Monday, November 11, 2013

Down Time and Reading

Despite good intentions, down time happens. I've begun Islamorada Jam, the fifth Jim Dallas novel, but various personal concerns--chiefly illness in the family--have sidetracked that for a while. Happens now and then.

So in the interim, while I don't have sustained time for writing, I can snatch moments for reading. And I'm reading all over the map: 

Don Quixote: I'm reading an old translation (1895) into English of the classic nutty-knight story. It's not as funny as it maybe once was. One thing's for sure, for a fifty-year-old guy Don Quixote could soak up the punishment. He takes beating after beating and like a Timex keeps on ticking.

Ross MacDonald novels:

The Moving Target. The first Lew Archer novel, made into a not-bad movie, Harper, starring Paul Newman. The book is fairly standard hard-boiled California private eye with flashes of the style and approach that would get better and better over the years. Raymond Chandler was asked to blurb the book and acidly declined, saying it was poorly done, but I think that was down to sour grapes. It's actually better than anything Chandler produced between then and his death.

Find a Victim. This one's from 1954, five years along in Archer's career. Hell of a start as Archer, driving through Las Cruces on his way to testify in a case in Sacramento, announces "He was the ghastliest hitchhiker who ever thumbed me." Archer gets the dying man to a hospital, but that's only the beginning. For a small town, Las Cruces is rotten through and through, and we begin to see Archer's obsessive side--I'm reminded of Quixote!--as he becomes fascinated with tangled family relationships and the drive for easy money that's underneath it all.

The Wycherly Woman. Published in 1961, twelve years after Archer's debut, this one settles in to MacDonald's strengths: looking for a missing coed for her irascible father, Archer runs up against a whole intricate web of blackmail, deceit, and deeply-buried family secrets. There's a neat surprise woven into the story, too, as Archer, much against the divorced father's wishes, finds and interviews the alcoholic mom.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Want to hear something really scary? has made available a two and a half hour long, well, "audio movie," I suppose you could call it. The Dancer in the Dark was written by the late Thomas E. Fuller, a hell of a good writer, and is performed by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company.

If you discovered and liked H.P. Lovecraft, this is a treat. Fuller moves the spookiness south, to the fictional Blankenship, Georgia, and the plot involves a retired Professor of Archaeology from Miskatonic University (!) who undertakes to help his nephew solve the riddle of some ancient Native American mounds.

And then the riddle turns deadly. Shock and humor and intense local and period detail make this one a keeper. If you'd like to check it out, you can find it right here: THE DANCER IN THE DARK.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A New Old Book!

Twenty-five years ago, a new writer named Kelley Wilde brought out his first novel, a gritty urban fantasy called The Suiting. In its own memorable way, it proved that clothes make the man....

Now Reb MacRath, who wrote back then as Kelley Wilde, is bringing out a 25th anniversary edition of The Suiting. It will be available at beginning this coming Monday.

It's a great read, and as a special added attraction, MacRath is offering discounts on his other books, too. Check 'em out here.

And treat yourself. The language is crisp and imaginative, the people memorable, and the experience a rush. It's a somewhat refurbished new and improved edition, and it's a memorable read.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Just one more question...." Columbo used to say. Someone emailed me and asked, "Is it okay if I come up with more than twenty questions to get a handle on my characters?

Sure it is. You can come up with hundreds if you want. It's your book.

Only caution: Don't get so wrapped up in backstory that you forget your main goal - to write a book.

As for other questions, deal with things that lead into problems: What does the character do for a living? What does the character hate about that means of earning money?

If the character were truly desperate, what moral absolute held dear by the character might be bent or broken? How would the character feel afterward?

Stress. It's all down to stress. Jane Yolen, a lovely writer, once said "There is only one plot: Joe gets his ass caught in a bear trap and has to get out."

When you know your character thoroughly, all the background, habits, ways of thinking, philosophy, beliefs, you can really put that person through the wringer. Don't make it easy. Make it hard. And then make it harder.

And you know what? You're going to wind up with a story worth reading. So, yeah, come up with more questions. Knock yourself out. But when you get to the agonizing decision your character might face -

Stop. And start writing the book.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Boss Is Back

If you like your tough guys really hardboiled, check out Reb MacRath's latest: The Alcatraz Correction.

Look for it in the Kindle store at! 

Twenty Questions for a Mysterious Character

When I first began to write, I soon became aware that my characters were, well, shallow. The plot pushed them around; their attitudes and outlooks changed from moment to moment. From somewhere - I don't remember where - I picked up on the concept of Twenty Questions.

Basically, you create a sketch outline for your character. You begin by asking yourself twenty questions about the person and answering them. They begin with the character's physical appearance, and they progress to the crucial issues in the character's life. By the time you finish thinking of, and writing down, the answers, you know your character much better.

Examples (your mileage may vary because you come up with your own questions)


  1. What is the character's gender?
  2. What is the character's age?
  3. What are the character's eye color, hair color, and complexion?
  4. What are the character's weight and height?
  5. What feature of the character is memorable to those meeting the character for the first time?
  6. What one feature of the character would the character change, and why?
  1. Where was the character born, and under what circumstances?
  2. Who were the character's parents?
  3. What was the character's childhood like?
  4. How did the character do in school?
  5. What kinds of partners is the character attracted to?
  1. Where does the character live?
  2. What work does the character do, if any? If none, why?
  3. What activities make the character happiest?
  4. What activities or circumstances upset or distress the character?
  5. What is the character's voice like when the character is tense, happy, frightened, or angry?
  1. What is the character's greatest secret fear?
  2. What is the character's favorite possession, and why is it a favorite?
  3. What does the character want more than anything but cannot have?
  4. What action or thought is utterly beyond the character's ability?
Having come this far, you may want to elaborate. That's fine. You should. Ask more questions. Find out what the character's great need (recognized or unrecognized) is; discover what the character's trigger points are for rage, for fear, for love.

Then write a biography of the character. Make it at least a thousand words long, longer if you really want to know the character. Zero in on the character's needs, desires, fears, and goals.

You're standing on the brink of a story.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Being There

I've written about research. I'm a research nut, diving into libraries or browsing the net, trolling for unusual facts, sidelights on places, stories on crime.

However, a wonderful way to research is to go there. Just go.

I've been to the areas of Florida I write about. Walked down the streets of towns I've never been in, notebook out, taking notes: the birds I see, the street names, the architecture, the cars, just everything. Noted the temperature of the ocean at various seasons. Simmered at the traffic (a motif that shows up more than once!) and so on and on.

Nothing quite substitutes for being there. You pick up on so many things that way. Once I walked into a tiny little used-book store in a small Florida town. The owner, alone behind the counter, wailed, "You missed him! You just missed him!"

Jimmy Buffet had walked out of the store a minute before I walked in. I said too bad, I liked his music, would have liked to have seen him.

The store owner said, "No, you don't understand. I wanted somebody else here because now nobody's gonna believe me!"

Saving that moment for a book I'll write one day.

If you document your research, you can count a portion of your expenses off against income tax, by the way.

My friend the late Tom Deitz would do that. He wrote fantasies involving Ireland and went to Ireland several times. Still, I told him once, "You can't recoup the whole cost of a two-week trip to Ireland from a tax write-off."

He thought about that and shrugged. "That's true," he said. "But on the other hand, nobody can repossess a trip."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Read 'til Your Eyes Bleed....

....and you still won't catch all of the typos. It's a melancholy fact.

With an ebook, of course, you are free to edit indefinitely, so when you receive an email that says on page 25 Judy's eyes are green and the next time she appears on page 195 they are blue, you can go in and fix it up.

Writers tend to be blind to their own mistakes. They know what they meant to say, and mentally they supply the correct version as they proofread. A guy who habitually mistypes teh for the is likely to glide right over the misspelled word. A woman who keeps forgetting that periods at the end of dialogue go inside the quotation mark will probably not notice the thirty times in her manuscript that she does it the other way: She smiled at him. "I love you so much".

This is why it's great to get another set of eyes on your work - and if possible, more than one set. Reader A will catch things that Reader B misses, and vice-versa. You need readers who are sensitive to issues of grammar, spelling, and so on, but who also appreciate the kind of story you've written.

And you know what? You're still likely to get emails pointing out things everybody missed.

Once an editor at a New York house was talking to me about cover letters. She could take them or leave them, she said. Cover letters didn't influence her decision to buy or not buy a book.

Then she got thoughtful and added, "Except for this one time."

The aspiring writer had a brief cover letter, properly respectful and properly formatted.

Unfortunately, the writer had also boasted, "I've been through the manuscript at least six times, and I can assure you that you will find no type O's in it."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Scenic Cady's Island

Where is Cady's Island?

The home of Jim Dallas and Sam Lyons is firmly established in the state of my imagination. It's fictional. If it existed, it would be a few miles south of Jacksonville, roughly east of Davis Park.

It's not quite six miles long and not quite a mile and a half wide and is shaped rather like a paramecium. Driftwood Beach, at the northern tip, is cluttered with wood and other stuff cast up by the sea. South of the island's center is the old Cady's Island Lighthouse, decommissioned in the 1950s. From the lighthouse it's a bit more than a mile down to the extreme southern tip of the island.

There are only a few score year-round residents. In season--which basically means in the summer and then again in the winter--most of the houses are rented out to vacationers. The beach isn't the best, being coarse sand and shell fragments, but the water is clean.

To get to the island, you drive south from Jacksonville on 1A through Ponte Vedra and then Sawgrass. A very short spur turns off to the left and ends in the parking area for the ferry, operated by Liz Fretty ever since her husband died. There's a wharf and parking area for island residents that includes an inadequate roofed garage and lots of gravel-crushed-shell open space. Liz lives in the little house off to the right of that, down near the bay. Her flat-bottomed ferry can accommodate about a dozen people at once, but no cars. Cars aren't allowed on the island. Passage each way is two dollars, a dollar and a half for seniors, kids under twelve free.

When you get off at the island wharf, you'll see a boardwalk leading off across the dunes. Follow it. There's a break in it for Island Lane. Watch out for people on bikes. Then it takes up again and leads down to Beach Lane. The boardwalk comes out between a brick cottage and a fairly big aqua-painted beach house with a tin roof. The aqua place is Delight House, usually empty except in rental seasons. Farther down past the brick cottage is the lighthouse, and past that is the gray beach house that belongs to Sam Lyons.

The brick house belongs to Jim Dallas.

He's not receptive to visitors, so don't go up and knock.

Unless you're in trouble, that is.....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Finding a Voice

In the course of doing an interview, I started to think about the question of a writer's voice.

You know how when your cell phone rings and you don't look at the caller ID, you usually recognize the caller within a few words? That's because you know your family's and friends' voices. They're familiar and easily distinguishable.

The written voice is the same: a familiar way a writer has of putting words together into sentences, of turning a phrase, of addressing a subject. It's made up of diction and syntax and ties in closely with style.

There's a world of difference between the tight, short, punchy prose of Ernest Hemingway, who never met an emotive adjective he liked, and the discursive, rambling, associative writing of Thomas Wolfe. You'd never mistake one for the other.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a stickler for exactness. If he spoke of a jewel or a tree or a street, he'd name it: a topaz, a cottonwood, the Rue Lamartine. John Steinbeck was more of an impressionist. He'd write of a jewel glittering on a necklace, a stand of trees, or dusty streets - without naming a one of them.

Tolkien achieved a sense of history by the way his sentences often built toward the verb at the end. Onward his mighty armies of Men and Elves rushed. Len Deighton turns expectations inside out, arousing laughter or at least smiles from pawky puns: "Charlotte Street runs north from Oxford Street and there are few who will blame it." Raymond Chandler delights in edgy similes: "He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food."

Part of maturing as a writer is finding your own voice, your own individual way of saying things. You can do it - you're the only one who can, in fact, because no one else has your way of looking at the world.

The chore is discovering the voice. Most of us begin by imitating writers we admire. Robert Louis Stevenson said that we all begin as "sedulous apes," learning the tricks of the trade from our betters and applying them.

However, in time you grow your voice. You do that by writing, revising, and rewriting until the prose you produce sounds right. When it sounds right to you, then it's in your voice.

And you've grown a bit as a writer.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


The period just after finishing a book is an odd one. You want the just-published book to sell, to break records, to find a wide audience. At the same time, you begin to see ways you might have done better and will do better the next time. You're already planning out the next one.

Writers live this way, poised between just-done and to-do. Only when they get stuck do they teeter for a moment in the immediate present, imaginatively speaking.

A sad fact is that, no matter how close writers come to realizing their vision, most of us are our own sternest critics. It hurts to re-read a book and see only the flaws, the little cheats, the weak spots. We know we should have done better, that we could have done better, if only . . . .

But we can't get anchored to the past, so we go on to the next book (though we do clean up obvious mistakes and typos in existing ones - that's easy with ebooks), vowing to improve. One of these days we'll write the one we want to write, a book in clean shining honest prose, one that will movie and impress readers and that will speak to them directly and powerfully.

One of these days.

Like Fitzgerald's boats bravely beating against the current, we move on to probable disappointment, to likely failing once more to achieve all that we want to achieve. So the spell just between books often finds a writer a little bit depressed.

I think that's a good thing, though. It keeps us going. As Robert Browning said succinctly, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what's a heaven for?"

Monday, July 15, 2013


A fellow e-publisher just withdrew one of his books from consideration for an award. Briefly, he discovered that a lot of horse-trading - or vote-trading - was going on, skewing the results of the voting and making the value of the award questionable.

I applaud his decision. It's a principled stand, and it may draw attention to something that needs fixing. Years ago I became aware that a very prestigious award in another genre was badly tainted by shameless campaigning (one candidate even piteously claiming, falsely, that he/she had only a few months to live) and back-stage deals ("You vote for my short story, and I'll vote for your novel.").

That's a shame. A somewhat better plan is like the Edgars, which are not voted on by the group (Mystery Writers of America), but are juried. Even then sometimes jurors play favorites, voting for really not-quite-that-good stories from people they happen to like, but it's better than a sham vote.

And while I'm on that tangent: Did you know that bookstores promote certain books, giving them end-caps (those displays at the ends of shelves) and preferential shelf placement because the publishers pay for it?

Caveat emptor, folks. Buyer beware.

And don't automatically buy the validity of all those awards out there....

Friday, July 5, 2013

It's been awhile....

Deaths of friends and family members, a bad bout of bronchitis, and life in general gets in the way.

My work on Glades Heist slowed to a crawl. But if you keep crawling, you eventually pass the finish line. As of today, Glades Heist is online and available at!

I like this fourth adventure of Jim Dallas. If you don't like long buildups, give this one a try. The action begins on the first page.

What's it about? Well, it begins when Jim goes to Miami to turn down a woman who has been pestering him about finding her husband. Jim has learned that the man has a history of drunken binges, and he suspects it's a case of a wandering spouse.

However, before he can reject the lady, he is attacked, his beloved old truck is stolen, and before long Jim and his friend Sam Lyons are involved in investigating a decades-old robbery (more than a million bucks of loot are still missing). Jim meets a new lady, and things would be idyllic if only--

Well, if only Jim didn't run into ferocious alligators, have to trek into the Everglades, and face down a killer more careless of lives than any he's ever met before.

It all takes place in Florida, and it moves right along. Glades Heist was something of a pain to write (I went nearly two months over schedule), but I hope it's a treat to read.

Now on to Islamorada Jam!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When You're in the Home Stretch....

....unfortunately you let things slide.

Right now I'm closing in on the last few pages of Glades Heist, the fourth Jim Dallas novel. Owing to various complications (life happens) I'm behind schedule and occasionally tripped up by technology.

Foul weather has caused repeated power and Internet interruptions here, and I need the Internet when I start to fact-check the manuscript. I also need power to operate the computer I work with.

So...if you don't hear from me for a little while...I'm working!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hard Times

In Hamlet, Claudius tells his wife "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." That often seems true in real life.

Within the last two weeks I have lost a friend and a family member. That makes writing difficult. You may have such times of sorrow, too - maybe not caused by deaths, but by discouragement and bad news: a rejected manuscript, loss of a job, illness, accident.

There's a lot lurking out there to ambush us, folks. So do you quit writing? Well, sometimes you have to take a pause. However, rather than just getting completely away from it, I prefer to keep a foot in the door.

So instead of writing new material, I take the moments I have (and sometimes there are very few of them) to read back over and tweak a small section of manuscript. Often I will note troublesome parts, bits that I worked over and still was not satisfied with. Those are the ones I revisit.

It helps. It helps take my mind off my troubles, and it helps the manuscript a little. Maybe it will or will not work for you, but it's worth a try. If nothing else, it's a time when I can read over my outline (no chapter is outlined at greater length than about half a page, single-spaced) and just let what is already done ferment a little in my mind and plant the chapter to come a little more firmly.

It's something to try as you fend off those battalions of sorrows that now and then attack us all.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gary Kim Hayes, 1952-2013

Gary Kim Hayes, martial artist, husband of Linda, father of Heather and Zach, died on Tuesday from a sudden heart attack. He was a writer whose e-books in the Sleag's Quest series were doing well on Amazon, a helpful advisor on fight scenes, and an old and good friend of mine. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Long Slow Climb

You know, once in a while lightning strikes. Stephen King has often told of how, struggling to survive with a low-paying teaching job as well as part-time jobs, he was writing a book called Carrie, got discouraged with it, and trashed it.

His wife Tabitha fished it out, read it, and insisted that he finish it and submit it. At that point King had had no success at all trying to sell novels, though he was placing short stories in mostly low-paying magazines. This time, lightning struck: he sold the novel in hardcover, had an immediate and lucrative paperback sale, and it soon sold to the movies.

But, alas, Zeus withholds the bolts from most of us. The alternate route is the long, slow climb. You build a wall brick by brick. You build a career book by book. For those of us who like series, this means writing a book in a series, then writing the next, and the next....

First book will sell lousy. Most of the time, anyway. Second book will goose the sales of the first. Third will goose the sales of the first and second. And your career gains momentum.

It's hard, though, to slog through until the scale tips. It would be nice to get some of that juice from Olympus. If it doesn't come, then put another brick in the wall. Sooner or later, you'll be surprised at how momentum begins to build. And in the end, if you're persistent, you will find your audience.

Keep at it. Excelsior!

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Happens to all writers now and then. You sit down to get some work done...and can't think of the next scene. Or paragraph. Or sentence. Or,dang it all, the next word.

Writer's block they call it. What to do, what to do?

Well, I think you have to let the tanks fill up, for one thing. But don't let the time go to waste. Read what you have so far. Tweak it here and there. When you get to the section before you were stricken, read it once. Then go back and read it faster -

And jump!

You may launch yourself right back into the story.

However, don't confuse uncertainty with writer's block. Even if you've outlined your story (and I'm a compulsive outliner), you may not be sure that you're on the right track with your plot. If everything hangs up on you, your subconscious may be tugging on your elbow to suggest you may need to strike off in a new direction.

I often find that after a tough patch, one of the characters suddenly lights up for me. A minor player all of a sudden gets a break and becomes a star. Someone I'd been planning to kill off miraculously escapes. Or the opposite - someone I'm relying on to be in the last paragraph of the book suddenly drops dead and cannot be resuscitated.

At such times, go with the flow. Forget the outline. You may be on a better track now. And if you're not, if eventually you junk it and come back to the outline, you've got an interesting new character and maybe a good scene.

Worst comes to worst, sit there for an hour. Retype the last sentence you wrote. Do it again. And again. Fill the screen.

Finally, sheer boredom will break you out of the funk if nothing else will.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reviews? Who Needs 'Em?

Well, writers do. If you regularly read e-books, consider reviewing them online at places like and Goodreads.

You see, independently published writers don't have access to national venues - and seldom to local ones - that feature book reviews. Word of mouth, or word of computer, is vital to them.

I'm not saying you have to love every book you review. Far from it. Be honest. But consider taking five minutes to write a brief "Loved it/Liked it/Tolerated it/Hated it" kind of notice.

Nothing elaborate is necessary; the goal is to let readers know what you found good, indifferent, or bad without giving away major plot points (spoilers) or missing the point of the book entirely.

What? Do such things happen?

Certainly. If Oedipus the King was a novel, you'd probably find someone who on had written, "The big surprize at the end of this book is that the murdrer is really oedpipus him self." (If you think I'm exaggerating the subliterate quality, go read a few reviews there). Don't give away the ending, please!

Or you might find a review of, say, Lady Chatterley's Lover that misses the point: "Some interesting observations on gardening and game-keeping in England are lost when the author wanders off into a love story."

You can do better than either of those. I encourage you to do it. Other readers will appreciate it, you'll have a sense of accomplishment, and writers will be pleased that someone is reading and reacting to their work.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Got You Covered

If you're interested in e-publishing, you'll come up against the problem of providing a cover for your book. You don't actually have to - Amazon and other publishers usually provide a generic cover.

But they're so . . . generic. So what do you do?

If you have skill and a program like Photoshop, you've got a beginning. You do have to tread carefully, though. You can't just pick up a photo from the net and slap that on as a book cover. That's copyright infringement, and you could wind up having to pay a big fine.

So you need either photos you already own (because you took them yourself or the person who did has given you permission) or photos you buy. This can get pricey, but there are a host of online suppliers of royalty-free photos: one-time payment, and you're good to go.

How much to spend? Balance the cost against the likely income to get an answer for that. Remember, most first novels sell 200 copies or fewer.

Hmm...How about an art piece instead?

Again, if you can draw or paint it yourself and make it look good, go for it. If you have an artist friend who will give you a sketch for use, hey, if it looks good, use it. If you want to pay someone...well, that's up to you again.

Use your art program (Photoshop or the like) to create a cover that has balance and punch. don't just stick the photo there, but find a composition that's striking.

Place your title and your by-line on the cover in LARGE, easily-readable type in a color that stands out. Remember, your browsing reader is probably first going to see the cover as a thumbnail, a 1.25x2 inch image (ore thereabout). It's important to give the potential customer a readable title, even that small.

Try to be sure that your cover is appropriate to the content. In the Jim Dallas series, I don't go for portrait covers, but for atmospheric ones that show or suggest some element of story, but there are all types of art and approaches. You can go abstract, postmodern, funky, impressionist, classic...your call again.

But remember, despite what everyone says, most people do judge a book by its cover, at least on first impression. Make a good first impression, and you're more likely to make a sale.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Always finish what your start.

My old pappy told me that a long time ago. It's important in pretty nearly everything, but really important in writing. Take the blog - I got lazy, sloughed off, and look at how long it's been.

Much better to try to say a little something on a regular schedule, maybe not every day, but once a week or so. I'll try to remember that.

When you're working on a book, it's equally important. For me the critical moment comes about forty to fifty percent of the way through a manuscript. If I keep things moving up to that point, no matter how difficult it is, then momentum becomes my friend and helps me the rest of the way through.

I'm working on the fourth Jim Dallas/Sam Lyons book now. Took a brief vacation this past week. Carried the laptop along and even on vacation wrote my minimum of a thousand words a day on the book.

Angling for that momentum, you see. Some of my friends made fun of me for not taking full advantage of the vacation, but so what? I came back with about five thousand words more than I would have had otherwise, and I feel just as rested.

Once I wrote an entire novelette, fifty thousand words, in seven days. I was on vacation, you see, on one of Florida's premiere beaches on St. George Island. We did all the vacation stuff we wanted and still had hours left over. So I lugged the laptop up onto the second-floor veranda of the beach house, propped my heels up on the rail, and worked away, three hours or so a day, sometimes longer.

I get up early, so when I was awake before the rest of the bunch I did the same thing. Day after day. By the end of the vacation, I had a complete draft.

Didn't feel like work. Mark Twain said, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

To me those fifty thousand words were play.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Helping Hands

E-publishing has a learning curve, but fortunately there are a lot of sources out there that can help you learn relatively quickly. This will concentrate largely on Kindle, because that's where I publish. Maybe later I'll post a few about other platforms as well.

Oh - and all of these are free.

If you don’t have a Kindle, aren’t sure you want to buy one, but would like to try the experience of reading e-books—and if you have a PC computer—you can download and install a free application from, Kindle for PC, that will allow you to read Kindle files on your computer. It’s free, and you can find it at

If you want to publish your book at in e-book form for Kindle readers, the actual publication process is free (though you may invest in things like purchasing a professionally-made cover, registering your copyright, or buying an ISBN—but these steps are optional, not required).  The program is Kindle Direct Publishing, and you can sign up for it here:

Amazon has free guides to publishing for Kindle. You’ll need a Kindle or Kindle for PC to read them, unless you download a .pdf file instead. Here are a few of them:

Building Your Book for Kindle

Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing:

Kindle Publishing Unleashed

Calibre (pronounced like the caliber of a bullet) is a free program that you must download and install. It has its own e-book reader, and best of all, it can format your manuscripts as e-books for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, IPad, and others.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What if...?

I don't know if other genre writers play the game, but science-fiction writers sure do: What if...and then?

Theodore Sturgeon said that the key to being a good writer was to ask the question "What if?" And the key to being a great writer was to ask the next question.

In science fiction, it works like this: Gun control is a hot issue right now. So let's ask some questions about gun control. What if...everyone was required to pack a weapon from the age of ten upward?

You could get a story out of that. But then ask the next question, which could go in infinite directions: What if mass murder became the norm and no one even noticed it? What if one kid absolutely refused to go armed? What if someone created a device that rendered all explosives inert, including those in cartridges?

You get more stories that way. Keep asking them and answering them in your head until you hit one that gives you an "ah-hah!" moment. There's your story: something no one else (to your knowledge, anyway) has considered in fiction.

It can work in all other forms of fiction as well. What if orphaned Oliver Twist breaks free of the workhouse and falls in with thieves? And what if, unknown to him, he is heir to a fortune?

What if a woman asks a detective to help her out of a jam on the very day after the detective's partner has been killed? And what if every word that comes out of the woman's mouth is a lie? And what if she is seeking a solid-gold statuette of a falcon....?

Sturgeon was right. You can get a whole lot of food for thought and a whole lot of mileage out of simply asking the next question.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Attention, fans of Travis McGee

At last is bringing out the Travis McGee novels in Kindle format, with a foreword by Lee Child. The prices vary, but if you've been wanting to collect the McGees in e-format, this is your chance. I've picked up only one so far--The Empty Copper Sea--and it looks well-formatted and well-presented. Good story, too!

And of course I am a John D. MacDonald fan, so take that for what it is worth.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Doing Your Homework

Don't want to be a writer. Instead, want to write a story (or a poem or a play....). Have a definite goal in mind instead of a vague yearning to have the glamorous lifestyle of a writer (by the way, I just hauled the garbage out to the curb).

I'm going to assume you want to write fiction. That means, in all likelihood, that you read a considerable amount of fiction. So - what do you want to write?

If you're just beginning, then write the kind of fiction you like to read. Don't steal it - don't imitate someone else's plot or use someone else's characters. Write in the same genre, though. If you like science fiction, work on a science-fiction story; if you like historical romance, work on one of those; if you like sexy vampires, take to collecting coins or driving race cars instead. We have too many of those already.

Study the best of the genre you've chosen. Re-read your favorites, but this time read critically and note how the writers hook you in, what makes their styles and characters so engaging, how they pace and plot out a story.

Once again, you are not copying substance; however, you may pick up pointers and learn to imitate an approach, an attitude, or a style. Don't worry about that at the outset, because as time goes on, you will develop your own individual style.

But do your homework. You don't want to reinvent the wheel, so study those favorite works of yours and learn from them. This time around, you're not reading for enjoyment, but for inspiration, for insight, and for enlightenment.

Then when you work on your own story, you're not starting at the bottom, but standing on the shoulders of the writers you most admire.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

Hey, if you make 'em, try to keep 'em, that's all I say. Mine:

  • Finish the next Jim Dallas novel, Glades Heist, by the end of April.
  • Explore ways of letting the world know the novels are there - publishing is great, but the point is to find readers. We all can learn.
  • Work on my weaknesses as a writer. Every book should teach a writer something new. If it doesn't - we're not paying attention.
  • Don't forget to express my gratitude to those who read my books. As I said before, writing is a lonely business.
  • And of course lose the poundage I gained during the Christmas season. I've already restarted my exercise routine....

Have a good New Year, everyone!