What, how and why do you write?

By Joe Moore

In order to sell the books you write, you need to understand some simple marketing basics first. The better you understand these three points, the better you can relate to your audience and them to you. And understanding these points will make you a better writer.

The easiest to answer is the first: What do you write?

At the highest level, you either fall into the non-fiction or fiction column. Non-fiction includes biographies, history, exposés, how-tos, text books, etc. Fairly clear and straightforward.

The other is fiction, or stuff we make up. Mysteries, thrillers, cozies, romance, westerns, horror, science fiction, historicals, and on and on. If you write fiction but you don’t know what kind, stop right now and go figure it out. Even if it’s a hybrid such as historical romance or cozy western, you need to have it clear in your head. The reason you need it clearly defined is that it will help you also clarify and understand your audience.

How can you define what you write? How do you know your audience? Read books that are similar to what you like to write. Compare their styles to yours. See how those books are defined and categorized. That very well could be the answer you’re looking for. Look at the Amazon pages for those books and their authors. Amazon will show you what other books are being bought by the same audience. Go read some of those books and authors. Now you’re zeroing in on the answer to what you write.

The second question is: How do you write? My blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, thoroughly covered the subject yesterday in her post Which Writer Species Are You? Go read it, then come back. I’ll wait here.

Okay, let’s move on to the most important and hardest to address: Why do you write? Why do you get up before dawn to get a few pages in before heading off to work? Why do you give up time with family and friends to type away at your WIP? Why do you feel that if you can’t write, you’ll go crazy? Why do you find yourself on vacation but thinking about plotting, dialog or character development?

Do you write for fame or money or recognition? I sure hope not.

So why do you write?

You must be able to answer that question. Because if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt why you write, it will come out in your work. It will make your words more believable, stronger, and heartfelt. Your reader will know. They may not define it exactly, but they will know. And they will tell others what a great writer you are. It becomes one of the most important descriptions of your writer “job” there is. Be ready at a moment’s notice with your answer. Because “I write thrillers” is easy. Because “I use an outline” is easy. I write because . . . is hard.

Now fellow Zoners, do you know the answer to why you write? Are you willing to share with us?

————–

Coming this spring: THE SHIELD by Sholes & Moore
Einstein got it wrong!

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There’s a Story in Every Picture – Come Tell Us Yours

By Jordan Dane

I still get chills on release day. Officially released September 27th, Reckoning for the Dead (HarperCollins) is book #4 in my Sweet Justice novels, my second series with Harper. My thriller novels have the feel of being ripped from today’s headlines because real crime inspires me. With an international setting, these books focus on a covert vigilante organization called The Sentinels that wields its brand of justice on a global scale, without the hindrance of jurisdictions or courts of law.
With a starring role, Jessica Beckett is a former bounty hunter from Chicago with mad skills in outsmarting fugitives on the run. She has a no frills, tenacious pit bull personality, with a Colt Python and a dark past that never stops punishing her. International operative, Alexa Marlowe, is the polar opposite. Living in New York City, she’s sophisticated and into high fashion. She’s well-traveled and loves the good life and pampering, yet she can be fearless when it comes to leading the men in her tactical unit through the fiercest of hostage rescue scenarios on foreign soil. Her strong sense of loyalty makes her willing to take risks by putting her own life on the line. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders and their brand of justice is anything but sweet.
In Reckoning for the Dead, Jessie and Alexa’s worlds become embroiled in upheavals stirred from their shadowy pasts. For Alexa, her former lover and Sentinel’s chief, Garrett Wheeler, is reported dead, killed in a mysterious covert op that’s “off book.” When a new leader suddenly assumes control of the elite vigilante organization overnight—a man Alexa can’t afford to trust—she isn’t buying anything he tells her. In search of Garrett and the truth, she goes rogue and off the grid, following a deadly trail that leads into Mexico, behind the fortress walls of a murderous drug cartel boss. Alone, Alexa has no one to watch her back, not even her new partner, Jessie.
Ex-bounty hunter, Jessie Beckett, has troubles of her own. When her DNA turns up as evidence in a gruesome murder committed when Jessie was only a child, before her life was shattered by an infamous killer, Jessie’s world is turned upside down. Solving a very cold case may hold the key to who she really is or kill the only memory she has of a woman she believes is her mother.
For Alexa and Jessie, the dead must have a reckoning.

In celebration of my new release, I thought it would be fun to post some images and have YOU tell US a short story. Pick an image and tell a brief tale–the start of a story. Think of it as ZUMBA for the brain. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Tease us and make us want more. Are you up for the challenge?
Cry Baby Creek Bridge – Every town has a legendary bridge

The Dungeon – The Stuff of Nightmares

There’s definitely a story here. Please, no booking photos.

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So you wanna write a book

By Joe Moore

It seems like every time I meet someone and they learn that I’m a writer, they always comment that they had often thought of writing a book, too. Sometimes I think the prospect of being a published author may be the number one goal or dream of everyone who has ever been excited by a good novel. It’s natural to think, “I could do that.” And in reality, they can. But most don’t or won’t. Why? Because the dream far exceeds the labor. Like most specialized occupations, the average would-be author will remain in the dreaming stage. Few proceed to the next step: actually sitting down and writing a publishable, contemporary work of fiction.

But for those that really want to take the next step, here are a few tips on getting that novel “inside us all” onto the page.

First, become an avid reader with the eyes of a writer. Read as many novels as you can get your hands on. But try to read from a writer’s viewpoint. Read for technique and style and voice. Keep asking questions like: Why did the author use that particular verb? Why is the writer using short, choppy sentences or long, thick description. Cross genre lines. The genre you wind up writing might not be the one you first imagined. Reading other’s work also can be inspiring. It is a source of ideas and helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Next, know the marketplace and write for it. The end product must be sellable. This goes back to being familiar with your chosen genre. You may love westerns, for instance, but they can be way down the sells chart and not a good choice for a debut author. Having said that, any story in any genre can be a hit if it’s built on strong characters. Always remember that your characters make your story, not the plot.

A third tip is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to push against what you feel in your heart and soul when it comes to your story. This may sound like the opposite of the previous tip, but that one deals with the business side of writing, this one the emotion. Beyond understanding the market, realize that if your heart is not in the words, the reader will know it. You can’t hide your lack of love for your writing.

Another tip is to have proper training. Being a devoted reader is only a portion of the task. I’ve had the opportunity (or drudgery) of reading many first-time writer’s work. It’s astounding how many people simply don’t know how to write. I’m not talking about style or content. Forget coming up with a cool plot or unique cast of characters. I’m talking about constructing a sentence with proper use of grammar and punctuation.

If you’re still in school, make sure you give your writing classes as much attention as possible. After all, they teach you the tools of your trade. If you’re out of school or later in life, consider taking some adult courses in basic English and perhaps in creative writing. They won’t teach you how to write a bestseller but can help you get your thoughts down on paper properly. Consider it a refresher course. Some colleges and universities offer degrees in writing. This is by no means a requirement to writing a novel, but it’s always a direction to go if you feel the need. And don’t forget attending writer’s workshops, conferences and joining a local critique group. Workshops are usually taught by pros; conferences have lectures and topic panels dedicated to strengthening your skills; and critique groups offer a new, fresh set of eyes to help improve your work.

Finally, once you’ve finished the first pass through your manuscript, the real work begins: rewriting, editing, polishing, and finishing. There’s nothing that will turn off an agent or editor quicker than an unpolished manuscript. There are tons of books available out there on how to self-edit your work. And getting others to take a look at it will help to reveal possible problems you missed. Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat.

There’s a saying that everyone has at least one book inside them. But writing a book is hard. It takes firm commitment and dedication. Let your story out, but do it by following these logical steps. Skipping one of them usually results in frustration, disappointment and a half-finished manuscript collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer.

So what about you guys? Is this how you managed to finish your first book? Were you able to skip a step and jump right to a publishing contract and advance check? Any other tips to pass along to first-time authors?

————————————
THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 2011
"Bold, taut, and masterfully told." — James Rollins

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Open Tuesdays

[image4.png]It’s time for another Open Tuesday while our blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, is on medical hiatus. Bring us your questions, comments and discussions. If you have a question about writing, publishing or any other related topic, ask away in our comments section. We’ll do our best to get you an answer.

And don’t forget you can download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.

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The Right Environment to Write

By Joe Moore

I had a discussion at a recent luncheon with a couple of my fellow authors about our individual writing environments and where we prefer to work. One likes to take her laptop to the local coffee shop while another prefers the library. A third writes at home like me. It seems to vary as much as our stories do.

I work from my home office—a commute of 20 or so paces from the kitchen counter where I’ve had coffee and read the paper. It’s an environment in which I feel comfortable and have yet to tire of. Here’s a photo:

joe-moore-office

My home office has blackout curtains that I can close if I want to set a mood or maintain a constant light level throughout the day. I’m a neat freak so my desk is usually well organized. I’m very impatient and don’t like to wait for programs to load or items to process, so I use a Dell super gaming computer with Intel Quad Core processing. Although I don’t play games, I find that it makes things happen in a blink of an eye.

I also use 3 flat screen monitors allowing me to have my email, word processing and Internet all open so I can see everything at once. Sometimes I sit and patio 053 stare at my fish tank. So does my cat—his name is Patio. But I convinced him that the tank is really a small TV always tuned to Animal Planet. He bought into it and leaves the fish alone, choosing instead to curl up on a nearby wooden chair and sleep his life away.

I have a large collection of movie scores converted to MP3s that I play while I write to set a dramatic mood. The back of home office is full of bookcases containing all my reference books and favorite novels.

I enjoy gazing out my window as I ponder my next plot point. I have a number of golden coconut palms in my yard and a ton of ferns—there can OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         never be enough ferns. In the mornings and evenings,  the palm trees are filled with (non-native) Quaker parrots who like to squawk at rock-concert volume. The rest of the day, I listen to the cardinals, nightingales and blue jays discussing the best worm-infested hunting grounds. At certain times of the year, dragonflies zoom past my window at sunrise like miniature Apache gunships hunting for mosquitoes. In the evening, the motion detector lights turn on to illuminate a passing raccoon.

I live a few miles from the eastern edge of the Florida Everglades, so it’s common for me to see a long-legged white egret, a flock of ibises or a great blue heron wandering across my lawn.

All in all, it’s a great writer’s environment; one that I’ve worked hard to make into a comfortable environment in which I can be creative.

What about you? Where do you like to write? A busy Starbucks or a quiet space? Have you done anything to your writing environment to encourage creativity?

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Final Flight: a one-way ticket

By Joe Moore

fresh-kills-cover-website1 As you probably have guessed by now, this is promote FRESH KILLS week. Our newly minted collection of short stories is available online at Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords, and may soon be making its appearance in other online stores. So why did seven established authors decide to put together a short story anthology and publish it ourselves? Remember that some of us (me included) have never written a short story before. Also remember that pricing our little shindig for $2.99 and splitting the net proceeds 7 ways will not make us rich. (John “Colonel Sanders” Miller is still going to have to sell a lot of those free-range eggs) Here’s why I think we did it.

It wasn’t that many years ago that publishing our own book would have been quite different. We would have placed it in the hands of an agent (7 to choose from), had her pitch it to all our publishers (another 7 among us) and if needed, other houses, hoped for a bite and maybe a huge advance that, after the 7-way split, would at least buy each of us a Happy Meal. Finally, we would have waited the 10-12 months for the book to hit the shelves.

Today, things are changing. That’s not to say that doing it the traditional way would not have worked. But in 2010, there are alternative methods of getting published. The route we took is NOT for everyone. But it is a route that is AVAILABLE to everyone. In our case, we are 7 published authors who make money writing fiction. Many of us have been on national and international bestseller lists. You can go into a bookstore and buy our books. We knew from day one that the quality of the contributed short stories would be good because we are professionals at our craft. We also have the highest regard for each other. With all that in mind, I think the reason we did it was because we could.

If FRESH KILLS sells well, great. If it doesn’t, that’s OK, too. We have virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain with this project. The point is, we banded together and within about a month, we went from a raw idea to a book published and available for sale to the public. We wrote the stories, designed the cover, formatted the text, opened the accounts, wrote the promotional blurbs and press releases, scattered the marketing announcements across the Internet, and maintained TOTAL control over our product.

Guess what folks? The publishing world is changing. And I think the seven of us feel some satisfaction that we are adapting to those changes.

So to give Miller’s chickens a break, download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.

Now on to my short story contribution called FINAL FLIGHT. About 15 years ago, I had an idea for a novel about a pilot who was ordered to fly a secret mission with a mysterious cargo through a terrible winter storm. The cargo was an experimental nuclear weapon. He crashed in the mountains and the weapon was not found until years later when a group of terrorists located the wreckage and salvaged the bomb. I only wrote the first chapter before filing it away and moving on.

Now jump forward to last December when the idea of a Kill Zone anthology emerged. The first thing I did was start rummaging through my files for a story idea. Out jumped that first chapter from years ago. (Advice: never throw anything away) Of course, telling the original story would have resulted in 110k words and about a year’s worth of writing. So I thought, what if the cargo wasn’t a WMD but something even more devastating to one person in particular: the pilot. I quickly reworked the chapter and changed the ending. Problem was, I only had about 2k words. We had all agreed a minimum of 4k per story. I had a big hole in the middle to fill.

LBG1 That’s when I remembered an article I’d read some time ago about the disappearance of the WWII B-24 Liberator called the Lady Be Good. Coming back from a bombing run to their base on the northern coast of Africa, the B-24 became lost, over-flew the base, and crashed in the desert. This was in 1943. It’s a BIG desert. The wreckage wasn’t found until 1959, and the plane was still in pretty good shape 16 years later. After reading the article again, I realized I had my middle.

As I approached the writing of FINAL FLIGHT, I recalled my fascination for the old TV series The Twilight Zone. I loved the format, especially the surprise endings. So my goal was to write a story reminiscent of the TV series. The end result is FINAL FLIGHT.

Picture if you will . . . a lone C-47, a mysterious cargo, a clock and dagger mission, and a blizzard in which no pilot in his right mind would dare to fly. United States Army Air Corps Major Howard Murphy was under orders: fly the mission or face the consequences. But curiosity got the best of him as he left the cockpit for a quick look at what lay in the cargo bay. That’s when he got the shock of his life. FINAL FLIGHT is Major Murphy’s one-way trip to hell.

Enjoy.

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A little inspiration is in order

If you’re like me and could use a little inspiration, you should read this wonderful essay about becoming a writer by Alexander Chee. He writes eloquently about the experience of studying writing with novelist Annie Dillard.

After you read it, come back and tell us about your own most important writing teacher. In my case, a creative writing course I took from Robert Pinsky (who later became Poet Laureate) at Wellesley College changed my thinking about writing. I remember how one day he opened a classroom window (on an upper floor) and leaned way, w-a-a-y out of it, to a point that made me nervous; he was showing us that we had to risk discomfort and break out of our Wellesley-refined shells, to dig deep enough to get the stories out. Even though I was focused back then on becoming a journalist (I didn’t think of writing fiction as a “real” career), I still remember the impact that course had on me.

What about you? Which teacher had the most direct influence on you as a writer?

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Forensic Files

I’m proud to welcome my friend and fellow ITW thriller author Lisa Black to TKZ today. Lisa claims to have spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue. Strange, perhaps, but true. In her job as a forensic scientist she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she works as a latent print examiner and crime scene analyst for a police department in Florida. EVIDENCE OF MURDER is her fourth published thriller.

evidence-murder I do not make a habit of taking my plots from real-live cases—it always sounded like a good way to get sued to me—but the germ of an idea for Evidence of Murder did come from a case I worked with the coroner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio. A woman who worked as an escort—quite legitimately, through an agency that could be looked up in the phone book—disappeared from the face of the earth after one final date.  She had a steady live-in boyfriend and an eight year old daughter. The story stuck in my mind for two reasons.

black-lisa

One, escorting (if that’s what it’s called) seemed like an odd way to make a living—at least to me, having been married long enough that spending every night with a different man sounds like an agonizing amount of work. Certain readers may be disappointed, but very little of the book refers to the victim’s job. For the most part it is mentioned only to point out that every person she encountered wrote her off as a brainless bimbo, including—at first—my main character, Theresa MacLean.

Two, it was one of those cases where the cops were positive they knew whodunit, but could not prove it. One huge disservice that the television shows do to the field of forensics is to insist that you can always find more evidence if you just look harder. Yeah, right. That’s like saying doctors could cure cancer if they really tried and obese people would be thin if they’d only eat less. Sometimes a clue (or a cure, or a solution) simply isn’t there. Sometimes cool things are there but may not be clues. I have a mental list of my real-life cool clues that never went anywhere. In one high-profile case where a mother of three was abducted from the parking lot of the local mall and later found assaulted and shot to death in her own van, I kept finding rabbit hairs dyed a brilliant cherry red. The family had only just bought the van and gave me every set of hairs, every coat, every piece of clothing they thought might have been in it. I asked the detectives to keep an eye out for some fun fur trim or a lucky rabbit’s foot (though those had fallen out of style by 1996). It never turned up. By the time we caught the killers, a year had passed. No red rabbit fur. Another time I was examining the raincoat of a murdered prostitute under ultraviolet light, looking for semen or fluorescing fibers. At one spot on this plastic raincoat a pattern leapt up—a crystal-clear design of stylized daisies, something that would have been popular during my childhood in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Obviously the raincoat had been up against something with fluorescent properties and, for some obscure chemical reasons I couldn’t begin to guess, transferred to the vinyl. In regular light, the pattern became invisible. I described it to the detectives but again, no bells rung. In forensics, contrary to what you see on TV, you have to make your peace with not knowing everything.

Sometimes clues are there but can’t tell you enough. Finding the hair of the victim in, say, the trunk of the suspect’s car might be very incriminating—if he says he never met the woman, it might be enough to convict him. If he happens to live with the woman, it means exactly nothing, since her hair is likely to be all over the apartment and easily transferred to items he might put in the trunk. Or she might have dropped it there while leaning over to take out the groceries. Or it might have fallen out when he transported her body to the dump site. There’s no way to tell. So I wanted to explore what happens when every physical clue Theresa finds simply leads her to a brick wall instead of some helpful revelation.

Do you use problems in your character’s workplace to further the plot, and how? After all, when your character’s profession relates to their process of detection, it’s more interesting when the day job doesn’t go as planned.

Visit Lisa Black on the web at http://www.lisa-black.com/

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Finding inspiration far from home

My family and I are on vacation in Washington D.C. this week, tromping through all the major museums and monuments. Despite 95-degree heat and 100-percent humidity, I’m having fun seeing everything with my art-major daughter. The two of us–she with her sketch book, I with my notebook–have been recording our observations of the city. Most of my notes have little to do with the impressive sights all around us. They have more to do with the rhythm and flow of the city: The jazz quartets that seem to be playing on every street corner, the surprising curtness of the service people who work in this tourism-oriented town, the scary speed of a subway train as it rushes through a long, black tunnel. In the Natural History Museum, I spent an inordinate amount of time in an exhibit about forensic anthropology, taking notes about every aspect of how scientists can determine information about a person’s life from his bones, even hundreds of years after his death. Someday I’m sure, that information will come in handy in a story.

I love they way leaving home helps me jar loose a little creative inspiration. It seems so easy to see foreign locales with fresh eyes. How about you? Have you been anywhere this summer that has served as an inspiration for your writing? Have you ever gotten a story idea from a trip you’ve taken?

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