Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Every research day feels like a Memorial Day as I sift through Civil War stories for possible inclusion in my next book, Healing Hearts.

The US Library of Congress has an extensive collection of war photographs, well worth browsing. This one is a tintype of a Confederate soldier with sabre and revolver from the Liljenquist family collection.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Excerpt: Untamed Hearts

Untamed Hearts is the second book in the Easton Hearts Series.

Excerpt Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

July 1874
Montana Territory

Roy Easton picked his way toward Ingston, smelling of campfire and trail dust and disappointment. His mind wandered to the banked coals of Anna Mae's passing; even after these dismal weeks the slanderous accusations cut deep as bullwhip lashes.

Six years of protecting Wounded Colt hadn't made a lick of difference. Faster than barbed wire raced across the territory, rumors about the Anna Mae affair had ravaged Roy's fine reputation. His claim of innocence fell on deaf ears in a boomtown-turned-dead-end-canyon. Their passing judgment had run roughshod over his youth, heart, and dreams.

Now he was fenced out -- stripped of his badge. Good deeds he'd done over the years were forgotten -- how he'd restored law and order after Dullen's range war, for example. Tongues had set to wagging, as they were wanton to do when there was a succulent, headline-begging scandal bucking on the breeze.

The grisly incident left a hollow ache in Roy's belly, a raw, dry throat, and a ragged hitch when he inhaled too deeply.

Roy sighed as he reined in at a small rise folding in an easy curve around the eastern edge of the town. Framed by dark shoulder-length hair, his cobalt blue eyes scanned the scene. In the late afternoon haze below, the citizens went about their usual business -- filling wagons out front of the mercantile, visiting the barber, and drifting into the saloon to toss back the local heat.

Roy stood in the saddle and squinted. The prey he hunted wasn't visible; he'd lost the trail a mile back. Those vermin wouldn't be fool enough to tangle directly with his iron. He'd catch up with that fuss soon enough. After all, he had all the time in the world.

Roy's gaze drew in a smooth arc and held steady on a pair of men ambling alongside a woman -- a slight, will 'o the wisp beauty who toted a riot of blazing red hair pinned haphazardly atop her head. Curiosity kicked, and he watched as the trio loaded supplies onto a string of packhorses. The young woman's graceful movements, and the fancy riding clothes draping her figure, gave her the appearance of a swan tucked into a nest of crows. Roy chuckled to himself, and abruptly he stopped; he'd ridden a good two months and hadn't heard his own laughter, and just now he didn't like the sound.

He forced himself to quit admiring the woman and returned to think on practical matters. Roy needed to scare up supplies. He figured he'd slip in and out of the town, invisible as a drag rider -- the one behind the herd that nobody takes notice of, because they're riding up ahead, driving the herd and sucking down all the clean air.

His outlaw grin angled toward the sky, Roy leaned back in the saddle and tugged his hat brim lower. Digging his heels tightly into the flanks of Pilot, his dark stallion, he exhaled. His eyes were fixed sternly on the trail ahead as he galloped down the hill.

Men on the main street recognized Roy; a man didn't serve as sheriff for six years in Montana territory without being well known, or even a legend. Cool and watchful, the locals nodded or averted their eyes. Roy kept a healthy distance; he'd fielded enough reckless remarks to last from here to six-feet-under.

Just as he eased by the livery a leathery voice barked.

"Easton! I got business with ya'!"

Damnation. Roy groaned. It was Jeb McLeod, and the old codger was soaped into a hefty lather. Roy conjured a mock-friendly grin and edged closer to the stable entrance. As he ambled he stretched to his full height, an act that slid his new gun belt -- with its twin Colts -- down to ride low on lean hips. As he regarded McLeod's crusty visage he nursed a slim hope that Jeb's shouting would ease a notch, so as not to telegraph their business to the whole blasted town.

"Something eatin' at you, Jeb?" Roy's drawl wavered.

"Easton, there ain't no fool willin' to buy yer darn mules! Ya' owe me their board for pert near two months!" The liveryman's deep eyes burned like two devils riding over a gray-salted beard.

Roy hesitated. He widened his stance; all was quiet except for the sound of his spurs clanking against the gravel. He yanked his hat from his head and slapped it against a hard buckskinned thigh. Trail dirt flew six feet in every direction, and McLeod wheezed. When the air cleared, Roy twisted his mouth into a disarming smile that flashed fine white teeth.

"McLeod," he angled, "folks say you're the best mule trader this side of the big river. I say those are fine animals."

Jeb scowled. "Yer four-footers are eatin' up my hay!"

Roy winced. In a last-ditch attempt to move the liveryman's booming voice off the street he strode past the man, and into the dank stable.

As Roy swept past the cross buck doors he scratched the five-day growth itching his face. His eyes adjusted to the dim light, and he cast a lazy glance at his mules -- four sturdy johns and three mollies. Instantly they knew their master and eagerly twitched their long ears. Their noisy brays filled the large airy space, a painful reminder of why he'd given the cumbersome burden over to Jeb the previous month with the promise of a large commission -- if the liveryman could unload them onto an unsuspecting greenhorn.

"Heck, these mules can do anything," Roy opined as he wiped sweat from his brow with his bandanna. If they want to, he added in silent afterthought.

Jeb's reply was a loud grunt and a disbelieving shake of his grizzled head.

Roy sliced a hand through the musty stable air.

"Just look at Sunday. Why, she's got a good mouth, if you don't look too deep. She's the prettiest molly a man's ever laid eyes on. And a lady can't resist Monday with her big brown eyes! But heck, she's not just some frilly bit of frippery! No sirreeee! She'll pick up all four feet . . . once she trusts a fellow."

Roy's shining eyes flickered down and collided with McLeod's hot glare. He hadn't figured on locking horns with this man. Roy swallowed hard and thrashed on.

"Tuesday follows Monday just like a calf follows it's cow-mama, and Wednesday over there—"

"Whoa!" Jeb snarled, annoyed as a man dragged to church by his wife and then forced to endure the rantings of a long-winded preacher while his chores piled up back at the homestead.

"Git those mules outta my place, Easton! Pay yer bill, an' haul yer freight." McLeod's half-toothed don't-mess-with-me scowl drove his point home.

Roy slumped his shoulders forward, and he thrust his hands deep into his pockets. So that was the way of it. Plain as paint peeling on a post, folks didn't want Roy Easton or his stock littering their town.

He heaved a sigh. "OK, I'll settle up. But I need to add a reserve mare in the deal."

McLeod spat and waved a hand.

The transaction complete, Roy tugged his hat back on his head.

He swiftly harnessed his mules. Deftly he guided his traveling circus back out into the fading light, where the mule string cast long forlorn shadows down the main street.

Roy halted his string and moved up and down the line, smoothly stroking each mule with ranch-rough hands. He checked hooves for stones, and then he swung up onto Pilot and leaned forward to pat his loyal companion's shining neck.

"Just you, me, and the critters now," he muttered.

Roy yanked his hat lower, and, despite the lack of wind and dust, he pulled his bandanna up to ride an inch below his eyes.

He tiptoed his parade past the Ingston newspaper office. He bet that Hugo Dorwart, owner of that pungent press, would be occupied deep in the back of the shop, diligently penning his latest attack piece.

An uneasiness rose in Roy's chest as he stole past the shop. This would be a hell of a time to run afoul of the damned town crier. Theirs was a war of words, fierce as any gunfight, just lacking the finality of a high noon shoot out.

Roy continued on, and wandering by the mercantile, he caught a glimpse of the two dusty drifters he'd sized up to be the red-head's companions. They stood at ease as they leaned against the hitching rail and rolled cigarettes. Meanwhile their animals slurped at the public trough.

Not ten feet further he spied the young woman as she lithely stepped from between two packhorses. Roy's indigo eyes slanted her direction. His gaze gained in intensity as her slender-but-womanly form leaned over the wooden crib. Absent his sister-in-law, he figured this lady was easily the finest-looking woman for five hundred miles. He fixed his stare to see if his hunch would play out.

As he closed the gap he noted full breasts straining against her blouse, and the hint of thick bright hair coyly peeking from under a dark, broad-brimmed hat. The soft tendrils boldly mutinied, daring to drop and lightly caress her shoulders when she tilted over the water. Roy smiled as he watched slim white fingers chase after those unruly locks and herd them back into the hiding place. Then the lovely woman swung her arms forward, cupped her small hands gracefully and dipped into the cool liquid.

Roy sucked wind in so fast it struck like lightning against the back of his throat, and his bandanna captured a thunderous groan as he exhaled. His tongue felt numb, and his mind was blank as a brand-new slate. He frantically tried to push away the thought of how it could be if he had no soiled past, and no shaky future; and as he watched the woman close her eyes and bring those small hands to her face he saw only the wonder of nature, the comfort of perfect harmony, and the pleasure to be taken from admiring astonishing beauty. She uncoiled those slender fingers as a dove softly unfolds wings. The softness splayed flat, splashing and briskly rubbing cool refreshment over velvety cheeks. He watched as her fingertips dragged down the delicate curve of smooth neck, to the hollow of her throat, seeking the shadowed places where droplets lingered. The beautiful woman smiled brightly at the simple ablution.

Roy dropped Pilot's reins and shoved a rough shaking hand through thick, dark hair. Carelessly he waved his arm in a broad circle. He needed to dismiss her as a soft, simpleminded, and, no doubt, useless woman.

But just then the sepia sun lowered a notch, angling dusky gold rays off the water that reflected obliquely, and they revealed almond-shaped spring-green eyes, windows into a woman wholly formed. Those eyes merrily danced with undeniable humor and intelligence.

Damn, he silently cursed.

She thrust her strong chin forward. Her hands floated down like two leaves gently falling, and they innocently smoothed over her tan blouse.

To Roy's hungry eyes it was seductive as hell. He swallowed; his throat was cotton-dry. A light breeze coiled and snaked against clammy skin, and he began to feel a tingle creeping up his spine.

She reached up again, and, without fair warning, boldly removed the hat. A thick raging fall of fire fell to her waist.

Roy was suddenly hard as a brick. "My God," he muttered under his breath.

She seemed to sense his stare, and turning unexpectedly, looked in his direction.

Had his expression not been buried under his hat and bandanna, she'd have seen Roy's unabashed gawking, taking in every curve and angle.

A new rawness galloped through his head, and he couldn't corral it. Intriguing women -- the sort that rode keen thoughts into a man's imagination -- didn't pass through these parts every day. Heck, one didn't pass through every year. Impulsively he committed her to memory, to be safely tucked away and roped again at the end of the day, when he relaxed on his bedroll next to a warm fire.

But, just as his mind was etching the texture of those brilliant tresses, Tuesday hacked out a "haw-haw". The other mules immediately joined in, and Roy's reverie was instantly buried in a raucous braying avalanche.

"Ugh." Reluctantly he dismounted, planting his feet firmly back on hardpan reality. He adjusted his gunbelt and strode toward the mercantile.

Time to get a move on. Daydreams about fancy women were a pleasant distraction, but it was as close as he'd get to this one, he reminded himself. He sighed and booted the store door open.

Roy knew anger wouldn't solve his problems. Thanks to the scandal in Wounded Colt, the sun had set on Sheriff Roy Easton. Move on. He'd live alone and die alone.

Still, a part of him was driven by a lust for redemption, for a territory's forgiveness of a sin he didn't commit. Somehow, beneath the pain, desire burned. He needed a last chance at reconciliation with the town that had served as judge, jury, and executioner when they found him guilty and imposed this sentence of exile.


Untamed Hearts is available on Kindle for $2.99.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today could be your last chance to buy a book

Today, May 21st, could possibly be The Judgement Day.

If you are inclined to believe, please consider a book purchase (see list on right sidebar). When we arrive on the other side (and I know I'll be there because I've lived a saintly life), I'll have wonderful prizes for anyone who has my books on their Kindles or other devices (yes, take those with you because there's LOTS of time to read in heaven).

Happy J-Day! Let the housework and laundry pile up. Relax and read a good book.

Update 7:45 CDT: Never mind. Carry on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to boost your ebook sales

You're a new author. Nobody knows your name or your work. You've plotted, written, rewritten, beta-tested, edited, and commissioned cover art. You're now ready to load your baby up to the digital store.

You are worried. There are a million other books a reader can choose. How will your book stand out?

First of all, try to choose a category that fits your book but isn't crowded. You won't get the top 100 easily in the general romance category, for example. The book at #100 on the romance category list has a ranking of around 500 today, so the book is probably selling over a hundred copies a day. Instead, pick a sub category (gothic, paranormal, time travel), or a less crowded category (family saga), if it can be a fit for your book. This will give you a chance of getting on a top 100 list somewhere, and that means higher visibility.

Forget the tweeting and facebooking. I don't do it. I find my time is better spent in writing another book. Do make sure you have an Author Central page on Amazon, with a nice author bio. If you can add blog entries discussing your book it's a plus.

Set a low price on your book. I like the $2.99 price point. On Amazon you can gift copies of your book to friends and family. Try to gift your book to 50 people, if it is in your budget to do so, and gift them all at once. Your friends will cash in their gifts, usually within a day or two of receiving the gift email, and this will boost your rank, hopefully to levels that get you onto the "hot new releases" top 100 list in your genre, or even into the regular genre top sellers lists.

Some of your early readers will write reviews. DON'T ask for reviews. Don't even hint that you expect a shill from Mom, sister, or your best friend. A review should be given freely, and a coerced review is not only unsatisfying for the writer, but can also lead to resentment from the reader. If your book is good then the reviews and sales growth will happen organically. If you pour those nasty chemicals on the lawn it will be green today, but the pond will be polluted tomorrow.

Finally, be patient. Buzz takes time. Work on the next book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If you liked TAKEDOWN

Matt Taibbi was part of the inspiration for the Main Street v. Wall Street metaphor in TAKEDOWN. He's arguably the best investigative journalist in the business today.

Read his latest.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Excerpt: Unbroken Hearts

Today I've posted part of the prologue, as a teaser, from the first book in the Easton Hearts western romance series, Unbroken Hearts.

Excerpt Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.


July 1868
Montana Territory

Sarah Anders soldiered up the trail, her brow creased with pain, exhaustion, and frustration. Even the buffalo grass, clinging to balding wheel ruts, was betting against her.

She slowed, and her green eyes slid back along the wagon track to settle on a splitting shoe seam. Tugging soberly at loose brown tresses that hung about her oval face, she considered her dim prospects.

A scant hour had passed since the trainmaster had brutally culled them from the string; now the remnant rumbled away into a vast horizon, oxen toiling heartily, straining against canvas-covered box wagons in their attempt to escape the hellish heat. A half-mile distant, Sarah could hear Charles Petit's voice pounding out a bass murmur. It was punctuated by the hiss of snapping whips drifting back like sharp accusations.

"Keep the pace! Yer draggin' us back!"

She smiled bleakly at the memory of "Cap'n Chawles". A burly-boned bull and stern as a schoolmarm, with a lump of tobacco packed firmly in cheek, he was true to the nickname. Ghastly lips gushed oil between gaps in his black teeth, and the captain's low growls paralyzed every soul, right down to little Lars Bentsen.

Thus it was when Uncle Orv's wagon hit a hole and came up lame. Petit cussed. In a hastily-called wagon council meeting four weary men caved to his decision: Sarah, her sister Emily, uncle Orv and cousin Joey would be left behind to make repairs as Petit's flock moved on. The halted party was left to catch up as best it could.

Sarah stared at the waving grass, shy prairie dogs, and buzzing insects surrounding the broken-down rig. Sighing, she lifted her mud-caked skirt and made her way over uneven ground to the makeshift camp where pot-bellied Orv grunted and rose from a squat alongside the wagon.

Orv's hungry eyes squinted as he raked her rail-thin form. She stood warily at a distance, squaring herself to blunt his anger. Better me than Emily, she thought.

"Gal, don't jis stand there!" Orv flung a hammer though the air. It landed three feet short of his target. "Git yerself an' that good-for-nuthin' chit down ta' dat water. We's got shirts need washin'."

Sarah bowed her head slightly. She'd spent eight of her nineteen years with this ginned-up guardian. She knew better than to argue.

She spun on her heel and hailed Emily. Em was intent on braiding blades of grass. Sarah waved again and caught the child's gaze. She signaled the order to collect dirty shirts and trousers. In short order Emily was twisting pants and shirts into a ball she tucked tightly against her chest.

Sarah ventured a glance at Orv, who was busy shoveling a batch of grief to his son. Recalling the lazy stream they'd passed, she stole the opportunity to grab their last sliver of lye soap and two towels. A proper wash would surely mend her mood, she thought.

Orv was cursing over the toolbox when the girls slipped away.

Sarah and Emily wandered over a rise and down a hill, where they were welcomed by rough growth hugging a lazy stream. Pausing at the steep bank, Sarah winked playfully at Emily.

"I say we shuck and wash ourselves first."

"You bet!" Emily eagerly bobbed and dropped the burdensome laundry. They stripped down to drawers and camisoles, and gingerly waded into the cool water. Shivering like new colts as they stood in the sunless shelter of the scrub pine bank they giggled through chattering teeth and splashed their arms, legs, and faces. Emily's blond mane and Sarah's deep cinnamon flew like pennants on the warm breeze.

"Captain Petit said we'll be safe?" Emily's hands plumbed the water and spun tiny whirlpools.
Sarah smiled at the tiny hands and voice.

"Truly. No Indians," she cooed as she ran the soap up an arm and rubbed.

Indeed it was hard to let go of the nagging fear. Every night on the trail they'd observed the men taking precautions to ward off a surprise attack. The camp was made in the open, in the shape of a large circle. Oxen, horses, and dogs were placed outside the circle, and the resulting arrangement looked like a western corral. Guards were assigned, and these were changed three times during the night.

Suddenly a shout pierced through the howling wind. The sisters froze and strained forward. Joey? More shouts came, undeciperable, but the gunshots that followed needed no translation.

Emily blanched. Her blue eyes flew wide with terror, and her throat tightened around a strangled sound.

"Hush!" Sarah exhaled.

Needles pricked painfully as she grabbed at a tree branch, and sticky pine tar coated her hand. Wincing, Sarah pulled and scrambled out of the water, straight up the steep bank. She seized onto Emily's hand, half-dragging the young girl behind her.

They reached flat ground and found their clothing. Four shaking hands worked frantically, pulling dresses over soaked drawers and camisoles.

"Get down!" ordered Sarah.

The girls slid onto their bellies, and inch-by-inch, like ants, they crawled up the hill until they could see the trail. Sarah kept Emily close at her side, shushing her every few feet. Upon making the top she pulled Emily behind the cover of a large rock.

Without a second thought, Sarah threw her damp, sticky body over her sister and burrowed her half into hot dirt. An eternity seemed to pass before she stoked up the courage to peer around the rock edge and down the brushy slope.

Then she pushed up, and breath rushed from her at the sight that unfolded below. Two ugly, leering men pawed through their possessions, which had been tossed haphazardly off the wagon.
Her eyes collided with the worst of it: Splayed lifelessly on the ground were Uncle Orv and Joey.

Oh my God. Oh my God. Sarah sucked in short, ragged gasps.

Over her hammering heart she heard snippets of bandit conversation, riding on stiff gusts up the gentle slope. Sarah's quaking knees pushed to get a better look at the outlaws.

"Where'd da' sonofabitch keep his money?" spat a ruddy-looking man. His appearance was mean; a scar traced straight across his neck where he'd been hard-bitten by a hangman's rope.

"Ya' check dem bodies?" This erupted from a shorter, bulgy-eyed man.

Sarah's eyes burned with helpless anger at the plundering. The older man unhitched and slapped old Buck and Whistler. As the oxen trotted away she noted that two fingers were missing from the man's right hand.

The murdering devil-banter continued as Sarah shifted and dragged her feet to a squat position.

"Yay . . . here 'tis, bottom o' da' tool box . . . jus' twenty-five dollar. Damn it! What dem thinkin' totin' puny cash?"

"Lookie, dis' fiddle be worth somethin'!"

Sarah's heart sank. The fiddle, cradled with its bow in a wooden case, had been her father's joy. It was the last she had of him and their sweet musical evenings together. Papa had taught her to play jigs, reels, and waltzes. Inside she was screaming with fury.

One aching foot slid out from under her.

Three-Fingers' head flew up.

"Who's it!"

Sarah 's heart beat thunderously.

"Thar's someone thar!"

The scar-necked man drew a pistol from his pants and ran up the hillside, ripping round the rock.

Sarah groaned. They'd been discovered!

"Ho! What 'ave we here!"

Three-fingers ran to join his partner. "Couple o' skirts!"

"Aye, this one's wee," he observed, his flint-eyes skipping off Emily. Then he grabbed Sarah's arm, hauled her up, and shoved her against the rock.

"P-please, don't hurt my sister!"

For a much longer sample, visit the Unbroken Hearts product page and download the sample . . .

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Fight for Backlists

Backlists (authors' prior works) have always supported the frontlist, but in the digital era, when backlist titles are ALWAYS on the shelf, the backlist can lead to frontlist sales in new ways. They can be much more than the "long tail".

The large publishers know this, and they've begun to actively leverage backlist titles. Recently we saw the publisher of Lisa Gardner's backlist title, Alone (2005), reset the Kindle price to 99 cents just before release of her new book. At 99 cents, Alone quickly rose to top Kindle bestseller status, and when Lisa's next release, Love you More, was launched it was pulled to the top by thousands of recent Alone sales.

In this case, a revived backlist title served to pull a frontlist offering, and the consumer psychology play was pure genius. After picking up the 99 cent Alone bargain, the reader was more likely to pay $12.99 for the new release. After all, that's an average of $7 per book. Not bad as a value proposition.

Publishers are fighting to keep backlist rights, and this strategic leveraging, made possible by the virtual digital bookshelf, is just one reason.

Yet, if authors were given rights to their older works (vs. fighting it out in court in most cases, because contracts were nebulous on this point), the publishers could gain on several fronts:

  • Savings. Author and subcontractors do all the formatting, new covers, promotion, etc. Author incurs all costs.

  • Author aggressively prices backlist (2.99 at 70%).

  • Author/entrepreneur is incentivized to be a promoter. Reversion gives author their own business, and reason to social network, blog, and otherwise self promote. The author has a skin in the game; they rely less on the publisher and more on their own efforts. Authors connect directly with readers, and they begin to build their own brands.

  • Publisher is freed to focus on front list. Dwindling resources can be tasked to the most profitable segment of the business.

  • Backlists go to digital much faster -- authors are all working concurrently to put up reverted backlists. Nobody has more incentive to get this job done quickly than the author, who stands to lose money every day the books aren't on Kindle store.

  • Ultimately, more backlist titles allow publishers to compete more effectively with indie published works. More quality books from their stable of authors are offered at low prices, again, providing backlist support for their new works.

    Look for the big 6 to offer contracts with auto rights reversion on midlist books (after say, 3 years), as a sweetener to contracts.

    This is a win-win for the author and big publisher. The author gets the advantage of trad pub validation, print distribution channel, and promotion effort on front list, albeit with lower royalty structure, but the author also gets the opportunity to make a larger royalty on backlist books by publshing those independently.

    Bottom Line: The publisher takes the head and the author takes the long tail.

    Heck, I'd consider this type of contract.

    I believe this is a viable business model in the digital book era. The old contract is obsolete; an author loses too much money in the long tail when a book is on sale forever at low royalty rates.

    Publishers that offer more creative contracts will be the winners, as authors will flock to those houses.

    Can you think of other contract models that would attract you as a writer? How about increasing the author's percentage two or three years after publication?
  • Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Life Imitates Art? Art Imitates Life?

    Eerily, recent headlines continue to reinforce the themes in TAKEDOWN. Dan Decker, the villain in TAKEDOWN, was always a metaphor for the clustermuck spewed on the American people by the Wall Street banksters, but the parallel gets stronger with each passing day.

    Everything in my book is based on real events. The SEC blocking investigations of Ponzi schemers? Yes, it happens. Check this out:

    "A former Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement official who has been accused of repeatedly blocking efforts to investigate R. Allen Stanford, the Houston financier charged with running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, is the subject of a federal criminal inquiry for having done legal work for Mr. Stanford after leaving the S.E.C., government officials said Friday."

    Oh, the use of a chatroom the authorities would never look on to hunt down criminal messages? Yeah, that's also in TAKEDOWN; it turns out terrorists use the same strategy.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011

    Oral vs. Written Language and The Novel

    One thing leads to another. First I ran across linguist and cognitive scientist D. Girard Watson, and his excellent piece on those speech fillers we all use, the Ums and Ers.

    Then I sent the link off to D2 (daughter #2; she prefers to remain anonymous on my blog), because she counts linguistic and neuroscience studies among her varied pursuits, and it kicked off a conversation. Below I post her comments in interview form.

    Me: So, what did you think of Watson's piece?

    D2: Great article for comparing written and oral language. We glean so much from speech -- cues that are embedded in emphasis and tone, speech rate, word fillers, and cues from dialogue (like being interrupted or "latching" on to speech to finish another person's sentence). Those kinds of cues are not just about understanding one another's speech -- they are cues that convey information about the relative stances or positions of power in a dialogue, etc.

    Me: So, these verbal cues tell us which speaker is the Alpha and which is the Beta dog?

    D2:In fact, most speech I hear is "doing" something rather than saying something-- that is to say, speech that does not primarily exist to convey a literal message, but is used in its context to reproduce relationships of power, e.g. reinforcing a person's authority (the way a professor answers a question by avoiding it entirely; in academic settings there are endless examples of "displays of knowledge"), conveying solidarity between friends ("You know what I mean?" "Yeah I got you"), etc.

    Me: OK, it's easy to get authority or solidarity across in spoken language, especially because we can use tone and body language to accompany spoken words. How do we do this in the written (novel) form?

    D2: To a certain extent I think that speech variation can be portrayed in novel writing, but there are limitations because of the form. Dialect and slang are a couple examples. Writing and grammar are governed by prescriptive rules that are more resistant to change, whereas extemporaneous speech is not (and so sociolinguists are interested in descriptive research rather than prescriptive norms). In writing, for example, an omnipotent, third-person narrator does not usually use dialect or slang: Because the narrator is anonymous, he/she tends to assume a grammatically normative style. That's not to say that all narrative voices sound the same -- unique narrative styles distinguish one author from another -- but they are usually the most "proper" voice in the novel.

    There are a lot of places you could go with this discussion, but I think another point about normative grammar is that it is fulfilling the reader's expectation for an "objective" narrator. Authors sometimes bypass this by narrating through a known character, often a bystander or protagonist telling their story in hindsight a la Moby Dick or Heart of Darkness.

    Me: Yes, even in first person POV the narrator creates a "normative" style. I don't write in first person, but I get it.

    D2: Another point I wanted to make -- a narrator's voice may be marked by the style and language of the period, but only insofar as the narrator speaks in a socially "credible" (educated, upper class) language. Dialects that are not perceived as credible or standard (a Cockney accent, a foreigner's pattern of speech) are given voice through character dialogue or through a first person narrator. In that way, historical novels are documents of the sociolinguistic landscape of the time -- not just types of language, but their ranking in the social order.

    Me: Thanks, D2! Um, have I told you how much I, um, love you?

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    What I'm reading . . .

    Doc: A Novel, by Mary Doria Russell.
    "It's about Doc Holliday."

    Inside Apple -- From Steve Jobs down to the Janitor, by Adam Lashinsky.
    This is an expanded journalism piece by a Fortune magazine editor.

    Widow Woman, by Patricia McLinn.
    Western romance. Cowboy falls for the widow/owner of a Wyoming ranch.

    El Acontecimiento (Spanish), by Javier Gimenez Sasiesta.
    Thriller. An international team of scientists makes a dangerous discovery, and an investigative journalist races to save humanity.

    Duty, Honor Country, A Novel from West Point to the Civil War, by Bob Mayer.
    Civil War history and characters come alive.

    What are you reading right now?

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    What is a bestseller?

    Lately I've been visiting the Amazon product pages of books that were indie bestsellers six months and a year ago. I'm talking about those 99 cent wonders that hit the Kindle top 100, had two hundred glowing reviews, and sent the authors to blogosphere paradise.

    I'll admit it -- I was envious whenever I saw one. My books (the Easton series) sell at a steady pace in the high mid list range, and I've been very happy, in fact elated, with those sales. Yet, every writer has the dream of making it to the bestseller major leagues. Who doesn't think about the fifteen minutes of fame, the reporters calling, the shout out in the local papers? It takes a lot of blood and sweat to write a book, and recognition for your hard work is a great thing.

    Anyhoo, of those indie books that were bestsellers a year ago, some are still selling well, but many have fallen completely off the wagon, and some are languishing in their sales rankings to the point where I can see they sell just a few copies a week. Their rankings vs. mine show that I'm selling three or four or ten times as many books at the same or a higher price.

    What gives? These were extremely popular books, but it is now apparent: They were the season fad. These darlings were often hyped by a few popular bloggers and opinion leading voices. They experienced a bump, but they lacked the classic lines to make them timeless fashions.

    So . . . I'm rethinking what makes a "bestseller". I think the book to write is one that has "legs", one that continues to sell well over a longer time frame. While some bestsellers go on to respectable perennial sales, many others do not. The steady selling mid list book can, and often does, outsell the designated bestseller.

    What's more, this concept of steady, long tail sales is more important now than ever, as a digital book never goes off the sales shelf.

    The traditional "bestseller" is really a fast out-of-the-gate seller. Bestseller status today does not mean that good, steady sales will be sustained one, two, or five years beyond initial publication. It's the old tortoise and hare scenario; the steady sales will add up to more significant income over the lifecycle of the book.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Top ten romance hero professions

    A new top ten list is out: Top ten professions for romance novel heroes.

    I need to point out here that my most of my heroes work in professions on the top ten list.

    In Unbroken Hearts, Cal is a cowboy (#2 profession), rancher (#5) AND a boss (#3; he employs Sarah at the ranch).

    Untamed Hearts' hero is Roy Easton, who just happens to be a cowboy (#2) who was formerly a sheriff (#10).

    My work in progress has a hero who was formerly a Civil War surgeon (#7 on the list), but goes on to become a small town doctor (#1 profession for romance heroes!).

    The list didn't go to eleven places, but I'm pretty sure #11 would be math professor.

    Flash Crash Anniversary

    Today is the one year anniversary of the infamous stock market "flash crash". Of course it's also a great day to read TAKEDOWN, the ultimate flash-crashing thriller.

    Click here to listen to real-time commentary of the actual crash that took the DOW average down nearly 1,000 points on May 6, 2010.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Authors Don't Get No Respect Dept.

    I live in Minnesota, and the budget debates are getting heated . . . so heated that the politicos are going after big-brand authors.

    State Senator Dean, from the district just north of me, went over the range yesterday.

    5/6/2011 UPDATE - The story continues as librarian apologizes and a legislator seeks to cut funding to library system by $45,000 as punishment.

    Why my books are more successful as ebooks

    I wrote my first novel, Unbroken Hearts, in 2002-2003.

    The Query-Go-Round

    I began querying agents and publishers in January, 2004, and I continued to do so into 2006. Back in those days inquiries were done via snail mail, so it took 6 weeks to 3 months to get a response to a simply query letter.

    I came close to the brass ring (one publisher requested the full manuscript, others requested partials), but no cigar. Comments in the rejections ranged from "you have a clean style and this is an engaging story, but we are currently overinventoried [sic] in historicals" to "the western market is really tough right now" to "we are heavily committed to our present clients, we seldom take on new work" to "I was not sufficiently enthusiastic to feel that I'd be the right agent for your work."

    I didn't know it then, but those rejections were a blessing.

    Kindle Offers New Market Channel

    In 2008 I learned about Kindle store. It was free to publish in the Amazon online store, and I had all the requisite skills. What the heck? Loading Unbroken Hearts up to a real store, a place where someone might possibly buy my book (!), was a huge morale booster. I was so encouraged I returned to work on the second book in the series.

    It took over a year for the Amazon sales to take off. At first I sold 2 or 3 books a month. My initial price was too high. I had to learn where to market online. But people were reading my book.

    In late 2009 I started to see real sales growth. I made a little over $700 that year, mostly on the first book, and I donated all of it to American Heart Association. In 2010 rapid acceleration of sales began, and I'm on track make 20-30K in 2011 (hopefully more, IF I can write faster).

    Time on Shelf: Key to Building Audience and Sales

    I've learned it takes time, and word of mouth, for a new author's books to take off.

    Being on the ebook shelf means you have that time -- months and years. In the traditional contract, print-only world, a new author in a genre such as western romance might get 6 months to gain traction before being pulled from the stores.

    I've come to believe that rejection from the publishers was a gift. As a new author in a less popular genre, I don't think I'd have made it in six months in the traditional distribution channel.

    After all, it took a couple years in the world's largest ebook store to find an audience. "The western market is tough" and "we are overinventoried" don't matter in the ebook store. If you have a good book it will eventually find it's niche, because you have the greatest advantage: Time. A good book stays on the shelf until it is "discovered." Setting a low price and aggressively marketing through social media will help, but just being there is the key.

    It worked for me. It can work for any writer with a good book, and the resolve, to try it.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    I wish they'd write reviews . . .

    Heck, I'll never ask anyone to post a review to the Amazon product page, but -- to steal from a popular ad campaign -- I wish they'd "just do it."

    A few of the messages I've received from readers about TAKEDOWN:

    "I wondered about the Leinies in your book. I almost wrote to ask about that. It was just one of many little things I liked in addition to the story itself. Our lady of the Plastic Door was another."

    "Ha! Finished the book last night and loved it."

    "I read your book immediately and really enjoyed it. One sentence really jumped off the page when I read it. "Those who aren't tested always doubt their abilities." That would make a good motivational poster."

    "I just finished Takedown, and I loved it. I especially loved your homage to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and your idea to have a private viewing of the body for the school children was brilliant - the balloon release brought tears to my eyes.
    Thank you for writing this book . . ."

    From a message board:

    "How to kill an afternoon... in a good way.

    Go to the Kindle book store and download 'Takedown' . . . exciting, well crafted and extremely contemporary story (tho set over a decade ago); fully developed, very likable (and believable) characters; and fast moving.

    Keep 'em coming, Anna. I greatly enjoy your style."

    I'm glad that readers are enjoying the book. Now, could you all find a way to shout about it?


    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    My Plot Consultants

    I'm fortunate to have a large and diverse family. I count residents of the midwest, the east coast, the southwest, and the southeast among my siblings and children and nieces and nephews. We are teachers, nurses, tradesmen, public servants, engineers, scientists, and linguists. My father is a WWII veteran, and my mother's long teaching career started in a one room schoolhouse on the prairie. They are still telling us their stories.

    My daughters, 24 and 20, are excellent resources on a number of fronts. Both are accomplished musicians, National Merit scholars, and recipients of more awards in their brief lives than I've received in over 50 years. The oldest is a geologist in graduate school. She was fortunate to pursue studies under one of the world's top paleontologists, and she has served as my consultant in developing the early naturalist/paleontologist Philip Farnsworth in Untamed Hearts and Undaunted Hearts.

    My younger daughter gave me a brilliant and unique concept for Doctor Jedidiah Rutherford in my work-in-progress. She has worked as a guide for our county historical society, where she learned a great deal about frontier medicine during development of a special exhibit. She's also a gifted linguist and writer.

    Dad is my ballistics and military history expert. Most of us are lucky to retain 30% of what we read. My father's retention is north of 90%. The man is a walking and talking encyclopedia (emphasis on the talking part).

    I grew up with a posse of brothers and sisters, and their interests run from quilting to real estate to Civil War history to motorcycles. They might not realize it, but they've all contributed information and anecdotes to my stories.

    I'm grateful to have so many interesting and accomplished people in my life. We each took very different paths, and that's a very good thing. Although they didn't know it at the time, they were accumulating life experiences and knowledge to help me with my writing.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Read Samples Now

    Here's an easy way to read samples without downloading them to your ereader device. Click on the following links, and then scroll down to the "Kindle for the Web" window.

    Unbroken Hearts

    Untamed Hearts

    Undaunted Hearts