Monday, September 18, 2017

Are Bestsellers Getting Dumber?

According to the September 2017 issue of READER’S DIGEST, bestsellers are indeed dumber. The article demonstrates that the language of the most popular novels today is much simpler than just a few decades ago.

Author Ben Blatt discusses this in his book NABOKOV’S FAVORITE WORD IS MAUVE from which the article is taken. Blatt collected every digitized number one NEW YORK TIMES bestseller from 1960 to 2014 and ran the Flesch-Kincaid test on all 563 of them. His research maintains that most books meant for a general audience fall within the 4th to 11th grade range as do all of the bestsellers. In the 1960’s, the median book had a grade level of 8. Blatt’s research places today’s median grade level at 6. Interestingly, bestsellers at the lowest score range (grade 4.4) were written by three high volume writers who generally top the bestseller list: James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts.

Blatt also breaks down books by genre. Thrillers and romances are singled out in particular for what he calls the “dumbification” of popular fiction. Stephen King, Danielle Steel and Harlan Coben all rank at or below 6th grade reading level.

However, Blatt doesn’t castigate these writers for using simple language. Popular writers want to embrace the masses, to reach as many readers as possible. He sees this as a good thing.

As a writer, the advice I’ve run across most frequently is to use language that is clear, concise and simple. George Orwell said it best: “Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.”

 Yet as a former teacher as well, I have observed that the interest and ability to read has diminished to some extent in our society, at least in my lifetime. Perhaps you disagree or agree?

Your thoughts welcome here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ten Tips on Writing Short Fiction that Sells

First of all, do I have the proper credentials for writing this article? I’ll let you decide. I’ve written well over a hundred short stories, most of which have sold to paying markets and some of which have also sold as reprints.

My latest short story is featured in the current summer issue of HYPNOS MAGAZINE, (Volume 6, Issue 2), a print anthology. I’ve had short stories published in HYPNOS for the past three years.

 Stories published in HYPNOS are described as “weird.” I prefer the terms imaginative, dark fantasy or perhaps speculative. Anyway, if this type of genre interests you, HYPNOS is a great publication to which to submit your work. You don’t have to be famous. Just submit a good story.


I’ve learned some things that I believe help sell fiction and which I’ll share with you.

Tip One:

There are two ways to go about this. You can write for a specific market following their guidelines and requirements or you can write the story you want to write and then look for a market that is appropriate. I suggest the latter choice--unless you are specifically invited to submit your work by an editor for a themed anthology or magazine issue. My reasoning is that you should write what you really enjoy. Your passion will show in your work. That will give you an edge.

Tip Two:

You are unlikely to sell short stories unless you’ve read a great many of them. This will give you an instinctive grasp of the genre. If you don’t enjoy reading short fiction, you shouldn’t bother writing them. It will show.

Tip Three:

 Don’t assume that because short stories are brief in length that they are easy to write. In reality, it takes discipline to write a good short story and sheer brilliance to write a great one. Short stories are focused works of fiction, just as Poe explained.

Tip Four:

You need to decide the type of short fiction you intend to write. Do you love literary short stories? Try then to write one of your own. Are you into speculative fiction? Do you enjoy science fiction, horror, or fantasy? Are you a mystery writer? Read some of the best both past and present before you attempt your own.  However, be aware that each genre has its own type of content and style. Mashups are acceptable, but first know the rules of each genre before you attempt to mix them. Do the research before you start to write.

Tip Five:

Whether writing short fiction or a novel, you need to consider the basics: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Analyze how they fit together in your story. One hint: limit the number of characters in a short story to just a few so you can develop each properly.

Tip Six:

Also consider point of view. For instance, who is telling the story? Will this story work best in first or third person? Why? Is the narrator sophisticated, jaded, innocent, naïve? The style and choice of language need to reflect these considerations.

Tip Seven:

When you finish writing your story, put it away for a while and go on to another project. Wait at least one month, then reread and revise as needed. You are now the editor. You will see the need for changes and improvements.

Tip Eight:

When you are ready to submit your story for publication, carefully read all the submission guidelines. You really have to follow them exactly. Each market has its own unique requirements.

Tip Nine:

Avoid writing only for “exposure” if possible. There actually are paying markets that encourage beginners who are without publishing credits.

Tip Ten:

Don’t be afraid to try writing in more than one genre or style. The great thing about short story writing is that you can be experimental.

Tip Eleven: (I’m throwing an extra one in) Don’t get discouraged by rejections. All of us receive our share.The competition is fierce. If an editor is generous enough to provide some suggestions, consider using them to improve your work. Then resubmit to another publication. Never, ever give up on your writing if it’s something you really want and need to do!

Your thoughts and comments welcome here!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Spotlight on Author C.A. (Christine) Verstraete

C.A. (Christine) Verstraete is my special guest writer today. The author of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter adds a new dimension to the real-life Lizzie Borden murder mystery with a new short mystery also set in Fall River, MA.
The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River, lets the Borden's doctor and neighbor share his side of the story following the gruesome murders. Saturday, August 4 marked the 125th anniversary of the 1892 Borden murders.
The supernatural-flavored mystery (141 pages) is on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in print.
Author website:
About The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River:
Gruesome deaths haunt the industrial city of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Dr. Seabury Bowen—physician to the infamous Lizzie Borden—swears he’s being stalked by spirits, though his beloved wife thinks it’s merely his imagination. But the retired doctor insists that neither greed nor anger provoked the recent sensational axe murders in Fall River. Rather, he believes the city is poisoned by bad blood and a thirst for revenge dating back to the Indian and Colonial wars.
Now, two years after the Borden murders, Dr. Bowen is determined to uncover the mysteries stirring up the city’s ancient, bloodthirsty specters. Can he discover who, or what, is shattering the peace before Fall River runs red? Or will he be the next victim?
Part mystery, part love story, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen reveals the eerie side of Fall River as witnessed by the first doctor on the scene of the legendary Borden murders.

What made you want to write about Dr. Bowen – and who is he?

I really enjoyed learning more about the Borden murders in writing my first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. I am working on a sequel, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun writing something a bit different about the Borden murders. The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River, offers a more supernatural-flavored aspect to the story and Lizzie’s hometown by focusing on the Borden family’s doctor and neighbor.
          The doctor was the first official who arrived at the Borden’s home located kitty-corner from him at 92 Second Street. As you read the trial testimonies, it almost seems like he was protecting Lizzie. Some of the newspaper reports even mention his favorable reactions to her.
This was the OJ crime of the 19th century. It caught the public’s imagination and continues to fascinate people today. That’s what makes it so interesting to write about – the real life facts are horrific and unreal enough, of course, that no embellishment is needed. But it definitely gives a writer ideas to expand on.

You wrote about zombies in the first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. What made you take a different approach this time? And why zombies?

I still love writing about zombies and will have a new Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter short story coming out soon. With the Dr. Bowen book, I wanted to write a story that adds a different dimension and focuses more on the supernatural and paranormal. The Borden murders were so gruesome that I started wondering, what if the doctor was haunted by that day? It also ties into some real-life past events, some that I twisted a bit to fit the story. Did you know that there was also another axe murder around the time of the Borden murders, too? Any zombie stories will be tied into the Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter theme, I am also working on Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter2.

Here’s an excerpt: from The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden's Fall River:
    “Never did I say to anyone that she had died of fright. My first thought, when I was standing in the door, was that she had fainted.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

 Why won’t anyone believe me? Why, Phoebe, why?”
Dr.  Seabury Bowen shoved back the shock of white hair hanging over his forehead and wiped a wrinkled hand across his stubbled chin.
    His appearance, like his surroundings, could stand a bit of major housekeeping, not that he cared a whit.
“Here, it’s here somewhere,” he mumbled.
  The old man rummaged among the giant pile of documents, books, and what-not littering the large walnut desk in his study. Several minutes later, and after the search through dozens of loose papers, he saw the faded red book lying beneath a tottering pile. He pulled at it, sending the rest of the stack falling like so much unwanted garbage.
    The good doctor, but a shadow of his once- robust self, flipped the pages. He stared at the offending journal entry before setting the book aside with a heartrending sob.

Chapter One
    “I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

   The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.
    “Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”
    Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.
     “Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”
    “A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”
    The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”
    He gave her a loving smile before he rose and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent. Not that he’d tell her, of course. It made Bowen wonder if he was losing touch with his faculties, something he’d never dare mention. Nor did he want to even entertain the thought, but he did. Am I going mad? Am I?

Thanks for letting me spend some time with your readers!

Questions and comments for Christine are welcome.

Monday, July 24, 2017

When Is the Best Time for Book Publication? By Jacqueline Seewald

Some people might say that the best time for book publication is any time at all. I agree to a certain extent. We want our books to go forth and flourish. But are there better times for this to happen, times when readers are more likely to buy and read our work?

Here’s a surprise: According to BookBaby, the Christmas holidays are not the best time for new or self-published authors to set forth their books. BookBaby observes that because established authors target this time, new authors tend to be at a disadvantage. Buyers looking for gifts mostly buy well-known authors and not new writers.

So when would be a preferable time to publish? BookBaby believes January and February show a definite increase in book sales over the holidays for newbes. However, the largest volume of book sales according to their statistics comes in the summer months.

This is another surprise for me since the two books of mine that were published in July and August respectively both received low sales and limited reviews. Therefore, I am not personally big on summer publication, although BookBaby does offer stats to support their view: There are over $3.4 billion in sales during summer, according to their industry sources, compared to about $2.9 billion spent for holiday gift giving.

Fellow writers and readers, what has your own experience been? When do you buy books if you are a reader? When do your books sell the best if you are a writer? Let’s share info!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer Reading: Women of Mystery

Summer is the perfect time to spend some time vacationing or just relaxing. Sit in the sun, lie on a chaise poolside, rest by the ocean or a lake, or under the shade of a tree, sip a cool drink, and read a book—hard cover, soft cover or digital.

Mysteries remain one of the most popular genres for summer reading. Why? Because they entertain us. They also engage our intellect in a satisfying manner. Of the most popular women mystery writers, few are young. Each has a popular mystery series. Who are some of these women writers of mystery fiction?

Janet Evanovich
Tess, Gerritsen
Louise Penny
Sue Grafton
Sara Paretsky (I just finished FALLOUT and it’s a winner!)
and the Queen of Suspense herself—Mary Higgins Clark

Lots of good summer reading on the bestseller list as well.
For instance, Paula Hawkins has a new thriller INTO THE WATER.I recently read Joanne Fluke’s BANANA CREAM PIE MURDER, #21 in her Hannah Swensen series and still going strong. I’m looking forward to the next one. The book on my nightstand I just finished reading is Molly MacRae’s PLAID AND PLAGIARISM. Molly used to be a fellow Five Star/Cengage author. So I was particularly delighted to read another of her fine novels.

But what about some of the excellent women authors that write for small independent presses and provide us with quality mystery series but don’t get as much publicity because they are not with the big publishers?

I recommend Patricia Gligor’s Malone series; her latest novel
MARNIE MALONE is a perfect summer read for those who enjoy mystery thrillers. Check it out on Amazon. I also recommend my latest novel THE INHERITANCE, a romantic mystery thriller, as well as the 4th in my Kim Reynolds librarian sleuth series THE BAD WIFE.

If you’re in the mood for Southern gothic romantic mystery thrillers, I recommend two--Susan Coryell’s BENEATH THE STONES and my own novel DARK MOON RISING. Both can also be checked out for reviews on Amazon.

Some other women mystery writers I recommend because I’ve read and enjoyed their mystery series novels are: Nancy J. Cohen (Bad Hair Day Series), Alice Duncan (Spirits cozy mysteries), Susan Oleksiw (mysteries set in exotic India) and Maggie Toussaint who has several series and displays a fine sense of humor.

There are many other fine women mystery writers who can be added to this list. As a reader and/or writer are there any authors and/or books you would like to recommend for summer reading? Please share!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mary Higgins Clark: Solving a Mystery by Jacqueline Seewald

Solving the mystery behind the longevity of Mary Higgins Clark as a bestselling mystery writer fascinates me. Whether you are a mystery reader or not, I’m certain you’re familiar with her name. Ms. Clark has written 52 published books, quite an accomplishment in itself.

I have met Mary Higgins Clark on three separate occasions. Each time she warmly welcomed her readers, took time to talk to each of us individually, and was genuinely friendly. A great way to build a readership for any author!

I recently read an interesting interview with the author in our Bergen County newspaper—Clark lives in Saddle River, New Jersey. She was asked what inspired her creativity. She answered that at one time she went to trials but is now too well-known to sit in a courtroom. She does, however, follow true crime stories and accounts of current trials; although she doesn’t copy them directly in her writing. At the age of ninety, she is still inquisitive.

When asked how many hours a day she spends writing, Clark responded that she aims for five hours each day. This is telling. If we learn anything from her response it’s that writers need to spend time on their craft, writing and rewriting. Clark says she edits and re-edits her own work constantly.

During the interview, Clark observed that she reads the emails she receives and appreciates that people are nice enough to write and be complimentary. She dictates  responses to her assistant believing that she owes her readers a thank you.

The interviewer asked a very important question: Is there one piece of advice you would give an aspiring writer? Clark’s answer was meaningful: Write. She goes on to explain that would-be writers shouldn’t make excuses not to write. If you really want to write then you have to find the time to do it. She suggests to older people that they write a memoir. Her own is what interests her grandchildren the most.

I admire and respect Mary Higgins Clark because she has created a successful style of mystery writing which strongly appeals to readers. She did not come from a privileged background. Her accomplishments are uniquely her own.

I know several writers who have been influenced by her style and technique. Thinking about it, I would say that my last romantic suspense mystery, THE INHERITANCE, shows her influence.

Your thoughts and comments most welcome.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Confusing Titles: Problem for Both Readers and Writers

Recently, I was looking at the selection of large print novels in my local library (yes, I have older eyes and appreciate large print). My gaze lingered on a novel entitled THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE. The title interested me. So I took the book out and read it.

It is a rather long, complex novel, and reminds me of THE THORNBIRDS in many respects--although this is apparently planned as the first in a trilogy. The novel begins in 1900 in West Cork, Ireland, and involves Kitty Deverill, an Anglo-Irish girl who falls in love with Jack O’Leary, a Catholic.
Their star-crossed love story ends in 1925 but will obviously continue in the second book in the series. The novel is engrossing and well-written, has many characters and much Irish history.

When I selected this book at the library, I thought I was choosing a book that was on the bestseller list. After I rechecked the list I discovered the novel I was thinking of was in fact entitled THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE set during World War II. I have no regrets that I read THE GIRL IN THE CASTLE and will request the other novel at a later time. However, the incident made me think of how confusing titles can be for readers and how difficult they are to choose for authors. And so I decided to share my thoughts.

I believe that a well-chosen title helps to sell a writer’s work. The first impression a book or story creates depends on several factors, one of them being the title. The title will set a certain tone or expectation. Whether an author writes literary work, genre fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poetry, etc., the title should fit the work. If it’s not appropriate, the reader may rightfully feel cheated.

I have a few suggestions for fellow writers that I believe might prove useful:

First suggestion is to do some initial research. For instance, visit Amazon and Google. Check out titles for the kind of work you’re writing to get a sense of what is appropriate.

Second suggestion, go to World Cataloging and type in your title under the keyword heading. See what pops up. If your title is used by many authors many times, you might want to try for something different. Ecclesiastes states that there is nothing new under the sun; however, you can do some variations that are unique. Also, keep in mind that titles are not copyrighted unless there’s a trade mark involved. You can, in fact, have the same title as another author, although if possible, it’s best to distinguish it in some way.

Next suggestion: consider if the chosen title can properly characterizes a theme of your book, story, poem, article via your word choice. Maybe it represents a reoccurring symbol in your book.

Another suggestion: keep your title short if possible. Modern titles are generally brief unless you’re writing an academic dissertation. Otherwise, a few words will suffice. For example, the title of one of my YA novels is STACY’S SONG. Just two words. Appropriate because it’s a coming of age/romance. Enough said.

Last suggestion: Try for a clever use of words which will make your title in some way memorable, interesting, intriguing, and/or provoke curiosity. Example: for the third novel in my Kim Reynolds mystery series I used the title THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Kim is an amateur detective and also an academic librarian. So the title fits the main character. The whimsical bit of rhyming hopefully makes the title stand out. In my romantic short story collection, BEYOND THE BO TREE, I used alliteration.

 Are there any titles that stand out for you? If so, which ones? Why? Comments welcome!