Saturday, October 29, 2011

Poetry Corner ~ Calling all Poets Again

Hi everyone,

I simply LOVE poetry and I'm hoping this passion will pass onto others that follow and read my blog and that they will feel encouraged to share.

Here is my contribution to this edition of Poetry Corner :-)


What do you want from me?
I can't make out the words you spew from your wicked, wicked mouth with undiluted tones that chime in my ears taunting me.
So much noise for these old ears that it just ends up as fodder for my tired mind.
Keeping the mind muncher busy and full.
It's all good, I'm still in tact I think or do crazy even know when they are crazy?
Wild thoughts creep in the murky shadows leaving their grime and ooze.
Will it all eventually catch me and hold me prisoner?
I don't think so because my mind is a never ending evolving, slippery, tricky, bugger.!

Written by Becky Illson-Skinner

Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest Blogger ~ R.S. Guthrie on Social Media Marketing

Come On In, the Water’s Fine
Written by R.S. Guthrie
First I’d like to thank the lovely and talented writer, Becky Illson-Skinner for not only having me here to guest blog, but also for her outstanding interview earlier in the week!

For anyone who throws a serious hat into the publishing ring—for we writers—an ugly truth is soon discovered:

We need to be marketing experts!

Now, granted, if you majored in Marketing, or have been doing it the past few decades, you are probably okay with this realization. But for those of us who skipped Marketing 101, the understanding arrives more like portents of DOOM.

Marketing? Isn’t there a department for that?

Sadly, writers, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. We’re pretty much on our own, particularly if we are independent (although most authors signed to publishing houses are also nearly one hundred percent responsible for their own marketing). Enter, social media networking. (I think I just heard someone hack up a nervous hair ball.)

Seriously, though, in this revolutionary world of digital wonder, you better get savvy on everything from Internet slang to the latest browser plugins, social media software, and reliable network connections. Why, you ask?


 If you’ve yet to jump into the pool feet first, you aren’t alone. There are still a lot of writers who are standing around dipping their virtual toes, feeling like the water is too darned cold and confusing.

And when you look out over the water, you see all these beach balls being tossed back and forth with printed names like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

So you are tempted to think: “Maybe I’ve got this handled! I’ve got accounts in all those places. Things aren’t as bad as they seem.”

Then, without warning, all these big, ugly, tattooed kids jump into the water and start stealing all the pool toys. The tattoos say things like: Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Social Oomph, Tweet Adder, and even a bicep tattoo that reads Twit Cleaner.

Things are starting to look bleak.

Don’t worry too much. Again, you aren’t alone. And the great news is that most of the products in today’s social networking universe are designed so that a child can use them.

Okay, scratch that. Your kids are probably a lot more technical than you. They are designed so that YOU can use them. And the best part is that most of the tools are all about automation. They exist to make your marketing job easier.

Take Twitter, for example. First of all, you need to be on Twitter. Second of all: You. Need. To. Be. On. Twitter. There are debates about the quality ratio of Facebook friends to Twitter followers. Don’t worry about that now. Get. On. Twitter.

Then use a product like Tweet Adder to help automate the process of finding followers. I’ve been on Twitter for just over two months. (I know. I should follow my own advice.) In that short time, I am past 3000 followers. I owe Tweet Adder a few rounds of drinks for that. This application allows you to search tweeps on several different criteria, from who they follow to who follows them to what food they most often tweet about. (And, yes, “tweeps” is a highly technical term, but you’ll eventually figure that one out.)

Just remember this: Tweet Adder follows people for you. While you sleep, while you water ski. Tweet Adder doesn’t care. It works so you don’t have to.

So what do you do once all these tweeps are following you? They’re all really cool people, right? Hmm, have you forgotten the hooligans at the pool? The last thing you need are deadbeats filling up your Twitterverse. A free tool called Twit Cleaner  will help you with that problem. Twit Cleaner is basically a free Private Investigator who camps outside each of your follower’s virtual homes, records their bad habits, and reports them back to you (normally in a few minutes, depending on the size of your following).

Twit Cleaner identifies followers who haven’t been on Twitter since Paul Revere tweeted “One if by land, two if by sea”. It shows you people who talk only about themselves, who post nothing but links, and who are “relatively unpopular”. (I know, that last one sounds too much like high school.)

Now that you’ve got all your followers, the group is pretty devoid of deadbeats. What now? Well, you want to consider a platform that organizes your social networks and helps you keep track of your prowess (and also does some cool things like scheduling tweets).

I use Hootsuite. A lot of people use TweetDeck. Each of these products is free and helps you build feeds (filtered lists of tweets categorized by elements that work best for you). These are basically applications that organize all your networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) in one easy-to-read display. The nice thing about Hootsuite is that it’s web-based (i.e. you don’t need to install any software and can access it from any computer connected to the Internet). One of the features I like about TweetDeck is that it allows you to go over 140 characters in your tweets and automatically posts them with a link to read “the rest of the story”. (Posthumous apologies to Paul Harvey for that one.)

But you can’t possibly spend your whole day tweeting and posting to Facebook, right? Au contraire.  

The Cadillac of social media marketing software is a product like Social Oomph. This application is like a universal remote control with a mind of its own. You can build tweets, responses to retweets and follows—it can even do a Tweet Adder-like following for you. You can schedule your tweets: send some every hour, some every couple of days—you could even build your Christmas card tweet list and send them out while you are sunning yourself in Mazatlan. Pretty cool, huh?

More scared than ever? Well, that’s okay. We all were at first. And this is just a sampling of what’s out there. The most important thing for your social marketing campaign is to BEGIN.

The rest you can leave in the capable hands of software, hardware, middleware, and a growing sense that you are not nearly as technically necessary as you once thought you were. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Research ~ Essential and Time Consuming

Hi everyone,

Sooner or later, every writer needs to do research of some sort, from simple fact checking to more complex investigations of settings or events. In a nutshell, research has become an indispensable part of writing for most authors.

Some writers prefer to do their research after they have completed a first draft while others prefer to do their research before they begin writing. I prefer the latter because often times the information I will garner through my research winds up having an impact on what I write. Either way is fine and each writer needs to find which works best for them. One thing is certain, regardless of which way you choose to proceed; you need to make a list of all the information you will need for your book and then find sources for obtaining it.

Here are some great resources I have used for research purposes:

Library: I know it sounds so simplistic but with the world at our finger tips, sometimes we forget that this building still exists and it is filled with a wealth of information. An added bonus: any librarian will willingly help you in your quest for knowledge. Libraries are a great source for archived copies of newspapers, journals and photos.

Internet: Of course this is a great resource for information but just be careful because it can be difficult to ascertain if the information you are viewing is really fact or fiction.

Professional Interviews: For example, if your book includes a character that is a police officer and you don’t know much about police procedure then interview a police officer. You will be surprised at how many would be thrilled to be interviewed for your book. Make sure you go prepared by getting your questions ready beforehand, bring a tape recorder to tape the interview if you can, and make sure you take goods notes (technology is wonderful unless or until it doesn’t work).

Personal Interviews (Friends, Family, and Colleagues): Have you ever run into someone that doesn’t want to share an experience they’ve been through? Most people are usually happy to talk, at length and in detail, about anything in which they are expert. This seems even truer if you tell them that you intend to use the information in a book you are writing. 

Read other Books in Your Genre: See how other authors view the setting and how they weave fact into the fiction. It's a skill, to weave the setting and background and historical information in without running off the tracks and adding to much information. This tip can be especially useful when you are trying to research a period of time that was long ago (there will be nobody to interview from that time period) and can not only provide you background material but also show you how people talked back then.

Movies: Even though Hollywood is not usually accurate with costumes or architecture, if a movie is well done it can give you a “feel” for the times at the very least.  

Museums: What a great place to see and experience things of the past. If you have an article in your book that you have never seen in your life and there is a gallery at the museum that show cases it; it is more than worth the trip to go and be able to write about what you’ve seen.

City Archives: This is a prime source for historical town / city information that is accurate.

Census Figures: People tend to forget just how many things census surveys keep track of. You can find out what the cost of living was, how many homes were being built, how much money people earned, etc,. A very valuable source of raw data!

Experience: This is the greatest (and probably most fun) research of all! If your character is a professional downhill skier and you have never skied in your life, it may be the best time to give it a try! Note: To all you mystery writers reading this, it is not permission to try and plan the perfect murder!

Don’t just file your valuable research in some old box with all your notes you’re your book. Instead build your own reference library so you can refer to the research in case you need it again. Also, when you find a great source for research, make sure you record the source (book title, author, website, journal, etc.,) so if you need to refer to it again you don’t have to waste a ton of time trying to find it.

Still feeling a little lost as to how to conduct your research? Don’t fret! There is a wonderful handbook that you could add to your “writer’s tool box” written by Ann Hoffman called Research for Writers. Feel free to visit the Mystery Writers Unite Store and pick up your copy today or click on the following link:

Research for Writers

Have a great day everyone and happy researching :-)


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Blogger ~ Mark Stone on Amazon Rules Re: $0 Kindle Pricing

Amazon Takes $0 Kindle Pricing out of the Hands of the Author
By Mark Stone

There is no doubt that with the advent of the digital age, the publishing industry faces its greatest dilemma yet. And, thanks to the Kindle from Amazon and to the late, great Steve Jobs, they are scrambling like madmen to repair the shrinking book market. I mean, who wants to lug around 1500 books when moving when all you need to do is pack your digital reader or tablet?

The literary world is in the middle of its greatest paradigm change since Gutenburg used the very first printing press, putting thousands of scriveners out of business. This is not a bad thing, change is inevitable, even necessary to promote growth and enhance our lives. One of the biggest changes, and seemingly far outpacing all the new digital gadgets that hit the market every few days, is the world of self-publishing.

Amazon has provided a platform for John and Jane Q. Public to write, edit, publish and market their own creativity and achieve the literary recognition. Okay, maybe recognition is a bit much, but now anyone can publish an e-book and actually have a chance to reap some greenbacks for the effort.

Which brings me to the point of this article…marketing of self-published books. Yes, there are some very good self-published works out there, and a whole heap of crap that stink up the site. So, with literally millions of e-books to choose from, what’s an author to do?

Price it right. There are a TON of $.99 books on Amazon. Enough that you’d have reading material for the next decade! Then some bright penny out there decided to price a book at $0 in an effort to become noticed. Hey, if a person enjoyed their book at $0, maybe they would be willing to shell out $3-4 for a second from the same author, right?
Right. Overall, it is an effective campaign strategy that has worked well…for the author. But what about

I know, I know…you’re saying "Amazon is HUGE, it makes a metric ton of money, why should they make more? They should be helping the writers out."

Understood, however Amazon is a business, and like most businesses, is out to make money. They provide the publication service (via CreateSpace) and virtual bookshelves. If we as authors use their sites, it is not unreasonable for the provider of said bookshelves to ask for their cut, even if it is only pennies on the dollar.  They didn’t have to be a vendor of e-books, but they are and as a vendor they are allowed to asked for a fair cut of the profits.
In other words, try toddling off to the local Barnes & Noble with a boxful of your books and ask them to stock their shelves with your product, but take no profit from doing so because you want to give them away. How fast will you be laughed out of the store? I think it would break the sound barrier.

Does that mean Amazon should never have free books. I don’t think so. A case-by-case basis should be made for multi-published authors to dole out one free book as a lure to purchase their others. Since customers are always looking for the deal (as am I. There are quire a few free books on my Kindle), the multi-published author can get his/her name out there, perhaps garner a fan base. It not only makes sense, it is a good business model.

Now, for those authors who have not self-published more than one book, sorry, it is my opinion and it is Amazon’s call. If you think they are taking unfair advantage, you could always stay with Smashwords and other e-vendors who would be willing to give your work away for free.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Journal Writing ~ My Story

Hi all,

Today's post is going to be a bit different because it is not about writing a novel, short story, or poetry. Instead, it is about the benefits of journal writing.

I'm sure everyone that keeps a journal does so for their own personal reasons and to be honest, I can't remember why I started keeping a journal. It may have been a tool to help me record the silly things my friends and I would do on a Friday or Saturday night; lest I forget. My reasons, whatever they were, I'm sure have evolved over time as I've been keeping one since my early twenties.

Every now and again I will sit down and pick up one of my old journals, flip it open and read a page and I'm always surprised to find at just how vivid a memory I hadn't even thought of in years becomes as if it happened yesterday. Sometimes these memories are good and other times they are not so good but they are part of me and part of my life.

I've noticed that my writing style, as well as the things I feel are "worth" recording have changed over the years. As I've grown and matured, so have my daily woes or successes. For example, when I come across the first entries that I made after I became a mother for the first time I'm moved by the memory of the newness and wonder of it all....whereas, when I became a a mother for the second time the things I recorded seemed different and more focused on the new life in the world instead of how will I do this, what is that about, etc., The same experience...yet, different.

My journal is like a silent best friend that holds my secrets. This best friend doesn't judge me, doesn't try and interrupt my flow, doesn't try to pursuade me or make up my mind for me (not that this is a bad thing in the best friends that I have and love dearly!). I do think that there are times in a persons life that they either don't feel like they can't turn to anyone to talk about something or they simply don't want to but they still need a "sounding board" - this is a journals job and it does it very well.

I use my journal to record my hopes and dreams; to vent when I'm feeling angry, frustrated, or hurt; to weigh options and make decisions; to try and solve a complicated problem; to record my successes and failures; to record big and small but important events in my life.

I also think a journal can be useful to loved ones after we are gone. This touches on a personal note for me because I lost my father when I was 11 years old and there have been times that I've wished I could remember him better or for that matter that I had gotten to know him better. Had he kept a journal,  I could read about him and maybe learn what he thought, how he thought, what issues he had in his life, how he worked through them, etc,. Every once in awhile I think maybe I should just throw all my journals away and then I think of my children and know that I won't because I want them to be able to have them and read them after I'm gone so they don't forget the type of mother / person that I was. I know this may sound a bit morbid/ sad but I do think there are things recorded in those pages that will bring them strength and comfort.

If you don't journal but have considered it, I encourage you to give it a try. If you don't journal and you've never considered it, maybe after reading this you will. I hope so. If you do journal, congratulations! You already know all the wonderful benefits :-)

Have a great day everyone!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Author Interview ~ R.S. Guthrie

Oh, Happy Day and it is another special day for Mystery Writers Unite because I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing R.S. Guthrie, author of the newly released Black Beast novel (see below).
Rob is currently working on his second book - a detective/cop novel set in his home state of Wyoming. If you care to read the first chapter, it was published in New West Magazine here.
Rob lives in Colorado with his wife and two Australian Shepherds, and a Chihuahua who believes she is also an Aussie. He hopes to retire to the remote mountains of Wyoming and continue to write.
--- Interview
MWU: You’ve been writing since college, but what I want to know is when did you realize that you wanted to write a book and what inspired it?
R.S. Guthrie: Deciding what form to write in (novel versus short story, etc.) was difficult for me for a long time. I always wanted to write a novel; I just didn’t know if I had it in me. So this past year I decided I better get to it. Turns out it’s even more work than I thought!
MWU: How long did it take you to write your first book and now that you have completed one are you finding it easier writing the second? Has anything in your process changed?
R.S. Guthrie: I started the first book in 2001 and then, with only 25% of it finished, I walked away from the project because of indecision. I picked it up again this year and wrote the other 75% in about a month and a half. I think every book brings its own challenges. Each one is just as much work (and fun) for me.
MWU: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk is (e.g. do you need total silence or prefer background noise, do you have a special place to write or something you have to wear to be inspired)?
R.S. Guthrie: I haven’t quite figured mine out. I have finally settled on headphones and mood-inspiring music. Next is the alcohol versus no alcohol question. I haven’t decided on that one yet.
MWU: Do you normally decide on a title for your book right away or do you title it closer to the end?
R.S. Guthrie: Usually the title comes first. Not sure why. I think I dislike devoting time to a book if I don’t know how to refer to it. Who wants to raise a child to adulthood before knowing their name?
MWU: What books or authors have influenced your writing?
R.S. Guthrie:  Within the Mystery genre, John D. MacDonald. In fact, if you’re writing Mysteries and you’ve not read MacDonald, there should be some kind of fine imposed.
MWU: This is a question I ask every author I interview. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
R.S. Guthrie: Oh yes. More than I experience “inspiration”. It’s not a block as much as it is an empty reservoir. I need to get up and write in the middle of the night. That’s when I find my imagination most fertile. But I love sleep, too.
MWU: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing and how do you overcome the challenge?
R.S. Guthrie:  Finding time when the creative juices are flowing. It doesn’t do a lot of good if all my ideas are popping when I am driving cross-country. A digital recorder would probably be a great idea. Thanks for reminding me!
MWU: If there were a room of new writers here, what advice would you give them?
R.S. Guthrie: Write no matter what. Sometimes the muse is quiet. Write anyway. Many days you are tired. Write anyway. There will be moments when it’s literally PAINFUL to write. Do it in spite of the discomfort. (Now I just need to learn to follow my own advice.)
The synopsis for the Black Beast:
Decorated Denver Detective Bobby Macaulay has faced down a truckload of tragedy over recent years. The death of his partner; the loss of his own leg in the line of duty; the companionship of his beloved wife to cancer; his faith in God to his inner demons.

After the man who ruined his leg and killed his first partner is executed, Macaulay becomes the lead detective investigating the Sloan’s Lake murders. The method of killing in this double-homicide is so heinous it leads Macaulay and his partner down an ever-darkening path—one that must be traversed if they are to discover the evil forces behind the slaughter.

Just when Bobby Macaulay is questioning the very career that has been his salvation, he will discover a heroic history buried within his own family roots: The Clan MacAulay—a deep family lineage of protectors at the very core of a millenniums-long war against unimaginable evil.

“Black Beast” is the first in a series of “Clan of MacAulay” novels—the reader is taken inside the heart and mind of a common hero who will make you believe in good again—Macaulay is a believable, flawed character with whom each of us can relate and for whom each of us will cheer.

Order your eBook copy of Black Beast: A Clan of MacAulay Novel
Order your paperback copy of Black Beast: A Clan of MacAulay Novel
MWU: I wondered if there was a message in this novel that you wanted your readers to grasp?
R.S. Guthrie:  I don’t do messages. In my opinion, each reader will take something different away from every book. My only rule is this, and it is the Golden Rule as far as I’m concerned: write from the heart. If a little of the writer’s soul does not leak onto the page, they are just words. Let the reader place the words into their own situation and glean from it what they need to glean. But the words need to be meaningful.
MWU: Are the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
R.S. Guthrie:  Emotionally, yes. Always. Sometimes events themselves feed the story. My current work (“Dark Prairies”) is based on something that really happened in my town when I was younger.
MWU: Did you learn anything from writing this book and if so, what?
R.S. Guthrie:  I learned a lot about the process. I also learned some things about Denver, where I live now. I do a lot of research, or at least as much as it takes to be authentic. I recently had a reader who is a police officer tell me I should be adopted by the force because of the authenticity with which I wrote several of the scenes in the book. I work hard to be authentic, even if I don’t have a lot of experience. This way I learn something, too!
MWU: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
R.S. Guthrie: Letting it go. Calling it “complete”. That will always be the hardest thing for me. It’s like letting your 18-year-old child finally leave the nest. Are you ever really ready?
MWU: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about this book?
R.S. Guthrie: There are times when I think I would remove the occult element, leaving just a pure Detective Mystery. But then I get all these great comments and reviews, and I reread part for myself and think ‘no, that’s what gives it originality.’ So I suppose the ultimate answer is ‘no’.
MWU: How long do you think it will be before readers can expect to see the second installment in the “Clan of MacAulay” series?
R.S. Guthrie: I had hoped for December of this year (2011). It’s looking more first quarter next year as I want to get Dark Prairies out first.
MWU: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
R.S. Guthrie: I appreciate every single reader, and I always will. That’s a promise. I’ve met authors who don’t. I adore every person who gives my writing a chance.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Choosing Character Names

Hi everyone,

What's in a name? Depending on your beliefs the answer to this question could be a lot! For example, I took a few minutes to look up my name, as well as both of my daughters names on and discovered the following: 

Becky \b(ec)-ky\ as a girl's name is pronounced BEK-ee. It is of English origin. Pet form of Rebecca (Hebrew) "to bind". Often used as an independent given name, and popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Becky Sharp, heroine of William Thackeray's novel "Vanity Fair".

Megan \m(e)-gan\ as a girl's name is pronounced MEG-an, MEE-gan, MAY-gan. It is of Welsh origin. Variant of Margaret (Greek) "pearl", based on the short form Meg. Phonetic spellings of Megan are used to ensure one of the three pronunciations. See also Meegan. Actress Megan Mullaly.

Kirsten \k(i)-rs-ten, kir-sten\ as a girl's name is pronounced KERS-ten. It is of Scandinavian and Latin origin, and the meaning of Kirsten is "follower of Christ". Variant of Christine. The name has been in use in Scotland since long ago. Actresses Kirstie Alley, Kirsten Dunst.

As you can see, depending on what persona you may want your character to emulate, a name could make or break them for some readers. How do you go about choosing names for your characters? Do you pull them from someone you know (e.g. neighbor, friend, colleague, your family) or just scribble a bunch down on paper put them in a hat a draw names?

If you are like me and you feel a little lost when trying to pick that perfect name for the character in your book, perhaps you would like to pick up The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook; The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Character Names and a one-of-a-kind resource specifically designed with the writer in mind. Inside you'll find:

  • 25,000+ first names and surnames, and their meanings, listed by origin
  • Names and surnames from more than 45 countries
  • A reverse lookup of names by meaning
  • An alphabetical index of names
  • An explanation of naming practices and historical context for each origin
  • A list of the top ten most popular names in the United States every year from 1880-2003
  • Instruction on how to create believable names that fit your characters and your story

This comprehensive guide also includes advice from a number of best-selling authors, including Elizabeth George, Alexander McCall Smith, Homer Hickam, Marian Keyes, Big Fish author Daniel Wallace, and others. You'll get the inside scoop on their naming methods, plus the stories behind the names of their most famous characters.

So throw out your old telephone books and baby-naming guides—The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook
meets all your naming needs!

Have a great day!!