him to join the working world earlier than he’d hoped. His first career was as a CPA - Accounting - Finance guru and although he enjoyed the work it never really felt like “home” to him. He couldn’t help but feel that there was something else just on the other side of all those numbers calling to him. It took him awhile to find the courage to step off the ledge and dive into writing his first novel but eventually he did and by doing so found his true calling.
Allen grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, spending his youth in Ridley Township and attending college at Widener University. He married a local girl and they eventually settled in Springfield and had two children. In 1995, due to work commitments, the family relocated to the Pittsburgh suburb of Washington, PA where Allen and his wife still live today.
When Allen is not writing, he works as a consultant that specializes in budgeting and reporting system administration. For fun, he spends most of his spring and summers on the ball field where he’s been an amateur umpire for the better part of the past 30 years.
--- Interview
First, thanks for agreeing to let Mystery Writers Unite interview you, it is a pleasure…now for the fun stuff J
MWU: If your wife was approached on the street, what would she say are your writing quirk(s)?
Allen Schatz: She would say: "He writes?" No. Kidding… although, that is probably one of the quirks, that I do the writing without much fanfare. I tend to disappear when I write. Not in a bad way. It's more, when I'm there (writing), I'm THERE.
MWU: Aside from your wife and children, who would you say has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
Allen Schatz: The biggest supporters have been "virtual" friends on Twitter, otherwise strangers who picked up my first book and wanted more. All remain people I've never met in person, but have developed relationships with. It is humbling to have "fans" that support you.
MWU: If you were one of the characters in any of the MARSHALL CONNORS SERIES books, what type of character would you be and why (can’t be Marshall Connor…sorry…lol)?
Allen Schatz: Well, Marshall IS the "me" I never was. It would be difficult to be one of the others with that hanging over me, but since you won't let me have that, I'd say Thomas Hillsborough. He's cool, something I am often not. That's enough reason.
MWU: If MARSHALL CONNORS could step out of the pages of your book what do you think he would say to you? What would he thankful for? Upset about?
Allen Schatz: He'd be thankful I haven't killed him yet. He'd be pissed he can't just umpire the game he loves without all the off-field drama. He'd also probably want Suze back.
MWU: Who is your favorite character, aside from Marshall, in the series and why?
Allen Schatz: Thomas Hillsborough. See previously mentioned "cool" thing. He has confidence in all situations, in his abilities and skills. He is tough without being aggressive. He knows who he is. And he has allegiance and commitment to his best friend, Marshall. Nothing will ever break that bond. He won't let it. I envy that. I don't really have anything close to it in my life.
MWU: If you had less than a minute to tell a perspective reader what they could expect from the MARSHALL CONNORS SERIES books (you are at a trade show and someone has stopped by your booth) what would you tell them? Go….
Allen Schatz: Mystery. Suspense. Baseball. It's a perfect combination. It's unique and new. And it's good. Just ask the readers.
MWU: If you were approached to make the MARSHALL CONNORS SERIES into a made for TV event, who do you think should play the role of Marshall Connors?
Allen Schatz: I've actually been thinking about that. More than a few people have suggested it needs to be on the screen. I guess I could see James Marsden doing it. Ben Affleck and Chris Pine might work too. Those guys are similar.
MWU: How do you develop and differentiate your characters and how do you “stay in character” when your writing? Has this processed changed from your first book to your second book and your second to your third?
Allen Schatz: I mostly let the writing take me where it wants to go. I had general ideas of what I wanted to do with the main characters, in outline form. As the plots evolved, so did the characters. The first book was a crap shoot mostly. I had no idea where I was headed. Having more structure is what changed the most in the second and third.
MWU: Who do you see as your “ideal” reader?
Allen Schatz: A person who likes a good story, with a good plot and believable characters. Someone who likes a fun read and likes to be entertained for a couple of hours. They don't need to be a baseball fan (and many are not). Mostly, though, the "ideal" reader is one willing to invest a small piece of themselves. That's all I can ask.
MWU: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Allen Schatz: Those who have said: "You're pretty good at this. You should keep doing it."
MWU: What are you working on now and when do you expect to release the next book in the MARSHALL CONNORS SERIES?
Allen Schatz: My latest project is a screenplay for an independent movie. I was found through the books and asked to take over writing of the story, one very much like my books (baseball, murder, mystery). I have a new book in process, titled "Liars Ball" - I expect to release it sometime early in 2012. It will have the baseball canvas but be new characters. Marshall and crew are on a sabbatical for now. I'm pretty sure they'll be back.
MWU: Is there anything you would like to say to new writers, new readers or current fans of your work?
Allen Schatz: To new writers: Just do it, just write. To new readers: Thanks for giving me a chance. To current fans: Thanks for your support. I'd have given up long ago without it.
The synopsis for GAME 7: DEAD BALL:
A puzzle takes shape as baseball’s World Series unfolds, but the pieces don’t seem to fit: missing women, strange threats, gambling problems, kidnappings, and relationships long dormant are all somehow connected, but major league umpire Marshall Connors may run out of time before he can solve the mystery...

Marshall’s post-season plans were to spend a week in Florida, helping his mentor teach a training class followed by a lot of sun. The vacation is cut short when Marshall gets assigned to work the World Series as crew chief, but the real reason is not discovered until he is neck-deep in trouble.
The surprise assignment rekindles a relationship with the O’Hara family and Marshall realizes some things truly are better left alone. As the games play out, so does the truth behind long-buried O’Hara family secrets and Marshall is caught in a storm that threatens to destroy him and those he loves.
With the help of his best friend, Thomas Hillsborough--ex-CIA spy--Marshall fights to solve the puzzle before the Series reaches its climax in GAME 7: DEAD BALL, the ultimate contest of survival.

The synopsis for 7TH INNING DEATH:
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes, good people do bad things. And sometimes, people are just plain bad...
Major League Baseball umpire Marshall Connors is trying to regroup and get his life back to something resembling normal. After surviving the wrath of a psychotic revenge-hungry killer during the most recent World Series, Marshall wants nothing more than a return to the relative obscurity of his profession, and the simplicity of the game he loves, all while nurturing a new relationship.

Former FBI agent John King isn’t really a bad person, but a few loose wires make him seem that way. He, too, is looking for normalcy, but disgraced and fired by the FBI, King must battle through a horde of personal demons to get there. A new job gives him hope, but the struggles grow when King discovers another monster, one more vicious and dangerous than those in his head.

Before the walls of his world collapse completely, King makes a last desperate attempt for salvation, leading him once again into Marshall's life. The collision leaves the umpire in the middle of another game he would rather not play.

With the help of his best friend, Thomas Hillsborough--ex-CIA spy--Marshall can only hope a solution arrives in time.

The synopsis for RALLY KILLER:
Marshall Connors longs for a return to the days when nobody cared about him or who he knew, when he was nothing more than a major league baseball umpire, calling 'em like he saw 'em, a footnote and not a headline, when the game, baseball, was all that mattered, the days when things were fun.

But his life has been something of a movie the past few years. An assignment to work the World Series nearly ended in tragedy for Marshall and a few others in his life, courtesy of a revenge seeking maniacal serial killer. During the season that followed, chaos came again in the form of a mentally unstable ex-FBI agent.

The near-death experiences extracted a heavy toll. Marshall lost his mentor, he lost his girlfriend, but more than that, he lost a lot of his innocence. His world was no longer the grass and dirt and smells of the ballpark. It was something darker, a place he would never willingly choose to be.

And now, it's happening again…

A man from Marshall's darkness has returned. An explosion rocks the world. A suicide takes place. People are dead and dying, but nothing is as it seems. Confusion reigns and Marshall is once more in the middle of it, unsure of the connections, but wanting very much to not know what they are: Links in a chain started years ago, by a man Marshall trusts like no other.

As the links are revealed, trust becomes betrayal, stability becomes chaos, and Marshall must do all he can to avoid being pulled under for the last time. He must break the chain, he must find an out…

He needs a RALLY KILLER.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Ode to A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a story written with not only a clear theme in mind, but stands out as a masterwork born of deeply held personal beliefs and a strong political agenda.

A Christmas Carol, the classic tale of the redemption of the misanthropic Ebenezer Scrooge by the Three Ghosts of Christmas, has never been out of print. It has been adapted to film, opera, stage, and is a staple of the culture of Christmas to this very day. You cannot turn on a television without seeing one of its many manifestations, and countless writers of drama have riffed on the three ghosts with their heartwarming -- and heartwarning -- message.
The times in which Charles Dickens lived were dichotomous. The Victorian Age held the promise of modernity -- technology and manufacturing were leaping ahead, providing every convenience to the privileged classes. People at this time were experiencing a resurgence in affection for some of the forgotten traditions of Christmas, even while new fads were taking hold, such as the Christmas card, and, thanks to Prince Albert's German heritage, the Christmas tree.
Meanwhile, out of sight, people of the working class struggled in worse circumstances than ever before. Starvation, disease, debtor's prisons, a class divide as wide and as deep as despair itself.
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom,
unless the writing be erased.
Dickens' own situation, in which he found himself working as nearly an indentured servant to pay off family debt, led him to write about the terrible living and working conditions of the working class. His work detailing the desperation of the poor seeking legal redress through a labyrinth that seemed gamed helped to enlighten the public on the machinations and byzantine bureaucracy of the British legal system. This need to communicate a social reform view culminated in the manifesto that was A Christmas Carol. The character of Ebenezer Scrooge personified what Dickens saw as a dangerous prevailing attitude toward the poor, one of willful blindness combined with a posture of sitting in judgement rather than helping. From the Wikipedia article: "Dickens asks, in effect, for people to recognise the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely."
Deftly working in the atmosphere of the age, in which a reader may very nearly taste the plum pudding, and smell the goose cooking (in more ways than one), Charles Dickens swept open the curtain upon a dreadful tableau, much as the Ghost of Christmas Present revealed the two unwanted children of Man, Ignorance and Want.
I don't know exactly what I'm trying to communicate myself, with this post. I'm up to my eyeballs in wrapping paper and cookie icing, and I swear, I swear, there is dough in my hair. But I do know this: In the same way that a thematic political statement may contain a compelling narrative, so may a compelling narrative contain a very visible theme. (Try that, vampire mystery writers tying their novel to themes of teenage alienation.) And that once there was a writer out there, perhaps the most heard of his and many generations, who, when considering what 'theme' he could apply to his works, not only did not flinch, but strode boldly ahead to create one of the most powerful messages to humanity ever.
Wasn't that fun? Now -- don't shrink -- go write something big.
Kate Burns

Monday, December 19, 2011

Is a Picture Worth 1000 Words?

Hi everyone,

Are you in the mood for something different and fun today? I sure hope

They say a picture is worth 1000 words and I thought it would be fun to see what "words" came to mind for you when you looked at the three images below. Could you fit this image into the current story you are telling? How would you fit it in and explain it to others?

Image One
Grace finds herself sitting in the warm sun on a quiet beach on this quiet but somewhat eventful day. She is watching others dance and play in the surf and part of her, even it just for a few minutes, envies their ability to be free to enjoy this moment in time. She can't remember the last time she could frolic with such abandon. 

She lets out a heavy sigh and says out load to nobody, "Grace, dear girl, how on earth did you get here and what are you going to do now?" Suddenly her ears are filled with laughter from a small child that is building a sand castle with their mother about six feet away from where she is sitting. She almost wants to cup her ears with her hands to block out the merry sound. Even the slight warm breeze is setting her jagged nerves on edge. She wants to scream out to the world and all that will listen, "There are such dangers in this world! Why do none of you seem aware of all the danger around you?"

Instead, she settles herself down as she knows if she went off someone may think she is crazy and may call the police. This is the last thing any off duty cop wants and she is no different. The department psych exams can be such a bitch and is the last thing her tired mind needs. She closes her eyes and lets the sound of the water carry her to a place of relaxation and focus. She needs to focus if her plan is going to play out the way she intends it to...

Image Two
Bobby and Mark couldn't believe their luck! They needed a good place to hide but this was just too good to be true? They've stumbled upon an abandoned trailer and although it has no heat, running water or amenities they can see for miles from every direction. Surely, nobody would even to think to look for them here but if they did they would see them coming. Bobby was fairly certain that eventually someone would come looking for them because nobody steals from Jimmy Dix!

Bobby and Mark were quite proud of themselves. In their eyes, they had done the impossible when they managed to slip by all of Jimmy's goons and managed to steal the Monnet painting back from him. 

The quiet was starting to get on Mark's nerves and he was anxious to settle on a plan that might lead to some sleep. "What do you think Bobby? We can lay low here until we can come up with a plan to get out of this God forsaken town. We could take turns keeping watch so we can get some rest. I think it's perfect."

Bobby was looking out through the windows, "I guess we could do that. We could go in 5 hour shifts and you could go first if you want. I'm still a little jazzed and don't think I could sleep."

Bobby didn't need convincing as he headed towards the small back room and found a half decently clean spot on the floor to lay down. Within minutes he was sleeping in a deep dreamless sleep. Mark figured he'd give him just a little while longer before he got in the car and left Mark for Jimmy Dix to find...

Image 3
Norm and Val had dreamed of owning their own little cottage in the woods for many, many years. They would have never guessed in their wildest dreams that they would inherit one through such unfortunate circumstances; yet here they were in one of Val's fathers favorite places.  

The absolute silence and serenity was what made this place so magical. Val had been here so many times that Norm sometimes wondered if she still felt the awe that he did for the beauty surrounding them. As he enjoyed his surroundings and reveled in the slow pace, he could hear Val's quiet sobs coming from the back room as she looked through her father's private things. He so wished he could offer her the comfort that she seemed to need but it just didn't seem like anything he said or did offered her any relief. This kind of hurt just took time to pass. As he was trying to come up with yet another distraction Val's wail cut off his thoughts and he ran to her.

"You bastard, you bastard!" Val screamed.

Norm reached her and pulled her close in a tight embrace, "Now, now...what has you so upset?"

"That bastard was keeping a mistress! A mistress...can you believe that?" Val responded, spittle flying from her lips and tears staining her cheeks. "According to this, I am not his only heir..."

Okay, maybe not a 1000 words but, for me, each picture made me feel something different and brought about different story ideas as a result. Next time you get stuck on a scene, try and find some pictures for inspiration! OR FOR FUN RIGHT NOW....Pick an image and tell me what you see and how it fits into your story!

Have a great day :-)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Can YOU Write in 6 Sentences?

Hi everyone,

I usually pick some fairly dark, deep passage to share and was hoping maybe I could try something more upbeat and happy for a change :-)

As I sit here preparing posts for the MYSTERY WRITERS UNITE blog, I can hear my eight year old daughter, Kirsten,  playing with our four month old American Cocker Spaniel, Molly. Kirsten keeps running from one end of the house and of course Molly takes the bait each time and is hot on Kirsten's heels. During this time Kirsten's laughter and squeals fill the air and it's like music to my ears. The laughter is so real and raw and you can tell it comes from deep within and bursts through the surface sure and strong. Molly during this time surprisingly enough is quiet - she does not bark or cry but just enjoys the play time being provided. I love that they are entertaining each other; growing and learning.

What can YOU write in six sentences? Give it a try!