I just finished reading a really well-written book, LOST CREED, by Alex Kava, an award-winning and best-selling author. The subject was gritty–using kids for human trafficking. The female protagonist was an FBI profiler. The male protagonist was a K-9 handler. Many of the characters in the story were in law enforcement. They were professionals who’d trained themselves not to react on the job, to stay detached, in control. It rang true. But for some reason, it blunted the emotional impact of many of the scenes for me.

A boy they rescued had been sexually abused and had blocked many of his memories. I couldn’t imagine what he’d been through, but thankfully, while the detective questioned him, my emotions felt distant, detached, because neither the boy nor the detective showed too many feelings. And that made me remember.

Somewhere in my writing journey, I realized that pivotal scenes in my mysteries didn’t have the emotional impact I wanted them to. The situations certainly called for high emotions. I’d set them up to deliver, but they didn’t. And I wasn’t sure why not. So I studied some authors who twisted my feelings willy nilly when I read them. And then I studied a few experts on the subject. And I realized that I feel what the characters feel. When they’re afraid, I’m afraid. When they’re devastated, so am I, because when I read, I relate to the protagonist. I learn what he learns and feel what he feels. Not because the author TELLS me he’s sad and broken or cheerful and upbeat, because he SHOWS me he is.

In LOST CREED, I mostly saw the characters in their professional roles. Since they didn’t break down or cry or punch something in anger, I could hold my emotions at bay, too. The young girl locked in the dark basement as punishment was the only character I could really relate to, because I felt her fear, her helplessness, and I knew she wouldn’t give up, that she’d try to escape again.

LOST CREED was a great read, but I missed the joys and frustrations of stories where I feel like I’m walking in the protagonist’s shoes. Many times, I felt like an observer gathering clues, just like the cops and Creed were doing. Realistic, yes. And maybe it made the topic easier to deal with, but the next time I read another Louis Kincaid, I’m going to pay attention to why he tugs at me more, why I feel like I know him so much better. And I’m pretty sure, it’s because I feel what he’s feeling.

Covers and Tags

I changed the cover of my serialized story for Vella. Why? It gave the wrong feel for the book. It didn’t fit the usual style of urban fantasy or paranormal novels. I loved the moodiness of the first cover’s huge, golden moon and bubbling cauldron, but the witch was too cutsey. Other witch images I found, though, didn’t quite fit either. But instead of “settling” on an image I liked, I should have kept looking for what I needed, because the cover of a book is a reader’s first impression of your story. Covers let a reader know what genre your novel fits in. If you go to Amazon and look at the many covers for thrillers, they all have a similar look or tone. Same goes for historical romance, cozies, or contemporary romance. My cover wasn’t selling what I was writing. Hopefully, the new one lets readers know it’s urban fantasy about witches at a solstice festival where murder is part of the program..

My friend Kyra Jacobs just changed the cover of her book, too–BLUE MANHATTAN. For the same reason. Her book is a paranormal romance, and she wanted to try something different to catch readers’ eyes. Sometimes, though, different doesn’t work. So, like me, she changed things up to say “romance” and “paranormal”…and fun! I think she nailed it.

Blue Manhattan (Moonlight Mayhem Book 1) by [Kyra Jacobs]

Blue Manhattan (Moonlight Mayhem Book 1) – Kindle edition by Jacobs, Kyra. Paranormal Romance Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Covers might work to catch a reader’s attention, but when someone is looking for a certain type of book out of ALL of the books on Amazon, that’s when tags become important. And it was interesting to me to see which tags were the most popular on Vella. Amazon makes it pretty easy. They list the top ones. I thought you might be interested in the top 100, so here’s a link to see them and how the top authors used them: Kindle Vella (amazon.com) I wouldn’t have found this information except I signed up for a reedsy weekly newsletter. Reedsy shares practical blog advice about writing and marketing. So I thought I’d share that, too. Reedsy • Your daily dose of writing, publishing and marketing advice

We all try to write the best book we can, but once we’ve done that, we need to choose the right cover and tags to give it a fighting chance in today’s market. Good luck with your writing and more good luck with your marketing!

Three Elements of Horror

Over on Story Empire today, Staci Troilo gives a great blog on horror, the 3 steps that make it work.

Story Empire

haunted castle

Ciao, SEers. We’ve rounded the corner and are in the second half of the year. Even though we’re in the heat of summer, for me, as soon as we hit July, I feel fall coming (my favorite season of the year) and that means it’s time to start thinking about all things autumn. You’re probably already seeing pumpkins in the store. That makes me so happy!

It means it’s time to start thinking horror. Okay, I admit it. I’m pretty much always thinking horror whether Halloween is near or not.

Today, I want to talk about the three aspects of successful horror as defined by Orson Scott Card.

The thing that really elevates horror stories is layering and building suspense. The three layers we want to work with in horror stories are dread, terror, and horror.


“to anticipate with great apprehension”

This is the best one. Easily my…

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It’s Not Safe to Leave the Office

My cat loves to lie in the chair next to mine when I write. For most of the morning, while I type, he sleeps, only opening an eye occasionally to make sure I’m not goofing off. At lunch time, he follows me into the kitchen and expects food in his dish so that he can eat while HH and I do. After lunch, sometimes he disappears for a while, but he’s usually back in the office close to three. This time, though, he wants attention.

Sometimes, he sits on my lap and I stop to pet him here and there. If he doesn’t think I pet him enough, he jumps on the tabletop and demands more attention. Once he’s satisfied, he stretches across the back of the desk, close to my keyboard. And he snoozes.

Dutchy and I have written together for years, He inspires. My fingers hit the keys. But last week, I left the room to answer a phone call, and when I came back, Dutchy was lying on the keyboard. He HAD written. No actual words, but 411 pages of scrambled letters and paragraph symbols.. 411 pages! It took me FOREVER to delete them all. And as usual, when I complained, Dutchy showed no shame at all.

From now on, when I have to leave my office, I’m diminishing my writing so that Dutchy can’t add anything to my story. He can still keep me company. I’ll still pet him at three. But he can only inspire, not write:)


I just finished reading MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE by Andrea Penrose. I’ve been on a bit of a historical mystery binge lately. Enough so, I’m ready to read a contemporary mystery next with a concise, crisp writing style. I love the abundance of words and description when I read a Regency… or for that matter, most historical novels. They’re not wordy. They’re effusive. And the long, twisty and turning sentences add to the flavor of the time period and the writing.

In this book, there was the added matter of the hero exalting science and logic and the heroine favoring the arts and intuition. Every once in a while, the arguments between the two got to be too much for me. They detracted from the mystery, but only occasionally. Most of the time, the antics of the hero and heroine kept me plenty entertained. As a matter of fact, the bickering between Wexford and Charlotte was a highlight for me. Charlotte was a feminist who was ahead of her time. And Wexford, for all of his logical detachment, was every bit her equal. The mystery itself kept me guessing, so I really enjoyed the book. But it made me think about readers.

Authors don’t need to beat them over the head to make a point. Readers are SMART. A hint here. A subtle clue there, and they pick up on them. Repetition makes them yawn. Yes, they got it the first time. If not, they noticed it the second time you mentioned it, and they’re sick of it if you bring it up again.

They remember from one book to the next and remember stories that stretch months between books. But philosophical discussions? How deep do authors need to get? Charlotte and Wrexford’s story engaged me. Even the minor characters were well-done. But the author returned over and over again to her philosophical discussions. To entertain the reader, or to make a point? It felt like the latter. And it really slowed me down.

Hope you’ve found some great books to read lately!

Trying It Out

When Kindle announced their new Vella program, publishing serialized stories, one chunk at a time, I decided to try it out. I thought Muddy River would be a good candidate for it, so I loaded chapters and waited for it to go live. Today was the day. Mae Clair, my blog friend, noticed it was up before I did and posted this from Stacy Claflin’s site: Kindle Vella: Amazon’s Serialized Fiction Platform | Stacy Claflin, Author.

I don’t know if readers will like the concept or not. I hope it’s a success. Here’s the link to SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION: Kindle Vella (amazon.com)

Should You Be Honest?

Writing is hard. It takes a while to get good at it. Selling is harder. And making lots of money at it is…REALLY hard. Haven’t gotten there yet.

I belong to a writers’ club, and all of us that have stuck at it are pretty damned good. But new people come and go. Some of them are realistic, and some of them aren’t. Some write because they love it and can’t stop. Some write because they’re looking for the lucky flip of a coin so they’ll become famous and eventually sell tons of books And some stick around and get really good but drop out after that one rejection too many.

I read a story once about a man who was a musician. He went to see a famous violinist–the instrument he played–and the man let him play for him. “Do I have what it takes?” the man asked. The famed musician shook his head. “No.” The man left, locked away his violin, and gave up. Someone who’d heard the man said, “But I thought he was wonderful.” “He was,” the famed musician said, “but if he gave up that easily, he’d have never made it anyway.” I don’t know where I read that story or who wrote it, but it’s stayed with me a long time. How much of success is talent and how much is perseverance and striving?

I remember going to a writing conference, and one of the speakers stood at the podium and went on and on, telling new writers every single thing that could go wrong to keep them from succeeding. I remember thinking how depressing that speaker was. Why not teach them how to make their writing better so that they might succeed? Which is more realistic? Doomsday or optimistic? And how realistic do we need to be? The speaker’s comeback: Do we do people favors when we encourage them even when their skills are miserable?

But I know this. A retired man joined our group. He’d been a popular radio announcer for a farm program. He asked me to look at the first few chapters of the book he was working on about his years as a pilot in the war. Every sentence was out of order. I had to number them and organize them into paragraphs for them to make any sense. It took me a long time, but he was so determined to learn, he not only improved quickly but turned into a good writer and sold his book. I’d have never believed it possible, but he did it. And it was a good book.

I did it!

I’ve spent the weekend typing. And I did it! The first draft is DONE. I just typed the last word. It’s not perfect. It’s a draft, but it’s FINISHED! Now I can give POSED IN DEATH to my critique partners and move on to a new project until I get their feedback. HH and I are going out for supper to celebrate!!

Just a clicking away

C.S. Boyack has a vivid imagination. This is his take on how dangerous research can be. Beware. And I hope you laugh at this as much as I did.

Entertaining Stories

I got to the writing cabin at a decent time this morning, then made my way to the paranormal office. I rolled the top of Patty Hall’s old-fashioned desk back, then opened my document.

Lisa Burton, my robotic personal assistant walked in.

Lisa Burton

“Ta-dah! Ready for work, Captain.”

“Yeah, um… We finished that one, remember.”

“You’re here to do edits, though, right?”

“I’m going to wait until August. Let it clear my mind a bit.”

“The raven of Doubt will be so disappointed. He’s been super excited to help you.”

“He can wait, too. I’ve been working on something for Lizzie and the hat. It’s fun, and keeps me busy.”

“Does he become a pirate hat?”


“Great, then I have the wrong outfit. What should I be wearing?”

“Nothing special. I need some help with research, and you’re faster than I am.”

She took a seat on the couch. “Okay…

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