Things You Can Learn at a Female Impersonator Contest

Jordan Dane



Now that I have your attention, I attended an unusual writers’ conference located in my hometown of San Antonio on Feb 25-27, 2016. The Wild Wicked Weekend did not disappoint. The name says it all. This was my first time attending this crazy event, although I heard a lot about it over the years. It’s organized by a group of authors called Belle Femme and the venue was the Menger Hotel, an historic hotel reputed to be haunted. (No, I did not see any ghosts, that I know of.) I almost didn’t attend because the events planned for this conference actually scared me more than the ghosts that frequent the old hotel.

Here a link and you can see what I mean:

What never ceases to amaze me is the generosity of fellow authors who met with me to exchange ideas on better ways to promote books. One author in particular – Elle James – taught me a lot about her highly successful career being a hybrid author, working with traditional houses as well as being a driven indy author with a great track record. I learned that I had to bend my way of thinking from traditional publisher strategies to a more independent author approach. These two ways are different in how advance promo time is used and the importance of pre-orders and advance reviews and ways to boost awareness of your books.

Here are some specific things I wanted to share. None of these are very detailed because I need to learn more, but there might be enough for you to get started too.

1.) I learned about Drive.Google,Com where you can develop a GOOGLE FORM for obtaining Advance Reviews. Once you create the form, you can embed the code into your facebook page, for example, and begin to build on a database of reviewers for your current and future releases.

2.) You can set up a Street Team page for your author name on Facebook and generate buzz with exclusive content, giveaways, and insights into your books to build enthusiasm for your work.

3.) I heard about targeting Facebook ads to specific markets that could be interested in your book, based on certain keywords – and the use of Facebook Power Editor on a Chrome Browser. As I said at the start of this list, I am still learning about these marketing techniques, so I’m not able to give detailed advice. If that is what you are looking for and you would like to learn more, then you can click on the link.

4.) I heard about the benefits of getting set up under Amazon Associates in the Affiliates program.

5.) I learned about tracking indy sales through an app called BookTrakr. The details are much better than I’ve seen on other sales tracking tools.

From networking with generous authors, I was pitched to write for another new series to be launched in July. I can’t share the news yet, but I’ll be linking my latest novel (THE LAST VICTIM) into a crossover to jumpstart my character Ryker Townsend into a new series of his own.

I’ve never written for Amazon Kindle Worlds (KW) before, but I’ve found that if I crossover any of my series books or create a new series that will tie-in to the two KWs I will be writing for, I can take advantage of the readership of all the authors writing for the series. In the back of our books, we add links to the other books in the series and once a reader finds the KW series and loves the book, they may keep buying them. We sustain each other’s momentum by doing this.

This is nothing new. Traditional houses have been placing ads in the back pages of printed books if an author’s contract allows for it. But in this digitized world, an online link can mean a sale and perhaps sustain a rise in sales rank.

My strategy for the rest of the year will be to write my Amazon Kindle World novellas (word count sweet spot ranging 25,000-30,000 words) – I have 4 so far with releases in Feb, May, July, Nov – then link in one to two of my Ryker Townsend (FBI Profiler Series) with word counts at 50,000-60,000 words each.

So I am in the precarious position of having contracts to fill, but I will also need to establish a better advance and post promo strategy to take advantage of pre-orders, advance reviews, street teams, and Facebook parties. That’s what I learned at this crazy conference from some very prolific authors who took me under their wings.

The moral of this story – Never pass up a Wild Wicked Weekend.

1.) What advance promo works best for you?
2.) Have you used Street Teams to generate buzz for your books? Strengths? Pitfalls?
3.) What synergies are there in cross promoting your books with other authors in a series or who write similar books to yours?
4.) How do you obtain your advance reviews?

HotTarget (3)

HOT TARGET – Omega Team series – ebook priced at $1.99.

Rafael Madero stands in the crosshairs of a vicious Cuban drug cartel—powerless to stop his fate—and his secret could put his sister Athena and her Omega Team in the middle of a drug war.

Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

Letting Go of Bad Ideas

By PJ Parrish

As you know, I have trouble sleeping. Usually, it is because I can’t slow down the hamster wheel in my head. It is whirring around, filled with junk, to-do lists, misconjugated French verbs, woes real and imagined and regrets (I’ve had a few, too few to mention).

And then there are those story ideas floating around in my brain just as I’m trying to drift off. Those tantalizing fragments of fiction, those half-seen shadows of characters-to-be, those little loose pieces of plots just waiting to be sculpted into…


Here is the question I was pondering last night just before I finally drifted off: Is every idea worthy of a book? Does every story really need to be told? And then, in the cold light of morning, the answer came to me: NO, YOU FOOL!

You all know what I am talking about. Whether you are published yet or not, you undoubtedly have some of the following around your writing area:

1. A manila folder swollen with newspaper clippings, scribblings on cocktail napkins, pages torn from dentist office magazines, notebooks of dialogue overheard on the subway, stuff you’ve printed off obscure websites. At some point, you were convinced all these snippets had the makings of great books. (I call my own such folder BRAIN LINT.)

2. A folder icon in your laptop called PLOT IDEAS or some variation thereof. These are the will-o-wisps that came to you in the wee small hours of the morning, whispering “tell my story and I will make you a star!” So you, poor sot, jumped out of bed, fired up the Dell and tried to capture these tiny teases.

IMG_0487Here’s a picture of my PLOT file. Here are some of the WIP titles: Stud, Panther Book, Silver Foxes, Winter Season, The Immortals, Card Shark. Feel free to steal any of these.
Or maybe you’re one of those bedeviled souls who keeps a notepad by the bed — just in case. (Mine is right under my New York Times Crossword Puzzle Book and paperback of John D. MacDonald’s Ballroom of the Skies.

3. Manuscripts moldering in your hard-drive. Ah yes…the stunted stories, the pinched-out plots, the atrophied attempts, the truncated tries. (Sorry, when alliterative urge strikes, you have to let it out or it shows up in your books). These are the books you had so much hope for and they let you down. These are the books you went thirty chapters with but couldn’t wrestle to the mat for the final pin. These are the books you grimly finished even as they finished you. Maybe you even sent these out to either agent or editor and they were rejected. At last count, I have six of these still breathing in my hard-drive. And at least four others finally died when my Sony laptop did, lost to mankind forever.

So what do you do with all these ideas? You expose them to sunlight and watch them burn to little cinders and then you move on. Because — hold onto your fedora, Freddy — not every idea is a good one. Not every idea makes for a publishable book. And sometimes, you just gotta let go.

Let me give you a metaphor. I think you women out there will get this more readily than the guys. You have a closet full of clothes. Most of the clothes you never wear. But they were really good ideas at one time. Like that hot pink Pucci shift you found at the consignment store but makes your boobs disappear. Like those Calvins you haven’t been able to shoehorn into since 1985. Like that yellow blouse you got at Off Fifth that makes you look like a jaundice patient but you keep it because it is Dolce & Gabanna and you paid $59.99 for it.

I read a good blog entry a while back about “Shelf Books.” I am kicking myself for not writing down who coined this great term; I’m thinking John Connolly? Someone please help me if you know. The idea is that you sometimes have to finish a book just so you can get it out of your system and move on. Doesn’t that make sense? Sort of like cleaning out your closet of clothes that make you frustrated and sad, so you can create space for good new stuff?

We all have Shelf Books. Some are meant to be only training exercises. They teach you valuable lessons that you must learn in order to be a professional writer. I will never forget listening to Michael Connelly talk at a Mystery Writers of America meeting when I was just starting out. He said that he completed three novels before he wrote his Edgar-winning debut The Black Echo, because he knew none of the first three were ready to go out into the world. Fast forward fifteen years to last month when I moderated a panel at SleuthFest with our guest of honor C.J. Box, who told the audience that he wrote four books before he finally hit it right with Open Season (which, like Connelly’s debut, also won the Edgar for Best First Novel.) And I clearly remember reading Tess Gerritsen on her blog where she confessed she wrote three books before she got her first break with Harlequin. She also said how dumbfounded she was that some writers expect to get published on their first attempt.

I think I understand that last thing. I had the hubris to think the same thing myself when I was starting out. But it took me a couple tangos with bad ideas before I found a story that worked. I have also seen some of my published friends lose valuable time not wanting to give up on an idea because they got so emotionally invested in it. And I have seen many unpublished writers lock their jaws onto one idea like a rabid Jack Russell and chew it to death. We all can become paralyzed, unable to give up on our unworkable stories, unable to open our imaginations to anything else. I think it is because we fear this one bone of an idea is the only one we will ever have.  Don’t let anyone kid you — even veteran writers get into this mindset, frozen with fear that they have dried up, that they will never again have another good idea.

For unpublished writers, two things happen when they reach this point:

They self-publish — badly. Meaning without getting editing help or good feedback.
Or they get smart, take to heart whatever lessons that first manuscript taught them, put that book on the shelf, and move on to a new idea.

Here is my favorite quote about writing. I have it over my computer:

The way to have a good idea is to have many ideas.

— Jonas Salk

You have to know when to let go. And you have to trust that yes, you will have another idea. Maybe a good one. Maybe even a great one.

I think I will now go clean out my closet. There is a gold lame thrift store jacket in there I need to get rid of. Here it is. It’s yours if you want it. Check out my ad on LetGo. I will even throw in my un-used book title STUDS.


Tracking How You Read

Two recent articles –  a Wall Street Journal article Your E-Book is Reading You and a New York Times Article Moneyball for Publishers – discuss the ways in which publishers and book retailers are using digital data to understand how readers react and engage with e-books. New data analysis techniques can look at how quickly readers finish a book, how far readers get in a particular book before giving up on it, and can even assess differences between readers (based on gender, age and other factors) in terms of their reading behavior. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Especially given many publishers would admit they don’t really know a lot about their readers or their reading behavior when it comes to specific books.

Jellybooks, a so-called ‘reader analytics company’, offers publishers the ability to track reading behavior by giving a group of readers free e-books and digitally recording their reading behavior. In this way they are hoping to demonstrate to publishers how often the books are opened, how quickly they are read and (if a reader fails to complete the book) at what point a reader’s interest began to wane. According to Jellybook’s data fewer than half the books tested are finished by the majority of readers (ugh!) and that most readers give up on a book in the early chapters (which is hardly unexpected). Again, intriguing…

So what could publishers potentially do with these data? Well, given the plan is to track reading behavior prior to a book’s publication, these data could be used by publishers to formulate their marketing plans (spending less, I assume on the books that ‘failed’ in the test group, and spending more on those the test group completed quickly). Publishers could also use the data to identify the type of readers that respond well to a book and produce a more targeted marketing plan. I assume another option, in the future, could also be the possible ‘casting adrift’ of authors and books that failed to catch fire with test readers.

Both the WSJ and NYT article point out the potential pitfalls for these kind of ‘deep’ digital reader analytics programs. The test group might not represent, for example, the kind of readers a particular book would appeal to, or the group might not be a large enough (or diverse enough) to adequately represent the general book buying audience. There are also privacy concerns if this kind of analytics became widespread – although almost e-book publishers like Amazon, Apple and Google can already can track though their apps how many times readers open the app and spend their time reading. No doubt they already analyze their own data to glean a great deal of information about reader behavior.

Authors may also be cautious – while it would be pretty cool to see how readers respond to your books – what if they didn’t react as favorably as the publisher would like?? Is an author more likely to get dropped if the test audience doesn’t respond the way an author or publisher was hoping? Does a lukewarm reception in the test group mean that an author is likely to receive minimal marketing success (could failure become a self-fulfilling prophecy depending on the reaction if the test group?) I wonder too if reliance on digital data analytics could have a freezing effect on acquisitions of more quirky, eccentric or less mainstream books.

So TKZers, what do you think of the move towards deeper ‘reader analytics’. As a reader and as a writer, what benefits or risks do you see?

By the way, I am traveling to Nicaragua so, depending on access to the internet, I may or may not be able to join in, what I hope is a stimulating discussion on this topic!

Notes On The Sacrificial Ending

by James Scott Bell

Casablanca ending

What is the most famous ending of all time?

I’ll cast my vote for Casablanca. It is certainly the most popular. The first time you see it you can’t help but be moved. Some people weep. Others feel an uplifted respect for things like duty and honor.

And then it hits us with the famous last line: Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

Why does this work so well?

Let’s start at the beginning. Rick Blaine is an American running a night club in French occupied Morocco during World War II. He sticks his neck out for nobody. He’s trying to forget being betrayed by the woman he loved, Ilsa Lund.

And then she and her husband, Victor Laszlo, turn up at the club.

You know the story.

If you don’t, shame on you. Go watch the movie before you write another word.

Intrigue follows, until at the end Rick is at the airport with Ilsa, who looks remarkably like Ingrid Bergman, and she’s ready to leave her husband and go away with him.

But then Rick stops and tells her no, this is wrong. If we go through with it we’ll regret it, maybe not now but soon and for the rest of our lives.

And yet: “We’ll always have Paris. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Rick has sacrificed the thing he wants most in this world. He has done it for a higher good (no longer will he say, “I stick my neck out for nobody.”).

He’s also put his very life on the line, for he has killed the Nazi major in front of the French police captain, Louis.

But in a stunning reversal, Louis does not arrest Rick. Instead, moved by Rick’s moral courage, he himself sacrifices his position of power to go off and fight the Nazis with Rick.

What’s happened?

Rick, who has been living as an isolated dead man walking, has offered to sacrifice his life … and has been resurrected.

Hm, why am I thinking about that on this particular Sunday?

Because the central Christian message of sacrifice and resurrection is the shaping force of our civilization. Even if one does not celebrate Easter, or is not religious at all, it must be acknowledged that there is something in us that vitally responds to a sacrifice for the greater good.

Which is why Casablanca resonates.

And why sacrifice in fiction moves us.

It can happen in genre fiction, such as Dashiell Hammet’s classic, The Maltese Falcon. At the end Sam Spade has within his reach the woman he’s fallen for, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. He loves her even though he knows she’s a liar and manipulator. But he’s a sneaky PI who had an affair with his partner’s wife, so maybe they actually belong together!

But Spade gives it up, because there’s a principle involved:

“I don’t care who loves who I’m not going to play the sap for you. . . . When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”

After Spade goes through his reasons, he says to Brigid:

“Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.”

“You know,” she whispered, “whether or not you do.”

“I don’t. It’s easy enough to be nuts about you.” He looked hungrily from her hair to her feet and up to her eyes again. “But I don’t know what that amounts to. Does anybody ever?”

 Finally, Brigid plays her big card.

She put her face up to his face. Her mouth was slightly open with lips a little thrust out. She whispered: “If you loved me you’d need nothing more on that side.”

Spade set the edges of his teeth together and said through them: “I won’t play the sap for you.”

She put her mouth to his, slowly, her arms around him, and came into his arms. She was in his arms when the door-bell rang.

Spade, left arm around Brigid O’Shaughnessy, opened the corridor-door. Lieutenant Dundy, Detective-sergeant Tom Polhaus, and two other detectives were there.

Spade said: “Hello, Tom. Get them?”

Polhaus said: “Got them.”

“Swell. Come in. Here’s another one for you.” Spade pressed the girl forward. “She killed Miles.”

So Spade lets the police cart Brigid off to her inevitable appointment with the noose. With this sacrifice, Spade “wins” because he has upheld the moral order of his particular universe.

Even before Christ, the resonance of sacrifice and resurrection was inside us––almost as if we’d been wired for it. Around 438 BC the Athenian playwright Euripides presented Alcestis. In this play a king named Admetus is due to kick the bucket. But he is given a gift by the gods––he does not have to die if he can find someone to take his place.

No one is anxious to step in for that particular service, except his wife, Queen Alcestis. She does this so her children will not be left fatherless and she a grieving widow. Plus, she knows he is a good king and the people need him.


Off she goes with Death, toward her eternal destiny.

Meanwhile, Heracles (the Greek name for Hercules, which is the Roman name for Steve Reeves), hears this sad tale and vows to battle Death and bring Alcestis back from the Alcestisdead.

Which he does. He returns to the palace with a veiled Alcestis. King Admetus doesn’t know her at first. But then he lefts her veil and there she is. Interestingly, she cannot speak for three days, and then is fully restored.

Sacrifice is powerful. Perhaps the reason is this: we know life is tough, and that to stand up for the good usually comes at a cost. Fictional characters who fight for what’s right are going to be wounded. Otherwise, the thing they’re standing up for isn’t all that important.

When they offer their lives, it is the ultimate sacrifice. If they survive, it is like a resurrection.

But even if they do not survive, there is still a resurrection. Their spirit will live on. Their sacrifice inspires others to change for the better and carry on the fight. Think of William Wallace in Braveheart. He can end his torture simply by confessing to treason. Instead he shouts, “Freedom!” just before the ax falls. His death inspires his followers, most notably Robert the Bruce, so they may all go on to fight like free men.

Or even the comedy Mister Roberts. The book, play and movie (starring Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon and James Cagney) were huge successes, in large part because the ending hits us with a somber jolt that is followed by the rebirth of one Ensign Pulver.

In other words, the sacrificial ending works all over the place, in any type of fiction.

But even if you don’t end with a sacrifice, at least have the conflict of the novel cost the Lead something essential. He will then emerge as a different or stronger person at the end. That’s the essence of story in a nutshell.

Happy Easter. May this day bring you blessings, joy, creativity … and some very good words for your WIP!

You Wouldn’t Believe What’s Out There…


It has been stated  repeatedly that information is the new currency. Mystery and thriller authors and readers have known that for decades. What is a clue, if not a piece of information? What is new is the ability of anyone — and I mean anyone — with internet access and a bit of deductive reasoning to discover quite a bit about someone else, without paying a private investigator to do so or getting down and dirty themselves and going through someone’s garbage the night before the scheduled pickup. I’m not talking about one of those pricey subscription services, either. I’m talking about what you can get from the comfort of your home with a smartphone or a tablet. Those of us of a certain age are familiar with the gumshoe — Mike Hammer comes to mind —who had a contact at the courthouse, or the phone company, who is an inside source of inside knowledge. These days it just takes a few keystrokes.

If you are writing contemporary detective fiction your protagonist can use these sources quite easily. So can you, for that matter, for your own benevolent reasons. The following are the most widely and readily available:

Google Search: This may seem obvious, but it’s just a starting point. It doesn’t contain everything, by any means, and may also give you too much information. If I can’t find precisely what I am looking within the first two or three pages of search results I look elsewhere, such as

Facebook: It may seem trite but Facebook can be a wealth of information. I have seen couples who I know play out their domestic problems in Facebook posts. Ouch. On another occasion, I was considering an extended period service contract with a gentleman — payment up front — until I read some of his wife’s posts, in which she repeatedly described the financial problems her husband’s business was experiencing. It did not instill confidence, nor did her demonstration of her inability to operate the governor between her thoughts and her fingers. I went elsewhere.

While we are talking about Facebook: it’s a criminal’s dream (so is Twitter), particularly with respect to those folks who can’t travel more than five miles from home, eat anywhere besides McDonald’s, or use the commode without telling the Universe where they are, like, RIGHT NOW, and what they are doing. Some unsolicited advice: wait until you get home to spread the news about how interesting you are. Otherwise, you are advertising that your home is empty and waiting to be burglarized while you are busily telling the world that you are engaging in conspicuous consumption.  Ask your local police department (or better yet, your insurance agent) if you think that I am kidding. Much of what is available online is put there by government agencies, and you can’t opt out. It’s there. Keep in mind that what you voluntarily put on Facebook can be viewed by anyone, be it your spouse or significant other (or both!), and a prospective or current employer, customer, or client.

County auditor/assessor office websites: this would be the office that collects your real property tax. While I have come across a couple who charge a fee for access — particularly in California — the overwhelming majority of the ones that I have accessed are free. It is a great way to get an up-to-date address for someone. If someone owns several pieces of property in a county, check to see where the tax bill is sent. That is almost certainly where they actually live.

City, county, and probate clerk of courts websites: Do a name search on these sites to see if your person of interest is sued or being sued, has had criminal charges brought against them, has a lead foot when driving, has a history of divorce, has taken out a marriage license, or has warrants or civil judgements outstanding against them. You don’t need to be an attorney to search most of these sites, and most are free. Some jurisdictions do charge a fee and/or limit access to attorneys — again, California — and some don’t have online access at all but that number is dwindling.

Cell phone records: Not everyone is aware of it, but you can access your own cell phone records — or the records of family members who are on your family plan — online once you setup your account. This ability is not without benefits. Several years ago my younger son had his cell phone stolen by a customer from the restaurant where he was working (long story). He called and told me fifteen minutes after it happened. I logged on and discovered that the perp was already calling people. I started calling the same numbers, telling them to call their friend back and tell him that he had thirty minutes to return the phone or I would hunt him down like a dog (yes, I could have called the thief directly but doing it this way seemed more sinister). The phone was returned within a few minutes. Now, of course, one had an app for such things but not everyone loads it or knows how to do so.

As for what is NOT out there: I have yet to find a good online directory for cell phone numbers in general or reverse directories. I recently attempted to find a friend that I had been out of touch with for over forty years. He didn’t have much of an internet presence so I wound up checking the real property tax records in the county where he had lived when I knew him. He was still there. I tried to get phone numbers for him online and got four — four — all of which were outdated or no longer valid. I wound up mailing him a letter and heard back from him. Sometimes, I combination of old and new works best, as Loren Estleman demonstrates on an annual basis in his immortal Amos Walker series.

Does anyone else have other websites they know of, that detectives, fictional or otherwise, can use? And, better yet, does anyone have interesting stories resulting from their use of such websites?

First Page Critique: THE PEACEMAKER

by Joe Hartlaub

I am honored to have been asked to critique the first page of a work-in-progress titled THE PEACEMAKER by an anonymous author. My comments follow. Fellow TKZers, please feel free to offer additional constructive comments, particularly if you see something that I have missed. Thank you in advance. And thank you, Anonymous Author, for getting the job done and showing us your work.


The young woman was rounding the corner of the jogging path in Central Park. The man watched as she pulled out her cell phone. .He had been following her for years, watching, and waiting for the perfect moment to step out of the shadows and make her his own.

There had many other women, but none matched the qualities he saw in her, so when he tired of them, they simply disappeared. He and the jogger had a history and a destiny of which she was not yet aware.

The man watched as she dialed a number, not knowing she was calling her godfather, telling him she thought someone was following her and, was certain someone had been in her home when she was away.

Dan Alston told his goddaughter to go home and remain until she heard back from him; then he called his old friend, Seth Barkley.

Over fourteen hundred miles away Marshals Seth Barkley and Steve Daugherty were having problems of their own. They were at the front door of the home of wealthy day trader Jackson Callan to arrest him when three gunshots rang out.

Now, they were inside the house, swiftly and cautiously moving toward the staircase. The marshals were aware that Callan’s wife and three children might be upstairs

Looking up the stairway Barkley’s heart began to race. At the top stood a small woman crippled with fear. Behind her holding a 9mm Glock to her head was her husband.

Barkley’s first thought was, how did a mere white collar arrest go so wrong? His second, three gunshots, where are the children?

Barkley cautiously moved to the front of the stairs where he had a clear view of Callan. Daugherty moved behind Barkley to the right where he had a clear shot if Callan decided to end it all right there, taking Barkley with him.

“Is anyone else in the house?” Barkley asked

“My three children,” Callan replied eerily calm.

Barkley suddenly got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach remembering the three gunshots that had led to this moment.

“Let your wife and kids go,” he said to the man. “They don’t play a part…”

Before Barkley could finish his sentence, a shot rang out causing Callan’s wife to fall to the floor. A split second later a shot from Steve Daugherty’s gun landed Jackson Callan next to his wife.


Generally, Anonymous Author needs to get ahold of the story’s reins and slow it down a bit. We’ve got one page and a few paragraphs, in which the perspective changes four  different times, from a stalker to a jogger to her godfather to a policeman. I like fast-paced stories as much as anyone but the author needs to give the reader a bit more in each scene, particularly in the opening paragraphs, before moving on to the next. Certainly the opening scene is interesting: a stalker, and a dangerous one, watching a woman who has apparently just become aware of his attention. Let’s start with that, focusing primarily on The Stalker, and proceed. I give a couple of examples of how to slow things down a bit while giving the reader more information, but certainly they are not all-inclusive.

Names: Before we go any further let’s give the stalker and the jogger a names, or a nicknames, so that we can personalize them and identify them when they come back around in the story. For our purposes, I’m going to call the stalker The Stalker (as you may have noticed) and the young woman The Jogger. Tell us a little bit about each character as they are introduced, or as soon as practicable thereafter. Let’s start with The Stalker. And give him a distinctive piece of clothing or jewelry — a keyfob that he likes to play with, something that he always wears —that the reader can use later to identify him. It’s better to do that — or to start doing that — when you first introduce a character, rather than going back and trying to back and fill later.

Show, Don’t Tell: The Stalker is a dangerous guy. We learn this in a sentence or two. Draw this out a bit. Grow the story with specific details. Rather than saying that The Stalker has been watching the woman for years indicate that he has been watching her long enough that he knows things about her that he probably shouldn’t, such as her schedule, where she works, where she shops, where she lives, and her cat’s name and what she feeds it. Little details such as this indicate that he has been snooping around the corners of her life, and maybe even going so far as getting into her apartment. As far as The Stalker’s previous women go, be vague but menacing. Talk about The Jogger’s predecessors, the ones he left behind, such as a reference to leaving women  in -x- number of states, some of whom have been found, others who have not (to use but one example).

Put the reader in the moment: The Stalker is watching the woman in Central Park as she jogs. Give us some detail. You don’t need to go overboard, but tell us what he finds to be attractive about her as he watches her run, using language such as “her tall, slender figure” or “ her long hair was secured in a ponytail that swung back and forth like a metronome as she passed him,” or what she is wearing as she jogs. You can also use a brief description of her clothing to hint at the weather conditions. Also, do a little research into the Central Park jogging trails. Just mentioning that the jogger is on the Reservoir Path, the Great Lawn, or Outer Park Drive Loop — and indicating that she lives nearby, say, on Ninth Avenue — will put the reader more into in the scene.

Slow the transition of perspective from one character to another: THE PEACEMAKER is told in the third person omniscient, where the narrator is outside of the story and telling the experiences and thoughts of each character. An author will have have a happier reader if the reader can follow the transition of the perspective from one character to another smoothly (unless, of course, you are William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy). I felt that it was a bit choppy here. The Stalker sees The Jogger using her phone (did she stop to make the call or keep running? We don’t know) to call her godfather who then calls his friend in law enforcement who is in the middle of an offal storm. That’s all in a few paragraphs. Let’s slow things down and relay the transitions rather than throwing them. The Stalker is watching The Jogger and thinking his dark thoughts, indirectly describing her to the reader while revealing something of himself as well. The Jogger  suddenly stops jogging and pulls her phone out. Boom. A disturbance in the Force, Luke. She hasn’t done this before.  New paragraph, double-spaced. Let’s change perspective.  We’re now observing the jogger. Let’s learn a little about her, what she was thinking about when she started running on this particular day (work, a friend, joy/regrets about moving to New York, etc.), and especially how she came to notice that guy who seems to be watching her whenever she’s jogging (and at other places, too), and what made her decide to call her godfather. By now, we’re a couple of  pages into the book. If you want to introduce Dan Alston at this point, fine. Again, transition by introducing Dan Alston and describing him in his environment, placing him a couple of minutes before he receives the phone call from his goddaughter. Describe him sitting behind his desk or in his den, sipping a scotch or whatever, and getting a call from that goddaughter of his who disregarded his advice and moved to New York and who only calls when she needs something or who calls him faithfully once a week just to see how he is. And so it goes. Doug calling his friend Seth Barkley makes for a good transition point. I like how Seth is introduced here.  Seth can call Doug back a few hours after Barkley clears up that domestic situation which has totally gone FUBAR , and we can learn more about Doug, as well as Dan and The Jogger, based upon what they discuss. Then we can go back to New York and Central Park and The Stalker and The Jogger and see how things are playing out.

Proofread: I am the world’s worst proofreader so I consider this particularly important. There are a number of glaring punctuation errors here. The punctuation errors include two periods after the second sentence in the first paragraph; a comma after “watching” in the second sentence and after “and” in the third sentence of the first paragraph; and no period at all at the end of the last sentence of the sixth paragraph. These are extremely distracting for the reader, and chop up what flow you have in the narrative. After you have completed your first draft, go over your work slowly and carefully for typos and then have at least three other people do so. My own experience for what it is worth is that women are much better at this than men. Your results may differ, but have a set of eyes other than your own read your manuscript over. And be careful using Word, which occasionally causes letters and words to mysteriously drop out when cut and pasted into other formats.

Keep working on THE PEACEMAKER: By sending your first page to us — or anyone — you have gotten further than something like ninety percent of potential authors. Now is not the time to stop. Drop back and tell us how you’ve done. THE PEACEMAKER needs work, but like many houses that need rehabbing, it has good bones. As our blogger emeritus John Gilstrap says, when failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.

Thank you again, Anonymous Author, for the privilege of critiquing your work. And if you have a question, or just want to disagree with me, feel free to email me.


Customer Service

My wife is currently in Hawaii with family and I recently decided to send her some flowers for her birthday. I picked out a beautiful rose and lily bouquet from an online floral delivery service, paid my money and set the date of delivery. On her birthday she called and said they were beautiful flowers and texted me a photo of the arrangement.

One problem. The arrangement didn’t have a rose or a lily in it. In fact, it didn’t even remotely resemble the arrangement I paid for (at no small price). So I emailed customer service and complained and they apologized profusely and promised to send out the proper arrangement the following day at no cost.

My wife never got the re-delivery as promised, so I asked for a refund. Fortunately, they gave it to me. So I’d call it a bit of a wash as far a customer service goes. They failed to correct their mistake, but at least they gave me the refund.

Why do I bring this up?

We’re often told that when we’re writing we should write for ourselves and hope that the readers will follow. I’ve said this myself a number of times and believe it to be true. That if you write a story that you love, their will surely be others out that who love it just as much or even more.

Nothing wrong with that.

But I think, as professional storytellers, we do owe our readers good customer service. And by customer service I mean that we deliver what we promise. If we’re painting pictures with our first few paragraphs—the paragraphs that make readers decide to buy the book—then we had damn well make sure that the rest of the book holds up and takes the reader on an emotional thrill ride.

I’ve personally read far too many books that started out promising, then began to peter out about halfway through as if the writer either lost his or her way or simply lost interest. Then they slapped a pretty cover on their work and threw it up on Amazon, hoping they’d done enough to get some sales.

And that’s poor customer service.

Good customer service starts long before you push that button on KDP. You should never publish (or, if you’re traditionally oriented, send out) a book until you have a solid working knowledge of characterization, dialogue, narrative, voice and, maybe most important, structure.

When we first decide to write a book, many of us sit down and just start writing without understanding any of the above. And that’s fine. The best way to learn these things is to start putting words on paper and use the lessons you’ve learned from reading other authors’ work to guide you.

But just because you’ve managed to finish that first book does not mean it’s ready to be published or sent out to an agent or publishing house. Good customer service demands that you proceed carefully, thinking not just about what makes you happy, but about the reader on the other side who will not be happy if you fail to deliver on the promise that every new book offers them.

Good customer service isn’t easy. It takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Even in this day and age, some people still don’t understand the concept of good customer service, but at least we have companies like Custom Water who get where we are coming from. To grow any business, the customers should be your top priority. Whatever industry you are in, you’ll start to understand how important customer service experience is. So it comes as no surprise to find that some companies are deciding to implement the use of software such as PieSync, to assist with data intergration, as well as improving customer service. To learn what your customers want and give it to them.

This is why companies have invested in other ways to help improve their customer service skills and the efficiency of their business. There is always room for any business to improve, especially in the field of retail. Sites like will get you up to date on how businesses are making their customers their top priority. It requires patience and practice.

And, yes, you are your first customer, so it is incumbent upon you not to be easily satisfied with your work. Make sure that before you send it out to the public, they’ll have very little reason to complain.

Destination Cuba


By Kathryn Lilley

The summer after I graduated from college many years ago, I traveled across Europe with a friend.  It was the height of the Cold War, and I was eager to visit West Germany–in particular, I wanted to see the Berlin Wall. That was where World War III was likely to start, my thinking went, so I wanted to see the place for myself. Unfortunately, my traveling companion did not share my morbid obsession with geopolitical hot zones. So instead of making an excursion to eyeball East German guards patrolling The Wall, we spent a few extra days lounging in Parisian cafes, drinking coffee and gorging ourselves on pan au chocolat. The only foreign crisis I encountered on that trip was during a lame attempt to look cool while smoking unfiltered French cigarettes.

When The Wall was finally torn down decades later, I felt a pang of regret for having missed seeing it. So perhaps you’ll understand why I’m so excited to be headed to Cuba next month.

This is what we were upset about...

This is what we were upset about…

I have only a hazy recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place in the early 1960’s–I seem to remember people going around collecting sand bags, and adults at the dinner table poring over bomb shelter blueprints. (For our house, the “shelter” was going to amount to little more than a lean-to reinforced with a little dirt, which’ll give you a general idea of how well we’d have survived an afternoon of Mutual Assured Destruction).

Your Correspondent in Havana

Now that the United States has finally gotten over its hissy fit about, yanno, that whole nuclear crisis thing, I’m eager to visit Cuba. In my mind, that island nation represents the last vestige of the Cold War.image I want to see it before a tsunami of American tourists  descends en masse. (Hopefully the people of Cuba won’t allow US corporations to transform their island into yet another overpriced vacation destination. But I’m not optimistic).

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to glean a few travel tips for my upcoming trip to Cuba Libre. Have you had a chance to visit Cuba? Let me know if you have any tips or suggestions for the road. (According to Duolingo, my language-learning app, I’m still only 14 per cent fluent in Spanish, despite having diligently practiced for the last four weeks. So I’ll need all the help I can get.)

Hasta luego, comrades!image