M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Found: Useful Writing & Twitter Ideas

Warrior FantasticFor someone who writes short stuff, I read precious little short fiction. Tried to remedy that when I bought Warriors Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers. The collection had some stories with great twists on fantasy tropes though I skimmed through a fair share of the stories.

Sad part. I had never encountered many of writers before and don't think I'll go searching for them. Part of it is because I like more depth to my characters. But the stories just didn't hook me into their worlds.

As a writer, the collection offered me some great lessons on using the three-act structure for stories: introduce your characters and setting, throw the characters to the wolves or other evil-doers, and then, let the MC win or lose. [Since this was genre fiction, the good guys usually won, and the bad guys lost.] You've probably heard that saw repeated so much you consider it a cliche. But it's a useful one.

I've been struggling the last couple of weeks with the two short stories I've been trying to write while doing the final, endless edits on The Ghostcrow. [Thanks to my beta readers, the whole focus changed by adding deeper MC motivation. The story's more complicated than Dumdie just escaping from a demon now. She's going to walk away with a better understanding of her ability to see ghosts.]

Oh, I have nice little outlines for both the Cassy Mae and Highgrim stories. But they just weren't jelling. At the moment, both consist of a hodgepodge of disjointed scenes. Further problem: I couldn't decided what details to put in and which to leave out. Result: I've two unorganized messes in my computer.

Yeah, the light bulb went on while reading the last few stories in the book. Locate your projected word limit and divide: 2000 words for intro, 2000 words for complications, and 2000 words for solutions. If I add any deeper motivations, the story can grow. One thing about self-publishing; I don't have to fit my story into a word-box.

As for Warriors Fantastic, it was a pleasant read, what I read of it. [The editors led off with the best story,[an original take on Valkyries by Alan Dean Foster, which is why I bought the book in the first place. Have decided most of my dissatisfaction with the stories was the lack of character depth. But I'm also thinking these were mostly guy stories about people who like to fight. As such, there are some interesting takes on fantasy paradigms that make the book worthwhile. I'm giving it a hemming & hawing recommendation.


Interesting & Useful #Twitter Blogs

In the early days of my critique group, one of our most common comments was "You're Telling". Just as I use my crit group to improve my writing, I've been reading blogs on improving your #Twitter presence. One of the most pertinent: a blog by MMJaye on Google+: "Show, Don't Tell, on Twitter" If you despair of anyone looking at your Tweets, you might take a look.

One of the best of the commentaries on making your tweets more effective was Richard Stephenson summery on points to use and habits to avoid. Take a look at The Indie Author's Guide to Twitter.

  Then, if you are compulsive enough to want to measure your results, you might look at Peg Fitzpatrick's blog on The Philosophy of Hastags .

  No, I don't measure my results other than checking my click-throughs on the the url-shorteners. But, Fitzpatrick gives lots of info on how you can better market with Twitter. With those automatic retweeter services, I pay less attention to retweeters though I always follow them. Thanks to the notifications I can scan the names and check out the new ones.


   Anyone else reading the comic book Mercedes Thompson story, Hopcross Jilly, put out by Dynamite? It's now in the fourth issue with Jesse, Mercy's step-daughter, being featured in a parallel story line to Mercy's involvement with some gruesome burials. Jesse's  getting bullied in school while a witch stalks the bad kids... again. The overall arcing mystery is the discovery of strange graves with the kids skeleton's lined up with their heads in the cardinal directions. Oh, and their fingers and toes are missing. How's that for a premise to work against the cliche of high school mean girls?

My take? The artwork is dark, which is okay, but all too often the panels are murky rather than sharp.  My other quibble is the advertising. No, the 90-pound weakling hasn't returned to haunt us. But the garb they've put on the revived Red Sonja must be uncomfortable to the extreme. Guess I'm getting old or, maybe, I'm not a day-dreaming adolescent boy.


Miracles of miracles. I've actually been writing in the mornings ... after I read my three comics and check my most important emails. Perhaps the most liberating change in attitude: I've decided since I'm not selling anything ... just giving my stories away ... so why am I wasting time checking stats? Then, someone on Barnes & Nobel bought four of my books at once. Or, at least, I sold four different estories there on the same day. That was a nice, warm fuzzy for a pipsqueak writer.

Hey, what's not to like?
My cut from a Nook is bigger than a sale on a Kindle.

Have also been taking time to learn how to build my own banners for #marketing. Have tried a couple tools, but PicMonkey seems to work for this computer klutz. Here're a couple banners I've created all by myself. I won't tell you how many attempts and redos it took to get to the finished product.

Yeah, they still some editing. But they say adding pics to tweets helps them get noticed. I'll be converting my reviews snippits to banners as I have free time.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Getting the Science Right - Stephen A. Benjamin's Worst Writing Fear

My Worst Writing Fear:
Getting the Science Straight


 Stephen A. Benjamin

  I am a veterinarian and a biomedical researcher. The goal of scientific research is to decipher the workings of the natural world. Accuracy in the collection and interpretation  of experimental data is the fundamental basis for scientific discovery and advancement.
So, what is my greatest fear as a writer of fiction, science fiction to be exact? The fear of getting something scientific wrong. How can I get something wrong if I am writing fiction? Good fiction is based on reality. Are the characters and their actions realistic; do they evoke emotion and caring in the reader? Are the settings well-drawn and believable? In any genre, if the reader cannot buy into the characters, the setting , or the action, they will suspend belief and, potentially, their reading.

  But science fiction is fantastical adventure, whether  set in the past, present, or future. It bears no relationship to “reality,” does it? Tell that to Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, nineteenth century writers who accurately predicted many of the scientific advances of the twentieth century. Did they get some of their predictions wrong? Of course they did. Verne, in Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea, amazingly envisioned and described the  SCUBA apparatus in 1870, yet, in the same novel predicted that humans could never harm the vast diversity of creatures that lived on earth. Don’t we wish the latter prediction was true?

  If greats like Verne and Wells could make errors, why is that a fear for me? Scientists can and do make mistakes in carrying out experiments and drawing  conclusions. Mistakes, when recognized, can be important to teach us what is correct. Yet, I am still afraid to make scientific errors in my fiction. An example: In the beta version of my recently published novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, a friend and colleague, also a veterinarian, picked up two errors: one the misspelling of a horse’s bone, the other the wrong term for a dog’s anatomical structure. Well, shoot, who but a veterinarian would even know? Doesn’t matter. I would know. I learned such things in school and there is no excuse for getting them wrong. I was embarrassed even though those errors never saw the light of day.
  I approach my writing as I approach a scientific research problem. I exhaustively investigate what is known, then use that to predict what might be. If I don’t get the current science right, what I propose for the future doesn’t work, for me at least. In Galactic Circle, a future plague has a basis in what we know now about microbiology and biochemistry. Even the alien life-forms affected must fit within a logical and consistent biological scheme of the universe, or the disease can’t work, and my story is less believable.

  So I fear someone reading my work (especially other scientists) and finding the error that makes them say, “Boy, did he get that wrong.” The old saw says, “Write what you know.” I’m supposed to know science and medicine. If I make basic  mistakes with current science, it tells the reader that I don’t know my subject. Might as well put the book down now! 

  My science fiction is based on good science. I will continue to research my subjects ad nauseum before I prognosticate the future of that science. And I’ll continue to make sure that someone reads my books who can catch my inevitable errors before they go to print.


Author Bio:
Stephen A. Benjamin

  Stephen A. Benjamin received his B.A. from Brandeis University and his D.V.M. and Ph.D. in pathology from Cornell University.  He has served on the faculty of two medical schools (Pennsylvania State University and University of New Mexico) and one college of veterinary medicine (Colorado State University).  He is currently Professor Emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

  Dr. Benjamin has been a teacher, researcher, and administrator, and his interests have spanned the areas of toxicology, radiation biology, cancer research, and veterinary medicine.  He has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific publications and book chapters.

  Fiction publications include his science fiction novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, which draws heavily on his medical background, and a short story, Just Desserts, a supernatural humor piece. Both were published by TWB Press, Lakewood, CO. Benjamin has an author page on Facebook.

  Dr. Benjamin lives in Colorado with his wife.  Besides writing, he enjoys travel, fishing, camping, golf, skiing, cooking, good wine, and five lovely granddaughters.


The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service

His family threatened by his world’s tyrannical theocracy, a young veterinarian is forced to run an interstellar veterinary service as cover for espionage in advance of a galactic invasion. Watched over by a xenophobic and sadistic government spy, he offers medical services to the alien life-forms he meets. Treating werewolves for mange only scratches the surface of his adventures as he makes human and alien allies to help him free his parents and his world from oppression.

You can read samples of The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service 
on Amazon, Nook, Smashwords
and at TWB Press.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chasing Fictional Witchy Versions of Salem -- Can Your Cozy Survive the Sacchrine Test?

It Takes a Witch (Wishcraft Mystery Series #1)   Think my brain got a little soft while doing the Christmas shopping--what little I did of it. I bought a several light cozy mysteries. It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake was one of them. Turned out it was fortuitous. When I was sick, I had something to keep me amused.

[My critical powers were intact because a couple of the books landed on the to-trade pile without a finish because of their saccharinity and general surfeit of cliches.]

  It Takes a Witch survived--in spite of its opening scene having the main character, a wish-granting witch, prancing around as a tulle- and-glitter-wearing tooth fairy. The appearance of a dead body, that of a mortal witch wanna-be, soon cured the cuteness. My reward was a delightful couple hours in The Enchanted Village where Darcy and her sister have moved to help their aunt with her business granting wishes to the people of Salem--mortal and crafters alike.

  So what's to like? First, is a take on witchcraft that limits practitioners to one skill or, maybe, two with one of them being dominant like handedness. When you add a bunch of other writing craft skills--well drawn secondary characters, a reasonable romance [yes, there are such in my opinion], a quick pace even though the scenes are well defined, and if that isn't enough, there's the chuckle-producing narrative. Yeah, this is an above ordinary paranormal with well defined rules for how magic works.

  Recommended if you like cozy mysteries. I may have to go looking for other books in the series even though I thought I satisfied my curiosity on how many takes writers can devise for Salem, MA"s witchy reputation.


  Some interesting views on book marketing appeared in some of the blogs I've scanned lately. Perhaps the most interesting is Jane Friedman's blog on How E-Books Have Changed the Print Marketplace. There's more info here that writers need to know than just publishing statistics.

  The article left me with a couple thoughts. No wonder The New York Times Book Review has eliminated their rankings of mass paperbacks. [Oh, yeah. This dinosaur still prefers to read them. They don't hurt my thumbs or my eyes.] The other thought is more disturbing. I'm writing in two of the genres that are decreasing the most.

  The Passive Guy has also added his two-cents to the Amazon debate with a blog on Is Amazon's Game Totalitarian? I really liked his balanced comments on Amazon's place in the publishing world. No, I don't think Amazon's the champion of the indie writer. But I do appreciate them for giving me the opportunity to self-publish. If they hadn't broken the market open, Smashwords and other outlets wouldn't exist, I don't think.


  Am struggling with scheduling writing time ... Oh, I write plenty, but adding worthwhile words to new stories or the revisions I need to do so isn't happening.

  One bright note, finally got a cover for The Ignoble Nobel Prize Winner I really like ... including a title change.  Now the story's Doom Comes for a Sold Soul. I also made a couple minor revisions and will soon raise the price to 99c [to cover all the expense of having covers redesigned]. It'll probably take a couple weeks for me to get all the changes in line.

  A heads up if you haven't downloaded it. It's still free. The story is much the same except for implying Highgrim wet his pants. But the price is going up to 99c so as the new formatting is done and uploaded.  You can go to my author website for the links to Amazon, B&N, etc.

 More editorial changes on my writing. Have a new cover for Night for the Gargoyles too.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Worst Writing Fear: What if My Mystery Falls Flat? -- Guest Post by Marni Graff

My Worst Writing Fear:

What If My Mystery Falls Flat?

 Marni Graff

Writing fiction is the best possible job. I get to play the “What If?” game when wearing my writer’s hat. Writing mysteries, which is what my novels are, is a whole different kind of game.

I always start with the end: I know who will die and why, at least the first body, which is the catalyst if there end up being more than one as the book evolves. It’s the ‘why’ that fascinates me. I’m not writing about serial killers, sociopaths, or psychopaths, even though I read those all the time. I’m fascinated with what would make an average person feel it’s reasonable to cross that fine line to take another’s life and feel justified doing so.

But mysteries are at their very heart a puzzle. I want readers to take the journey with my sleuth and with the detective on the case, as each try to figure out who is behind the killing. In the English mystery series, that will be American writer Nora Tierney and Detective Inspector Declan Barnes. In my Manhattan mysteries, it’s nurse Trudy Genova and Detective Ned O’Malley. And my worst fear is that the reader will get there before any of my characters.

I want readers to feel they are solving the mystery along with Nora or Trudy, but not necessarily before they do. There’s an element of surprise that I hope is incorporated as the murderer is revealed near the climax of the book.

Juggling the investigations, with each woman coming at the murder from a different point of view from the procedural aspect of the male detective, means I have to offer each of them clues, red herrings, and suspects rather like Hansel and Gretel left their crumb trail. This is where it gets tough. I have to parse out information to both the detective and the amateur sleuth and the reader and hope to keep it all straight while advancing the story.

I also have to keep in mind that my trained detectives have procedures they must use and laws to be followed that affect the scope of the investigation. Yes, they’re the professionals, but they have also more limitations. My amateur sleuths don’t have these constraints and can often find information on their own by using their feminine wiles, being glib, and often plain out-and-out lying.

And all while this is unfolding I’m hoping the reader feels I’m playing fair with him or her. It’s a daunting task, and it’s a question I ask my beta readers: when did you figure out whodunit?

So far feedback from readers who enjoy the books has led me to feel I’ve been successful. I have had a few emails from people who told me they figured out the culprit early on--only to be found wrong at the book’s end.

If that’s the case, I’ve done my job!


Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England. The Blue Virgin introduces Nora, an American writer living in Oxford. The Green Remains and The Scarlet Wench trace Nora’s move to the Lake District where murder follows her.  In process is The Golden Hour, set in Bath, and premiering in Spring 2015 will be Graff’s new Manhattan series, Death Unscripted, featuring nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. 
Graf also writes crime book reviews at www.auntiemwrites.com and is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. All of Graff’s books can be bought at Amazon or at http://www.bridlepathpress.com and are available as eBooks.


Book Blurb:

The Scarlett Wench
In the third award-winning Nora Tierney Mystery, the American writer awaits a traveling theatre troupe that will stage Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at Ramsey Lodge, Nora’s Cumbrian home. Nora must juggle parenting her infant son with helping to run the lodge, while furthering her relationship with DI Declan Barnes, ostensibly there for a hiking trip. When a series of pranks and accidents escalate to murder, Nora realizes her child is in jeopardy and springs into action to help Declan unmask a killer. Written in English mystery style, complete with a Cast of Characters, all chapter epigrams are lines from the play; a copy of the book was requested for the archives of Coward’s estate.

 The Scarlet Wench has all the ingredients of a good read: atmospheric setting, intriguing characters, complex plot and excellent writing.”
                 Rebecca Tope, UK author of The Cotwolds Series and The Lake District Series

M. K. Graff does it again with another compelling and intriguing Nora Tierney classic. As always, the characters are multifaceted, the plot twists are unpredictable and the backdrop of Ramsey Lodge at Bowness-on-Winderere will make you want to hop a plane for the UK locale. The Scarlet Wench is another winner!”
                 P. M. Terrell, author of Vicki’s Key, The Tempest Murders and River Passage

“A lively cast of characters, an intriguing mystery and a heroine you have to love … M. K. Graff does it again, with a new mystery you can’t put down!”
                                           Susan Sloate, author of Forward to Camelot and Stealing Fire

Monday, January 12, 2015

Writing a Good Story is All in the Details

Autumn Bones: Agent of Hel   Lucked out before the holidays. I had bought Jacqueline Carey's Autumn Bones so I had something to read while I coughed up my lungs. Turned out it was the second book in a trilogy, but the book stood on its own two feet. Found the book a delightful light read when I really didn't have much energy to keep my eyes focused. Great literature Bones isn't ... but the book did hit the spot. I remained entertained even though I first thought the storyline plodded through a bunch of miscellaneous characters.

  Yeah, I found the book dragged a bit, especially when the main character, Daisy Johansson dithered over who was going to be her boyfriend out of three potentially hot candidates. Granted the main character is young and uneasy with her dual demon/human status, but she lives in a town where the preternaturals have gathered in sort of a safe-haven created by a transported Norse goddess, Hel. In fact, Daisy's her enforcer and liaison with the mundane world.

  The problem? Daisy acts more like a fourteen-year-old with boy problems than an adult. I would of thought the Goddess Hel'd pick a more mature person as her representative.

  That caveat aside, Carey's constructed a light-hearted romp with a diverse crew of well-fleshed characters, many of whom get their moments in the sun. At about page 200, I thought she had introduced too many types of beings into her world. Various fae, preternatural, and human  had pranced across the stage. But Carey soon laid my qualms to rest as she built her storyline encounter by encounter. Seemed that the various people all had some contribution to make towards the denouement after the headstrong, mother from hell released, without any qualms, a ghostly persuader to encourage her errant, adult son to return home--whether he wanted to return or not.

Recommended as a light read. If you're an ardent fan of hard-hitting, supernatural chick lit and/or urban fantasy, this may not be the book for you. It skims across the genre cliches and tells a story all its own--and you don't have to read the first book in the trilogy to follow the plot line. To me, that's a plus.


   Oh, I had plans to finish some "quick, simple" things over the holidays. Even accomplished a couple of them, like got Hear That Damn Owl? published on all venues--Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, KOBO, etc. The Ghostcrow is getting beta read. But haven't even started to look for reviewers yet.

  Owl's now free on Amazon. Of course, all reviews appreciated. Do want to share a piece of my one Owl review with you. "My favorite part about this book is the vivid, visually rich writing style..."

  Perhaps the most important thing I did was to mull over my social media involvement. Seems like I spent most of last year marketing my stories. Oh, it was nice that Night for the Gargoyles was in the top ten free short stories for a while. But I didn't see much in the way of reviews from the downloads, and I definitely didn't make any money.

  Bottom line. I'm thinking of forgetting about sales and concentrate on writing. The sequel to Noticing Jamilla has been nagging ... and I'm thinking about concentrating on that. Anyone care for Demon Eyes?

  One thing playing with all the Andor stories has done: clarified my ideas about the demons stalking Andor.

  Oh, There Be Demons was rejected by a couple publishers over the holidays. I'm submitting it in a lackadaisical fashion. I think Curiousity Quills is next in line to send me a rejection letter. Bottom line, though, I've decided I really don't want to bother tracking a bunch of publisher and/or agent submissions ... so I'll be sending it out when I'm not sending Dark Solstice Turning Point or Bad Luck Emma out. The strange part? All three book manuscripts aren't a bad read even if they aren't marketable.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Leaving the Holiday Dust Behind & Traveling 2015's Writing Road

Hope you are refreshed after your Holidays ...
however you celebrate them

I've got a lot of cleaning up done, 
Including updating my author website.

Even enjoyed loafing around during my son's year-end visit, complete with a
Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Also saw the last of The Hobbit.
[I thought it dragged like the rest of them but love NZ scenery.]

Now it's back to the mundane, work-a-day world.

  My biggest news. I'm still in editing mode. Have one project down -- Hear That Damn Owl? [It's up on Smashwords, and I'm waiting for it to appear on Nook so I can get it up on Amazon too.]  But have another story rumbling down the pike -- Taking Vengeance. I decided to re-edit it as well as do the new cover. While I liked the old one, this one gives Mariah more steel in her stare.

  The most helpful thing I read was an comprehensive list on The Write Life for editing manuscripts. Yeah, another list. But this one can help anyone who has to write reports or papers as well as trying to write books or stories. 25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy. I think I'll always hire editing for my self-published stuff, but this list can help Old Cheapskate Here save some money.

My catalog of short stories keeps growing online.

  Someday, I might consolidate worlds and/or protagonists. But first I've got to get stuff out of my computer. Short reads seem to be the most efficient way to excavate. End result? I have a huge backlog to revise, polish, and self-publish.

  Other self-publishers might be interested in an article I discovered on Google+: Where Should You Self-Publish an eBook?. If you're interested in building a career, you need to read this to set up a marketing plan. I discovered my "by-the-pants" plan wasn't too far off the bullseye. I plan on continuing to use Smashwords and Kindle Direct. To me the combination seems to be the most efficient. Besides I understand the process. [Though I still make mistakes... or get distracted by solitaire.]

  Another article I found on the BookDaily emails that was particularly helpful was How to Get Bloggers to Review your Book by