Friday, April 18, 2014

How Hard Is It To Cheat On Your Favorite Authors?

I'll admit it: I've always been a monogamous reader. Not dedicated to one author exclusively, but to a harem of authors I adore, both male and female. These are the authors I pant for, the ones whose writing makes me clutch my book buying money in my grubby little fist from the time I finish their most recent novel until the next one comes out in a year or so. I love these authors so much I re-read them while I wait.

Who are these authors? For me, it's always been a short list stacked with thriller, mystery, and the occasional horror writer, including Karin Slaughter, Mo Hayder, John Connolly, Daniel Silva, Stephen King and a few other recognizable names. I'd grudgingly allow new writers onto my list based on recommendations from highly respected sources, and rarely kick anyone off. (It almost happened to you, Elizabeth George, when you killed one of my favorite characters and then wrote a book about how that killer came to kill her. I don't care what came before he shot her. I want my character back.)

If you're an avid reader, I'll bet you have a list, too. One you treasure and guard. After all, the big names are reliable. But what if you decided to cheat? Could your reading life ever be the same? If you adore reading, are the kind of person who disappears into a book, you might be surprised at how good a little promiscuity feels.

Over the last couple of years I've become reckless with my reading relationships and strayed from my favorites. It was hard at first, deciding to cheat on the authors who had given me so many characters to love, new places to explore, and clever plots to untangle. I practiced safe reading when I first started to cheat, selecting a new author only occasionally and always reading a sample before I dug in deep. Now I'm downright promiscuous when it comes to finding new authors, and will happily pick up a book by an author I've never read before.

Why did it happen? you ask. How could you betray those you love? 

It's simple: I started meeting other indie authors on Twitter and Facebook. They're interesting and accessible. They love talking about their characters, their ideas, the way they write, and what they've got in the pipeline. Before I pick up one of their books I have an idea of the voice I'll hear, the passion that feeds the story, the wild ride they'll provide. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but more often I'm pleased that I've found a book by a new author and rush to grab the next one they publish.

Having so many new authors in my reading stable means I never have a reading dry spell. When I'm in between books, all I have to do is ask for a recommendation and we're off to the races again! And there's no jealousy from the big names - they have no idea I'm frolicking with a new author. you decide to try a little safe cheating, check out the serialized novels on Venture Galleries (click the badge to go to the site). You can sneak a sample or read the whole book for free - your choice. Then check out The Book of the Moment Club - another free way to find books. After you find new authors to love, remember that books by indie authors are reasonably priced, meaning your book buying money goes farther. Leaving you plenty of cash to buy the latest book by the big names on your list...

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Have Your Characters Ever Gone Missing?

The main character in the new series I'm writing has gone AWOL and I think I know why: she's not getting enough attention.

Her name is Maxine Leverman and she's a moody creature, even a bit of a diva. She first made herself known in AVENGERS OF BLOOD, book two of the Cass Elliot series, and hasn't shut up since. She's caused such a ruckus that I shelved plans for the third Cass Elliot novel and started working on a new series featuring Maxine. Why would someone who loves center stage disappear? I think she's in a huff because she's not front and center, so she's pouting in silence. (Not very mature, granted, but that's part of her beauty - and it gives her great room to grow.)

Life is exhausting at the moment, due to the family-type stuff we all go through, and to tax season. ("It's just math," someone said recently. I shuddered. It is math, but not as we know it, Jim. It's a soul-sucking blend of addition, subtraction, and the occasional venture into astrophysics when calculating deductions. But I digress...) Suffice to say that my time to write and my emotional capacity to even ponder this current book is limited.

And so Maxine has wandered off.

I was a little freaked out when I couldn't find my main character and ran around like a frantic parent, scouring my consciousness for any sign of her, but she wouldn't appear. Then I tried ignoring her, glancing sideways when I thought she might not be looking, but no luck there, either. I've also tried thinking about her as I fall asleep, hoping to lure her out of my subconscious, but she's not having any part of my dreams.

This current book is about Maxine's foray into the world of private detectivedom. Without her, does the story still exist? Probably not. But thankfully, there's been a surprising benefit while she's been gone: when I do have time to write or ponder, the other characters are demanding to be heard. They're spilling all kinds of good gossip about the main character and her history, and they're adding morsels about their own pasts. This story is gaining depth from unexpected angles, which is great news.

Although I'm not as frantic as I was when she first went missing, there is that nagging worry that she won't come back at all, and this book will be kaput. I hope that with a little love and attention after tax season - and maybe a new pair of Jimmy Choos (Maxine'll do almost anything for expensive shoes) - she'll decide it's worthwhile to stalk back onto the page and take the limelight again. But only time will tell.

What do you do when your characters go silent, if they do? How do you find them? Do they eventually come back and grace you with their presence, or are they gone for good?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

How To Get Even When Your Husband Brings Home a Banjo

Banjo. I never thought I'd write that word with any sort of seriousness. And I certainly never thought I'd have one in my house.

Billy Redden

Let me start by saying that I love my husband dearly. Let me add that when I hear the word 'banjo', my mind conjures the scene in Deliverance where the spooky-looking hillbilly is sitting on his porch swing playing "Dueling Banjos" opposite Ronny Cox on guitar. It's a great scene, even with the banjo, but we all know where the movie goes after that, don't we?

I was dubious from the moment my husband mentioned wanting a banjo for trad jazz gigs (traditional jazz - think Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton) and hoped this was a phase that would soon pass. When I married a professional jazz musician, I understood what I was getting into. Smokey clubs, coming home in the wee small hours, endless practice, roadie duties, and tons of equipment. Guitars, double basses, a cello, a piano, amplifiers. All would be right with the universe as long as the musical-instrument-to-handbag-ratio remained in balance. Never, as I was pondering marital bliss, did I imagine that my husband would want to bring home a banjo.

Before we went in search of said instrument, he played a track of Chuck Wayne playing be-bop banjo on his album Morning Mist, which was bearable. In fairness, it was better than I expected, but still, it was a banjo. Off we went to Banjo Haven in Longview, Texas. The shop's awesome proprietor, Vinnie Mondello, senses my hesitation over having a banjo in the house, and assures me that the tenor banjo my husband has picked out is nothing like the banjo from Deliverance. (It looks the same to me, but I'm no expert.) Just to cement the deal, he tells me that things could be worse: my husband could want to play jazz accordion.


Point taken.

Martyn and the banjo

We're now the proud owners of a 1928 Vega Professional tenor banjo and my husband is delighted, as evidenced by the amount of time he's spent playing the thing and the equal amount of time I've spent with The Kinks blasting through my headphones. My husband usually plays jazz guitar (think Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall), which is a very mellow sound. This is in sharp contrast with the plinky-plinkness of the banjo.

It's been a few days now and I'm starting to thaw, but the whole banjo thing has been a shock to the system, so getting even on two fronts seems a reasonable response. First, the instrument-to-handbag-ratio requires re-balancing. Therefore, shopping.

Second, I've just decided to write a banjo playing jazz musician into my current book. Since I write crime fiction, chances are the banjo will be the first to die, and I'm pretty sure it'll be a violent death. (I can't kill the player now, can I? He's got gigs to play and handbags to buy.)

Anybody want to book a New Orleans' style jazz band with banjo player? Send me an email.

Thanks Vinnie!
(I suppose I should come clean. I'm not totally opposed to the banjo, but I am a selective listener (my husband is sounding pretty good, by the way, and he's taught me the first bar of "Dueling Banjos"). Check out "Stone Rollin' Home" by one of my favorite groups, The Sonny Walters Band, and listen to local bluegrass band The Blake Brothers - amazing guys and great musicians.)

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