Writing under a pseudonym

by Joe Moore

A couple of weeks ago, my Kill Zone blog mate, Kathleen Pickering, posted her thoughts on Brand Marketing. In it she discussed among other things using a pseudonym or pen name in relation to building a writer’s brand. One of the reasons Kathy gave for creating an alter ego and using a pen name is liability. Today I want to expand on other reasons for writing under a pseudonym.

Lets start by dropping some names. Ever heard of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, Harry Patterson, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Eric Arthur Blair, David John Moore Cornwell, and Jim Czajkowski? Chances are you have. They’re all world famous writers. But you probably know them by their pen names because they all write under pseudonyms.

Why would a successful author (or any novelist) write under a pseudonym? And should you consider using one?

By definition, a pen name is a pseudonym used in place of the real author’s name. Here are some reasons to use one.

Pro. Let’s say you’re a well-established writer who wants to change genres. You normally write young adult science fiction but now you want to write cozy adult mysteries. Admittedly, the audience is different and your SF fans might not follow you. Plus, your potential cozy audience might not accept you if they’re aware of your previous work. So changing genre can be a good reason to use a pen name. Also, abandoning a failed book series or moving to a new publisher might be a reason to take on a new identity and start over.

Pro. Your real name doesn’t market well to your genre. The action/adventure novel TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Mandrake Slaughter would probably attract more fans of that genre than TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Percival Glockenspiel. And Mandrake Slaughter is easier to pronounce.

Pro. For whatever reason, you need your identity to remain anonymous and protected. Let’s say you’re a high-ranking government official who decides to write a thriller that comes uncomfortably close to reality. To reveal your true identity would create a totally different spin on your book, one you might want to avoid.

Pro. Your name is too long or it’s hard to pronounce. In the case of James Rollins, his real name is Jim Czajkowski. A wonderful name, but not easy on the eyes. BTW, Jim also writes fantasy novels under the name James Clemens. Also keep in mind that the shorter the name, the larger it can appear on the cover. Just ask Brad Thor.

Pro. Your real name just happens to be Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Dan Brown. Start thinking about a pen name.

Pro. Sex. By that I mean that you’re the wrong gender. You want to write romance and you’re a guy. Plus, your real name is Mandrake Slaughter. Or your main character is a black female and you’re a white male with an unmistakable WASP name. The marketing starts when the reader first sees the title followed by your name. It has to make sense to them that you’re qualified to write the book.

Pro. There are two of you. Sometimes keeping the real names of writing teams works such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In their case, both authors write individually under their real names, too. Other times, choosing a single pen name makes more sense.

Now for a big reason to not use a pen name: It will always come out at some point that it’s not your real name, either in a book review, or at a writer’s conference, or during an interview, or in your Wikipedia bio; the truth will be revealed that your real name is Percival Glockenspiel. But if you don’t mind the inevitable, then go for it. The best advice is to discuss it with your agent and editor. Weigh all the marketing pros and cons. It works well for some, but not for all. Have a really compelling reason before you make the commitment and it gets embossed in gold on your book cover.

So, did you know the real names of the authors mentioned at the start of this blog? Here they are:

Samuel Langhorne Clemens is Mark Twain

Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum is Ayn Rand

Harry Patterson is Jack Higgins

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is Lewis Carroll

Eric Arthur Blair is George Orwell

David John Moore Cornwell is John le Carre

Jim Czajkowski is James Rollins

Do you writer under a pen name? Have you ever considered it?

How I lost my fear of elevators and learned to pitch

As writers, we are constantly being told, “Develop a great elevator pitch.” 

For those of you who are new to the biz, an elevator pitch is a brief, concise presentation of your novel’s central story. At its best, an elevator pitch is a clever and effective nugget that summarizes your entire manuscript. Think of it as a brilliant tag line for a movie. Here are some noteworthy tag lines you may have heard over the past 30 years: 

“Eight legs, two fangs, and an attitude.” (Arachnaphobia)

“She brought a small town to its feet and a corporation to its knees.” (Erin Brockovich)

“The last man on Earth is not alone.” (I Am Legend)

“Escape or die frying.” (Chicken Run)

Ideally, one’s elevator pitch should be brilliant enough to compel any editor or agent to scream, “You, author! Send me your pages!” Or better yet: “Sign this six-figure contract!”

Back in 2006, when I was a newish writer (I’d published four books under a pseudonym, but nothing on my own), I attended my first Sleuthfest. I was filled with trepidation–make that terror–about my elevator pitch.  I didn’t even want to go into the elevators, because I was afraid I’d run into an agent and blow my chance to pitch.

During the actual conference, I hung back. I watched as writers hounded an increasingly embattled group of agents and editors. Some even pursued their targets into the bathrooms to deliver a pitch. Over the course of the weekend, the expressions of the publishing professionals became glazed and semi-fearful, so accosted were they by the phalanxes of pitching newbies.

Here’s what I learned about elevator pitches: Don’t deliver one in an actual elevator (you run the risk of being injured in an elevator malfunction), and never pitch to a publishing professional unless they specifically ask for it.  Learn to read body cues; back off if you sense that your listener is merely being polite about your pitch, as opposed to genuinely enthusiastic.

At Sleuthfest, I was so afraid of pitching, I decided to limit my attempt to the “Agent Fest.” This is where you sign up for 15-minutes of face time with an honest-to-God agent. This is the time to make your pitch.

But I was still nervous. At the last minute, I cancelled my appointment with my assigned agents, and gave my time to another writer (who seemed incredulous that I’d handed away such an opportunity).

I did keep my appointment with a NY editor, however. Here’s why: the editor had actually read 30 pages of my work before our meeting. The agent’s reaction would depend solely on my verbal skills. The editor would base her reaction on the actual writing. In the end, I trusted my manuscript more than my mouth.

It all worked out. The editor liked my story enough to request the rest of the manuscript. I went home and hurriedly wrote query letters that contained my pitch. I honestly can’t remember what my pitch ended up being for the first Fat City Mystery, although it was something like, “Nancy Drew grows up, gains weight and develops a potty mouth.” It must have worked, because within a half dozen queries, I had an agent, followed soon by a contract with a major publishing house.

Over time, I’ve become much more comfortable with pitching. It was helpful to attend meetings of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, because both groups help you refine your speaking skills. Over the past few years I’ve been on panels and delivered presentations in person, so the whole speaking thing comes a tad easier these days.

But at my next conference, I may still avoid the elevators. I don’t want to press my luck.

What about you? Have you had success with your elevator pitch? Does the idea of delivering one make you nervous? Any tips you can share?


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

On Friday, John provided a great blog post responding to specific questions regarding the agent/publication process. One of these questions considered the issue of deadlines – something I want to expand upon today. Deadlines, both those imposed by editors/publishers and those self-imposed, are (I think) one of the defining elements of being a professional (as opposed to hobby) writer. As we certainly can’t rely on customwritingservice.com like so many college students do nowadays.

Deadlines make you both accountable and responsible. But what does that really mean when you aren’t as yet published? It means you know that in order to achieve your larger goal (writing the novel, getting it published etc.) you need to divide the task into manageable chunks and (here is where it gets tricky) you need to meet the deadlines you impose upon yourself. Otherwise you’re just like the billions of amateur writers whining about how ‘one day’ they will write a book but (insert excuse here…) they never seem to get around to it. In today’s post I want to deal with both publisher as well as personal deadlines.

Publisher Imposed Deadlines:

As John said in his blog post on Friday, these deadlines are pretty much inviolable. If, as the author, you miss these then there is a cascading effect on the whole publication cycle. Worse case scenario the publisher views it as a breach of contract and pulls out of the deal. Best case scenario you inconvenience a whole lot of other people. So if you do need to extend, you’d better have a pretty good excuse. 

My rather strict view of deadlines also extends to how you fulfil them. I’ve heard of an author who views the submission date with her publisher with a bit of a shrug – sure, she gets them the manuscript, but she’s not too concerned about making it perfect as she knows the editor will get back to her with comments, so she views the deadline as a necessary evil and continues to work through the book even while waiting for the editor to peruse and comment upon it. I differ on this in that I go into each deal with the belief that, whatever I submit has to be as damn-near-perfect as it possible. To me this is how professionals fulfil their obligations – not with a half-hearted shrug but with a commitment to demonstrating their craft to the highest degree possible.

Of course when it comes to an authors first book, the initial draft manuscript is what was acquired but any amendments to this (based on editorial feedback) should be treated with the same level of professionalism and adherence to deadlines. If an editor doesn’t provide a deadline (which would be highly unusual) then I would request or set one – that way the author remains on track and accountable to a timetable.

So what do you do if you have to seek a deadline extension?

This is where a good agent can act on an author’s behalf to mitigate against this – but the author must still have a genuine excuse for seeking an extension given the potential impact it has on the publisher. When it comes to agents, I would also recommend setting deadlines (for the agent as well as yourself) to ensure there remains a level of responsiveness and accountability that demonstrates an author’s professionalism.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

As a professional writer I like to set myself specific goals for my WIP to keep me on track. Typically I lay out a timetable to complete certain chapters or parts of the books to ensure I don’t face the overwhelming panic of producing a novel. When the tasks ahead are in manageable chunks the path seems far less onerous (or scary). The first thing I do is also set the date I want to get the draft manuscript to my agent and then work backwards from there. 

Sometimes I give my agent an initial deadline for the first 5-10 chapters and the proposed plot outline so I can get his read/feedback on the project ahead. Then I always tell him the date I propose getting the complete manuscript to him – it helps establish my own timetable as well as alerting him to my goal (and, I hope, demonstrate I am tackling it in a serious, professional manner). 

As a terrible procrastinator, self-imposed deadlines are vital to keeping me on track as a professional writer.

So what about you? 
Do you set your own deadlines? Do you meet them? 
Have you ever had to negotiate for a deadline extension from your publisher and if so, how did it go?

Listen to the Book

James Scott Bell

TCM, may favorite channel, showed a clip the other day of the great actor Eli Wallach talking about Method acting. This was the movement that took off in the 1940s, inspiring a new generation of actors like Brando, Newman and Dean.
Wallach reflected that as a young actor it was exhilarating to work things out with the Method. It was a like a big gymnasium and the actors were all playing off each other, trying things, letting scenes happen naturally.
But as he grew older, he said, he got more cautious. He would sometimes forget those lessons of youth, that sense of play. To break out of his torpor he would reflect back on his early days.
“The Method tends to put you back on the track to enjoy what you’re doing, to listen,” he said. “The big secret to acting is listening. A thought on the screen is amazing. And if you really listen, it comes to life.”
This hit me as something that applies to writing as well. We don’t put our best words on paper unless, in some form or fashion, we listen to the story as it unfolds. Madeleine L’Engle put it this way: “A writer grimly controls his work to his peril.  Slowly, slowly, I am learning to listen to the book, in the same way I listen to prayer.  If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right.”
So how do we listen to the book? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Listen in the morning
A valuable literary practice is to write quickly, first thing after you wake up (I will allow you a minute to start the coffee brewing, of course, but sit down ASAP and write, with pen and paper even, in stream of consciousness mode.)
Dorothea Brande recommends this practice in her wonderful little book, Becoming a Writer. It’s a way to capture that netherworld we inhabit between sleeping and waking, and therein lies treasure. Also, a lot you’ll throw away. But that’s the nature of creativity. The idea is to record as much of the mind stuff as possible, and then use whatever you find that’s valuable. Like panning for gold, you get a whole bunch of the riverbed in your pan then coax out the gold a bit at a time.
2. Use a novel journal
Sue Grafton does this, and that’s good enough for me. She begins each writing stint with her journal (she creates one for each novel). She starts with a diary entry, something about her life at the moment. Then she starts asking herself questions about her WIP. She may want to work on a scene, or a character, or some plot twist, or whatever else is popping up in her mind. Writing freestyle, is a way to open up her mind to hear what the story might be saying. It’s a conversation with the book.
3. Go to the place you fear
Going to places we fear is often where the deepest and most vital material is waiting. I never thought I’d write paranormal (abnormal, maybe). But when I came up with an idea that just wouldn’t go away, a zombie legal thriller, I went with it. It sold. Then, during the writing, I had to listen to what this new genre was telling me. I had choices, to go horrific or dark humorous or serious, throughout the writing of the first book in the series, Pay Me in Flesh. I listened intently, feeling my way along so the book had its own rhythms.
My agent, colleague and friend, Donald Maass, is a master at helping writers press beyond safe pastures. A question Don likes to ask in his workshops is, “What is something your character would never ever do or say?” Then, find a place for the character do or say that thing. Or at least think it, showing a ferocious inner conflict. Wow. Try that some time and then pick up the pieces of your head.
If you ever get stuck on a project, or the inspiration for it has given way to drudgery, remember what Eli Wallach said. Maybe it’s time to listen. Give the book your attention. Allow it to play. It wants to help!
Are you attentive to what your story is trying to tell you?

What You Can’t Do with an e-Book

I recently received a box in the mail. It was from a life-long friend, a gent named Bill Plant who is responsible (or maybe irresponsible) for shaping much of my taste in literature. While Bill and I remain close friends, we aren’t in the habit of sending each other gifts on the spur of the moment, so I had no idea what was in the box. It could have been anything from a head to…well, anything. After making sure that it wasn’t ticking, crying, or leaking, I commenced to open it, a formidable task since Bill apparently used three rolls of scotch tape to seal it. After some effort, I folded the flaps back, pulled out some newspaper packing, and…well, I’ll confess, The Kid got just a little misty-eyed.
The box was full of books. Paperback books. From the 1950s. They were marked up and in one case a little chewed up and some of them had the binding falling loose and they all had that sweet scent of slow but inevitable decomposition. In other words, every one was a little treasure. These were USED, used books. Bill deals in antiques, and will buy items such as books in inexpensive lots in the hope of finding an acorn or two among the Buena Sierra. Collectors, alas, aren’t much interested in paperbacks that are dog-eared, or have had a crayon taken to them, or that have been labeled, using an indelible marker, with a five cent price tag.  took a bunch of such and sent them to me. I don’t think I’ve had a better present in quite a while. It reminded me of one Christmas, some fifty years ago, when my mother ordered a bunch of science fiction paperbacks for me from the gone but not forgotten S & SF Bookstore in New York. It was a laborious procedure back then — check books off an order list, write a check, send the whole kit and  caboodle off in the mail and wait six weeks for delivery — since the only “Amazon” most folks knew then was either 1) a river in South America or 2) Irish McCalla. But when that box arrived, it was special. And so was this one.
So what would I possibly want with such a litter of mutts? The idea of it, pure and simple. These were books that had been read and re-read before being consigned to a cellar or an attic or the back shelves of a used bookstore.  Most of it was science fiction. There were Ace Doubles in that box. Ace doubles. These consisted of two covers and two novels bound into one; read one, flip it over, and there was another novel waiting for you.  Hard Case Crime is going to publish two Lawrence Block novels in the doubles format in May 2012, and I can’t wait. But these were the original thing. A few short story collections were in that box, and included forgotten stories by famous authors (“Death of the Senator,” by Arthur C. Clarke, for one). There were a couple of early and forgotten novels by authors who have gone onto better things (Robert Silverberg’s THE PLANET KILLERS); and some soft core science fiction porn (are porn paperbacks even published anymore?). Then there was a copy of GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton, one of the first science fiction books I ever read.
Yes, there were a couple of mysteries and thrillers as well. I was six years old when Marjorie Carlton wrote ONE NIGHT OF TERROR. It got past me the first time but I’m going to read it this year. And there were a couple of Carter Brown novels in that box.  Most of the ladies who contribute to The Kill Zone are probably too young to remember Carter Brown. but gentlemen, certainly most of you do.  “Carter Brown” was the pseudonym for Alan Geoffrey Yates, and there was a time when he ruled the revolving wire paperback racks. Who could forget those Signet covers? I fogged up my eyeglasses in many a drugstore perusing the wares of those gaudy damsels while pretending to look for Mad Magazine paperback collections. I have discovered, belatedly, that the stories aren’t bad either.  It occurred to me a couple of nights ago, while reading   NO BLONDE IS AN ISLAND, that I had never actually read a Carter Brown book until now. I had committed many a cover to memory, however.
Some of the older paperbacks are now appearing in e-book format.  I discovered recently that all of those Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books which I purchased with my allowance a half-century ago are available in Kindle format, and for free; and there are even three Carter Brown books up for sale. It just isn’t the same, however. The smell and the small, non-adjustable print and the feel of paper and ink aren’t there. It’s like having a rabbit and a hat that sit next to each other without any involvement or relationship: there’s no magic. That may sound strange — if pressing a couple of buttons and having an entire book appear in a wafer thin tool that you can slip in a coat pocket isn’t magic, then what is? — but it’s true. We get something, true, but also we give something up.
So. If you had a friend as good as mine (and Bill, I know you read these posts, and you remain the best), and that friend sent you a box such as I received, what books would you want to find in it? What would bring a smile to your face, and a tear (or five) to your eye?

The Scoop on Agents

By John Gilstrap

Last week, our friend and frequent-poster Terri Lynn Coop posted the following comment:

“You’ve talked about becoming agented and querying. However, what happens once your novel or non-fic is sold to the publisher.
What kind of deadlines are there? How firm are those deadlines? What role does your agent play after the publishing contract is signed? What sort of public face does your agent and publisher expect you to maintain from contract to release (is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction)? When do you see your advance?”

It’s a great bunch of questions. I’m going to take a shot at some answers.  The underlying assumption of my answers is that this is a first published book we’re talking about.  The rules don’t change a lot after you have a chip in the game, but they do change a little.  I’m also going to juggle the order of the questions a little:

What role does your agent play after the publishing contract is signed? 

Understand that a lot of negotiation goes into what a publishing contract looks like.  What rights will be sold?  More importantly, what rights will be retained by the author?  Is this a one-book contract, or a multi-book contract?  What will the pay-out schedule be?  If it’s a multi-book contract, will they be individually accounted or jointly accounted?  (Joint accounting means that Book #1 would have to earn back its advances before you could start earning advances on Book #2.  It’s by far the least preferable method, but first-timers often don’t have a lot of heft there.)

The agent is the go-between for all uncomfortable transactions.  For example, in fifteen years, I have never discussed money issues with an editor, and no editor has had to tell me to my face that I wasn’t worth the money I was asking for.  The agent keeps the creative relationship pure.  Beyond that, if everything goes well, the agent doesn’t have a lot to do after the contract is negotiated.

But things rarely go well.  What happens if your editor quits or gets fired?  What happens if you really hate the cover, or if the editor is getting carried away with his editorial pen?  On a more positive note, the agent will continue to pursue foreign publishing contracts, movie deals, etc.

What kind of deadlines are there? How firm are those deadlines? 

Deadlines are part of the negotiation process.  You’ll have to agree to respond to your editorial letter by a certain date with a corrected manuscript, and then you’ll have copyedits and page proofs, all while making your commitment to deliver the next book in the contract if it’s a multi-book deal.  I consider deadlines to be inviolable.  I’ve had to push the delivery date by a couple of weeks once, but I hated doing it because it inconveniences so many people, and it makes me look unprofessional.  Here is another instance where a track record of performance keeps people from losing faith in the author.  For first-timers, blowing a deadline can kill a career.  Remember, by blowing the deadline, you technically violate the contract, which the publisher would have the authority to void.

Writers need to understand that publishing calendars are set 12 to 18 months ahead.  Working backwards from those dates are the in-house deadlines for the production side of things (cover design, copyedits, publicity, ARCs, reviews, and a thousand other details).  If a deadline is blown by as little as a month, publishers may pull the author’s book from the calendar and replace it with another, thus potentially adding months to the publication date.

When do you see your advance? 

This is another  negotiated deal point.  Advances are paid out in pieces.  There’s always one piece on signing.  After that, the milestones vary from author to author, often depending on the horsepower of the agent, and on the “importance” of the author.  Other payment milestones can include: submission of edited manuscript (this is the “D&A payment–Delivery & Acceptance); hard cover pub date; softcover pub date; and even, in some cases, some period of time after the pub date.  If there’s a second book in the contract, there’ll likely be a payment milestone for the submission of an outline for the second book, followed by submission of an acceptable manuscript.

Meanwhile, if you’re happy at the publishing house, sometime while writing the second book of a two-book deal, your editor and agent will start negotiating the next deal.

What sort of public face does your agent and publisher expect you to maintain from contract to release (is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction)? 

This is where the issue of an author’s platform comes in.  If you’re a celebrity writing your autobiography, the pressure will be high to be out there to flog it.  Similarly, if you’ve written a book about a presidential candidate during an election year, the publisher will press hard for you to have media face time.

On the other hand, if you’ve written a novel featuring a feline crime solver (or about a freelance hostage rescue specialist), chances are that you couldn’t buy publicity outside of your local newspaper.  In that regard, an author’s public face is only as public as the author wants it to be.

I think that’s all of it.  Okay, Killzone comrades, let’s hear from you.

Can You Conjure A Story from These Images? TKZ FLASH FICTION DAY

By Jordan Dane

I am completely slammed on deadline and it’s getting down to the finish line for the first book in my HUNTED series with Harlequin Teen, YA thrillers. But when a friend sent the images below, I was able to take a mini-vacation by imagining any story set in these locations. I wanted to share them with you. I save images like these to trigger settings and these are so spectacular, they could inspire an entire book.

For you writers, tell me a story. Pick any one and share your thoughts or describe how you write settings and the research behind your favorites. I’m a fan of Google Maps and the little yellow man that can give you a 360 degree view of locations in my books. Very cool, but these exotic images took my breath away. I had to share them with my TKZ family.

The Joys of Schmoozing

I had a great time at Sleuthfest in Orlando. I got to visit with mystery author friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time, like Donna Andrews, Charlaine Harris, F. Paul Wilson, Toni Kelner, Reed Coleman, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Julie Kramer, Marcia Talley, Mary Anna Evans, and so many more. Then there were people I’ve met online, to whom I could finally assign a face: Jeffrey Marks, Alan Orloff, John Gilstrap, Steve Forman, Joanna Campbell Slan, and so on.

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John Gilstrap is on the far right

And of course, our own Florida MWA members were present. They number too many to list here. We heard great keynote speeches by Jeffery Deaver and Charlaine Harris.

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Nancy Cohen & Charlaine Harris

I got to chat with my Five Star editor, Denise Dietz, and reacquaint myself with an old writing pal, Pat Van Wie, now an editor for Bell Bridge.

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Deni Dietz & Pat Van Wie

I saw reviewers Oline Cogdill and Nancy Pate. And the booksellers from Murder on the Beach manned the sales desk while also in the bookstore room were wonderful raffle baskets designed by talented author Vicki Landis (and I won two!).

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Linda, Joanne, and Sue from Murder on the Beach

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Vicki Landi, Gregg Brickman, Ann Meier

Bestselling author Heather Graham very generously sponsored a dinner party at House of Blues on Saturday night. It was great to loosen up and relax over drinks and fabulous food.

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Heather Graham, vocalist and sponsor

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Michael Meeske, Kathleen Pickering, Nancy Cohen, Traci Hall

Of course I attended panels and participated on three of them. Maybe I learned a few new things.

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But the best part was hanging out with like-minded friends, chatting at the bar, having one-on-one discussions, and finding out what was new with everyone. Sometimes we only see these people at conferences and it may be years between visits.

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Johnny Ray and Joan Cochran

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Joanna Campbell Slan and Elaine Viets

I met new people, too, whom I’ll hope to recognize at the next mystery conference I attend. Several members of RWA made an appearance: Heather Graham, Kathleen Pickering, Michael Meeske, Traci Hall, Rhonda Pollero, Lynnette Hallberg, Marty Ambrose, and more. Forgive me if I leave out your name!

It gives you such a warm, fuzzy feeling to be in a welcoming environment where everyone shares the same hopes and dreams. It’s easy to walk up to a perfect stranger, introduce yourself and say, “What do you write?” Conference goers are interested in meeting new people and making friends. At least, it’s that way with writers.

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Donna Andrews and Deborah Sharp

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Julie Compton, Becky Swets

Our prime goal is to schmooze. Oh, it may be to have an editor/agent appointment and pitch our work, or to speak on a panel and promote our books, but the real gratification comes from the camaraderie. Kudos to the Sleuthfest organizers and committee for a terrific conference!

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Nancy, Miette, Linda Hengerer

Follow Your Dreams: Or Jumping Off Cliffs Is A Good Idea

By: Kathleen Pickering  http://www.kathleenpickering.com

Some folks dream in color. Other’s fly in dreams. Me? I’ve jumped off a cliff and lived to tell the story.

desert cliff

Yeah. It was the most exhilarating dream I’ve ever had; even better than the ones where I can fly.

Since Kathryn Lilly brought up dreams in last Tuesday’s blog, I would like to show how dreams can be instrumental in sorting emotions, planning personal goals and life direction.

But, before I continue, I must say how happy I was to meet our fellow TKZ blogger, John Gilstrap, at Sleuthfest in Orlando. John is a very cool dude who I liked on sight and look forward to seeing again. We had an excellent conversation with authors Heather Graham, Traci Hall, Michael Meeske and Jeffrey Deaver. We discovered that writers, no matter what the genre, share a healthy respect for the inexplicable.

That said, let’s apply some logic to the outlandish. Our dreams. (Please note, nightmares will be left for another time.)

My dream went like this:

I was standing on this cliff looking out over the desert. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not good with heights. I’m better since that volcano hike, but at the time of this dream, I was still downright chicken. I was, however, awed enough to appreciate the spectacular view.

goals3(Photo: Peter Lik)

Once again, I was feeling my smallness compared to this extraordinary world before me when this voice whispered into my ear, “Jump. Trust me. You will be okay.”

I replied, “What are you nuts? I can’t jump.”

The voice said, “No. You can do this. Just jump. As you are falling, start running in mid air. Pump your arms and legs. When your big toe touches the ground, keep running. The momentum will carry you forward.”

I answered that I absolutely could not and would not not jump.

The voice said, “Trust me.”

Now, in my dream, I’m not sure who was speaking, but he seemed familiar—and wise. My guess is that since I was dreaming, I decided to take the chance.

I jumped.

My stomach jolted. I couldn’t breathe. Then I realized I wasn’t following instructions. So, I started pumping my arms and legs and don’t you know? When my toe hit the ground, my momentum pushed me forward and I ran across the desert floor like the Road Runner leaving a plume of dust in his wake. I ran and ran until I realized I’d made it, and stopped.

RockyMy adrenaline was so high I started jumping up and down. I could have been Rocky on the steps of city hall, screaming, “I did it!”

I felt this heady bliss all the way home until I told my family that I had jumped from the cliff. Everyone started yelling at me. Things like: “What? Are you insane? You jumped from a cliff?”

Incredulity Or, “What would you say if one of your children came home and announced they just jumped off a cliff? You expect us to be glad for you? What you did was crazy!”

I thought about it. Saw their logic, and had to agree. Then walked away–only momentarily deflated.

These people I love didn’t get it.

Now, I’m still dreaming here. The fact that my family didn’t get that I had just accomplished a super-human feat, which we all get to do especially in dreams, disturbed me. This was a dream! My family should have realized we were all in this dream and cheered for me, dream style! (I will go on record that my family in this dream simply represented folks I trust. I’m not pointing fingers, here. I promise.)

negative thinkingBut, their reaction opened my eyes to the fact that in the past, I had permitted other people to impact my life’s direction with their ostrich-like fears and negativity.

Not any longer. I woke up from this dream so much more clearer. Just because others may not understand my point of view does not mean I am wrong. I can only celebrate the differences.

This dream confirmed to me that I am willing to go over the top to discover myself, my capabilities, my talents. For me, jumping from that cliff in a dream was the same as unzipping my skin and letting the real Kathleen step out.


Taking that step off the cliff not only cemented the direction and the attitude I have towards my personal goals, it symbolized to me that my goals are possible. No matter what the odds.

To this day, that dream stays with me. My leap of faith in my dream is bringing me the results I want in real life.

Proof? I received a call from my agent on Friday. Since my first sale, we’ve agreed to a new, three-book deal with Harlequin. Those three books coupled with the Nocturne anthology I’m writing with Heather Graham and Beth Ciotta for 2013 will make four books released in the next two years with my name on them.

Yeah. I’m grateful. And, I’m stoked. I’m going to be busy writing and will love every minute. 

My message to anyone who hasn’t tried it yet? Dare to dream. And, dream big. I might not be there yet, but I’m on my way. I knew it when I took that first step.

So, have you had any dreams that helped you trust yourself and remain fearless against all odds? If not, what is your greatest personal challenge in achieving your goals?

Let me know.

Write on!

xox, Piks


Book Trailers – Alive or Dead?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

It’s a long weekend here and so I have taken time out of my ‘be healthy’ regime to be a bit piggy with brie, red wine, chocolate and, yes, kangaroo. The latter is very tasty even if it feels like you’re eating the nation’s favourite Skippy (believe it or not, kangaroo are actually ‘culled’ in many parts of Australia as vermin). The long weekend also means I’ve been slacker than usual in getting my post together…which means, in true procrastinator form, I have been surfing the web…

To my surprise I have been seeing something I haven’t really noticed in a while…book trailers…yes, these have been sneaking back into my online world just when (to be frank) I thought they had died a natural death. 

Never having done one myself, I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the value of a book trailer. The ones I have seen have been, by and large, stilted, strange, artificial affairs which have failed to raise much excitement in me – either as a reader or as a writer. I was also never really sure whether they actually sold books in the way that a trailer ‘sells’ a movie. So I was surprised when I saw a recent one and started wondering – is the book trailer back? Or maybe it never died?

Assuming an author can afford it, I imagine a clever, funny, professional looking book trailer provides an additional and potentially valuable marketing and publicity tool, even if, in its own right, it doesn’t really sell many books. The key elements here are professional and clever – because, to be honest, some of the trailers I have seen have been embarrassingly amateur (especially when they try too hard to be like a movie trailer complete with ponderous, overblown narration). One I recall that made me laugh (and even contemplate buying the book) was a humorous spoof trailer for Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters but other than that most book trailers have drifted from memory like flotsam and jetsam…
But what do you think?

  • Is the book trailer having a resurgence?
  • Have you used a trailer and found it to be a successful marketing tool?
  • Would you consider producing a book trailer for your current WIP? (and why or why not?)
  • Has seeing a book trailer ever induced you to buy the book?