Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's here!

I'm excited to announce the final cover art has been approved for the second book in the Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. The book is set for release from Asylett Press, January 2011. More details to follow.

For more info about the book go to

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Write, Therefore I Am

So you think you’ll write a book? For those brave enough to throw caution to the wind, pick up pencil and paper, (Microsoft Word® and a laptop, actually) and venture off into the world of such greats as Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and Woolf, I commend your tenacity. I applaud your blasé attitude toward the critics who wait anxiously for the opportunity to reduce your months, if not years, of hard work to nothing more than a stack of cat-box liners. I revel in the idea that you have skin toughened by the criticism of your peers enough to draw envy from a buffalo. For this, my fellow writers, is what awaits you just beyond those final words of the story you just have to share with the world.

But don’t despair, these same guardians of the literary world have been there through the ages. Anyone whose put pen to paper at one time or another has felt the sting of their blade. It’s those who chose to stand and fight that became great writers. Those who believed what they had to say mattered line the shelves of our libraries. And those who managed to keep everything in perspective have given us hours of pleasure.

I have a small plaque on my desk where I write that reads thus:

Three rules for becoming a successful author.
Rule #1- Write your story and submit it.
Rule #2- Expect to be rejected.
Rule #3- Go back to Rule #1 and repeat as needed.

Monday, June 7, 2010

David vs. the Publishing Goliath

In this past year leading up to the BEA I’ve read a flurry of articles how the rise of the eBook is heralding the demise of the publishing industry. On the surface they resonate as depicting anyone venturing down the road of self-publishing as latter-day David's, banding together and swinging their keyboards in an attempt to topple the publishing world of Goliath. As I read through them a second time it occurred to me they were more a critique on the writing process itself, and how much that landscape is changing. Self-publishing is a time-honored means of expressing oneself, the eBook is merely its irritating little brother. Criticize it all you want, but it’s not going away. Take it under your wing and you can mold it into a productive member of the family, not an adversary.

Since the cave dwellers of Chauvet, man has always found a way to express himself. Whether with a brush, or a quill, or a keyboard, it’s still the quality of that expression that determines the authors place. That sense of place may not occur instantly. It may need to be out there for years before someone stumbles upon it and sees the true value in what you’ve done. It could also be discovered and looked upon as rubbish, but that is the risk you take when you strive to be heard.

The idea of self-publishing is certainly not new and it helped launch the works of many noted writers. What would General Washington have used to inspire his troops if Thomas Paine hadn’t self-published Common Sense? Children are still captivated with the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Beatrix Potter, while adults continue to marvel at the works of Audubon, Poe, Eliot and Joyce. And the list goes on. I doubt anyone would dismiss Capital Offence because it was originally self-published, and we should thank Christopher Paolini’s parents for lending him the money to publish Eragon. These, and many more, are all writers who had something to say and had the tenacity to forge ahead to bring their work to the public. And our lives have been enriched as a result.

In the shadow of these successes are the multitudes of writers whose names most of us will never know. Writers who felt they had as much to say as their contemporaries, but whose talent to string the words together only captured the attention of a handful of readers, and not the millions achieved by others. That aspect of writing hasn’t changed. A web site, a blog, and advancements in technology may make the process easier, but it will never replace talent and relevance. Along with this, the desire for acceptance by your contemporaries should also come into play. You should remember here acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean someone agrees with you it only means they welcome what you have to say.

Twenty-six letters arranged one way is nothing more than the Alphabet. But in the right hands those same letters can be arranged in such a way as to whisk you off to exotic lands; they will bring tenderness and awe behind the tears that streak your cheeks; a smile that will linger throughout the day; or solace when nothing else has worked. Like my father used to tell me, “Anyone can purchase a set of Arnold Palmer golf clubs, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be walking down the fairway at Augusta any time soon.”

Do we really think giving writers more opportunities to express themselves will topple the industry? I doubt it. If anything, it may serve to introduce a future Eliot or Joyce whom might otherwise have gone unnoticed. The publishing giants and their irritating little brother will learn to get along, as they’ve done in the past, and the written word will go on.

Photo Courtesy

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A word about Rejection.

I was reading a nice little blog post on Rants & Ramblings about a literary agents thoughts on rejection letters. It was very insightful and I wanted to add a footnote to the thought.

Rejection is part of the writing process and should not be looked at as a personal affront. Time is a very valuable commodity to agents and to authors. I had my place in line and if my work is not what that particular agent was looking for then I'll thank them and move on. A form letter is fine and I appreciate it when they get back to me right away.

As an author I'm delighted an agent/publisher will take the time to read my query. I've received a pile of rejections over the years, some form letters and some with constructive feedback, but all of them together served to make my presentation better. As a result, and with perseverance, I'm happy to say I've also received acceptance letters.

In a nutshell- Think of yourself as a quart of Rocky Road ice cream. Hour after hour people open the freezer and take out a quart of Vanilla but never mention why. The excitement is knowing one day the freezer door will open and someone's going to be in the mood for Rocky Road. Make sure when that day comes you're the best ice cream they ever tasted.

I've said this before, but there's a reason Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors.

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One Man's Review Is Another Man's Treasure?

This is certainly one for the books.Scathing Amazon Reviewer Revealed as Author Orlando Figes' Wife - AOL News Call me naive, but I was genuinely shocked by this. I'm sure many authors secretly harbor a bit of jealousy towards more successful contemporaries, but it surprises me to read what lengths someone close to them would go attempting to discredit a rival. A rival? They are fellow authors, writers who also devoted their time and energy to a subject they felt strongly enough to write about and present to the reading public. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but, in fairness to the authors, it should be based on the work. To use it solely as a means to forward a personal agenda just isn't right.

It is the works of our contemporaries that paves the way for our own words. And it is our own words that define our place in the literary world.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Every Character Has A Story To Tell

Characters Part III- Every Character Has A Story To Tell

It's always good to remember your characters have a past. What that past consists of is for the writer to decide. That past is important. It's what helps develop not only the character, but also the story line. Look at a character’s past as the weft to the plot’s warp. Together they create the fabric of the book.

I mentioned in an earlier post that all characters need to be dimensional, but I should also mention they need to be individuals. Too often we see a group of characters that share a similar feel. This tends to paint them into the background, or worse, it leaves them open to be mistaken for another, thus confusing the reader.

I believe characters should be a story unto themselves. Whether hero or villain, they should carry their past in the words and phrases they use within the story. There are subtleties of character that should be established early. The reader in solving the mystery can leverage these subtleties later. I enjoy reading a mystery and having something completely off the wall casually thrown in about one of the characters. It makes me think a bit more about the character, wondering at what point it will become relevant to the story, if at all. It also goes a long way to explain how and why characters interact the way they do.

A character’s background or personal traits can be very effective in planting clues along the way. It’s also a wonderful tool for misdirection. Done right, it will draw the reader into the scene you have set and keep them turning the pages.

My mysteries take place in London, but one of the main characters is an American, Lily Jean Corbitt. She provides a wonderful contrast to the other two characters– a reformed pickpocket and a stuffy archeologist. Lily has a different point of view on life and is not bashful about making it known to the others. She adds the spice where needed to a proper English mystery. I want readers to wonder as much about her as they do about the story itself. How did this American end up in London? What is her relationship with the others? Is this strictly business, or is there romance off in the distance? All this takes place in parallel with the story. Some answers become evident along the way, and others remain unanswered for the time being. There should be more to a mystery than just the mystery.

Writing a series affords a wonderful opportunity to develop endearing characters. Not only the main characters, but also the supporting cast as well. Keep the idea of the fabric in mind when you are creating them. A great story, like a strong fabric, is one that endures the wear of time.

Photo courtesy

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Barnes & Noble And The Coattails Of Technology

I was very excited to read an article about B&N's efforts in becoming an E-Commerce Retailer. It really gets to the heart of the battle about giving readers what they want, in the form they want it in, and at different price options. With all this doom and gloom forecasting about what technology is doing to the publishing industry it's encouraging to see B&N has taken up the challenge and is charging forward, instead of whimpering in the corner. As an author, I applaud every effort that gets the written word out in front of people. As a reader I have to say, isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I Learned Sitting On A Train Platform

Characters- Part II

This is the second of three short observations about Characters.

No matter what traits a fiction writer can dream up for the characters that populate their stories, nothing compares to the quirks and traits of those you meet in real life. Allow me to expound a bit. Well, there I was, sitting on a train platform in Worcester waiting for my return train to London. It was a bright morning with just the slightest chill, but enough to warrant holding my coffee with two hands. I’m a cordial person by nature, so it was very easy to fill my time with pleasant conversations with the people waiting along with me. And, to be honest, there is always a very soft line between character research and my genuine interest in the conversation.

There was quite an assortment to choose from that morning. An attractive businesswoman was first up. I was quite pleased when she sat down next to me. Surely such an engaging woman as this will appreciate a stimulating conversation about the latest business news. Instead she went on in nauseating detail about how late she was running that morning. Another monumental concern was the wind’s effect on her hair. I assured her there was little need to worry; it looked just fine. In an effort to save her from embarrassment later I mentioned she was wearing one black shoe and one blue. You would have thought she suddenly recognized me as someone who might steal away in a woman’s closet overnight and rearranged all her shoes. I got a sharp “harrumph!” and she stormed off down the platform. As I watched her walk away I decided it best to let someone else inform her the back of her skirt was tucked into her pantyhose.

And then there was this young chap with leather, a spiked dog collar, and a blue Mohawk. He had pierced things I had no idea you could possibly pierce. My first thought was a firm grip of my wallet and a quick move to the other end of the bench, but he proved most amusing and incredibly articulate. He spoke right up, engaging me in a conversation about my thoughts on the decline of soulful interpretation in pop music lyrics of the day. Despite my embarrassing lack of musical knowledge, we chatted for a while under the questioning glances of those who walked by. I couldn’t fault them for it, because it was my first reaction to his appearance also. Just another reason you shouldn’t judge a book by its coiffure. When his train arrived he bid me good day, and thanked me for the conversation.

I could see my train coming just round the bend. As I stood up a maintenance man who had been sweeping the platform greeted me. Much like my earlier attempt to save the attractive businesswoman from embarrassment he apparently felt compelled to point out her aforementioned wardrobe malfunction. “That woman seemed quite proud of her bum,” he said in a most sincere tone, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. He looked up at me, scratched his head and continued, “Strange though, she wasn’t at all pleased when I remarked about it.”

There you have it. Just a quick glimpse at how remarkable and influential chance encounters can be in character development. Keep an open mind about you whenever you’re in a social situation. That bothersome chap who keeps chatting you up could possess the foundation of your next villain. Or that charming woman who was so helpful in the library could inspire the creation of a new sleuth. Either way, why take on the whole burden of creating a character from scratch when life is so willing to provide such amusing examples to start from.

Next: Characters Part III

Every Character Has A Past.

Photo courtesy- Photos8

Monday, February 1, 2010

Even Vampires Need Dating Sites

Characters- Part I

This is the first of three short observations about Characters.

When we thought the world was flat no one found it very interesting. You sailed west, arrived at the edge, and fell off. But once it was determined it was round they lined up at the docks, signing on to explore the new and different lands that were promised just over the horizon. The same can be said of the characters that populate your stories. Your characters should never be flat. They should have depth and feeling, likes and dislikes. Characters should leave readers with the impression they have lives outside of your story. Whether primary, secondary or tertiary characters they need form, much like the influence Masaccio had on the art of the Renaissance.

Prior to Masaccio Italian paintings were flat, or idealized images of subjects. He changed this direction by adding perspective and giving weight to the people depicted in his alter pieces and frescos. In other words, they were more life-like. His subjects came alive. Instead of being cutout and glued down to a board they were passing through his life, pausing only long enough to be captured by the artist. Characters in a work of fiction should have this same weight and dimension. They should have lives outside of the pages of our stories.

I have established the main characters in my books, but I look forward to creating the secondary and tertiary characters for each new book in the series. There are a number of fun exercises you can use to develop characters. One of the basics is the Character Profile Form, or the “Dating Site Questionnaire.” This covers just about everything you would ever want to know about your characters, and then some. Starting with a basic form you should amend it to your specific genres, adding in any traits/characteristics you may not find on a dating site – i.e. Vampire: yes/no, Ghost: yes/no, etc. It’s been years since I was on a dating site, so I’m just assuming newly divorced vampires and ghosts aren’t signing up and looking for their perfect matches. Thinking about that now, there just might be a paranormal romance novel in that idea.

The form is very handy. I’ve seen it suggested this be done for only main characters, but I would recommend following through with all characters. Have some fun with it. You never know when you would need to know a small detail about a secondary character. This will save you the aggravation of thumbing through all those pages, looking for the sentence that mentioned whether Watson was shot in his left leg or left arm.

Next: Characters Part II-

What I learned sitting on a train platform in Worcester.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Reason They Make Chocolate And Vanilla

Making the jump from writer to author is an incredible journey that should not be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart. You need to shift the passion that drove you to the written word to getting those words in the hands of a publisher. In the beginning, it is filled with as much disappointment as it is enjoyment. It is the acceptance of this that will eventually fuel your success. The only thing that can derail you is if you allow the disappointment to commandeer your career. And by disappointment I mean rejection letters.

Why do we get so upset over a rejection letter from a publisher? We deal with rejection everyday in some form or another. There is your friend who you were going to meet for lunch, but then she had to cancel at the last minute. Rejection. Then the jacket you wanted to buy online, but when you go back to purchase it you find it’s out of stock. Rejection. You want to watch the big game, but find it pre-empted by the network at the last minute. Rejection. And on, and on it goes. So, how is this different than a rejection from a publisher? They aren’t really, unless you take it that way. You can always call another friend for lunch, or pick another jacket you like, or get cable and watch the game. So why not try another publisher?

If you’re seeking instant gratification, show the manuscript to your mother, sit back and enjoy the accolades. But if you seek approval and credibility from your writing peers, be prepared to fight for every page of your work. You need to put just as much effort, if not more, into the first contact with a publisher as you did into the manuscript. The query letter should not be an afterthought. You have seconds and only a few sentences to get an editors attention. Make the best of it. I received nine months of rejections for my first book, enough to paper my bathroom, but something in each one of them made my next query that much better. When I compared my first query to the one that led to a publishing contract, it looked like two different people wrote them about two different books. In effect, the publishers who passed on my book were indirectly responsible for my final acceptance. Now I’m competing against the books they didn’t reject and there is a little poetic justice in that.

Think about this. You’ve finally put the last touches on your manuscript and you’ve turned your attention to submitting the work to publishers. You’ve drafted a few queries, pulled the sample chapters out and compiled a list of likely publishers. You put together 4 email submissions, along with a few paper packets for those publishers who still enjoy a traditional approach. You check and double-check everything, and then hit the send button and mail the rest. Sure, you’ll put together another group of submissions as a back up, but you’re quite certain within a few weeks you’ll be sifting through offers and they won’t be needed. And then it happens- your first rejection letter arrives.

It’s a form letter so don’t take it personally. There is a reason why they make chocolate and vanilla, and no better example can be made for that statement than a rejection letter from a publisher. If you let one person’s opinion consume you, defeat is inevitable. All that passion and enthusiasm you put into every word will have been for nothing. “How did they not like my work?” you’ll mumble to yourself. You’ll sulk and complain how maybe it just wasn’t good enough; maybe you’ll rewrite parts, changing from 1st person to 3rd person POV; maybe you’ll put it aside, think about it after a few months have gone by. If you let it, those months will turn into years.

Now, for every handful of form letters you’ll probably get a response that is more constructive in nature as to why it was rejected. These are the seeds of success and, as such, need to be acted on. Look for the commonality in the letters and address that with the next query. Take this on as a challenge, and whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep pitching the book and eventually you will find a publisher that enjoys the same flavor you do.

R. Michael Phillips, Mystery Author: Along Came A Fifer

Picture courtesy