Friday, April 28, 2017


How Many Characters Are Too Many?

  



  
Will using too many make readers lose interest?


Some critics complained that my first novel had too many characters. Even a good friend, who loved the story, told me she had to take character notes as she was reading to keep all of them straight. So when I wrote my next book, I used a lot fewer characters to make sure that particular complaint wouldn’t happen again. Guess what? There were reviewers who said even that book had too many. Every reader has his own tolerance level.
How important is it for authors to worry about having too many characters?
I write and read suspense. As a reader, I have to agree that sometimes the use of large numbers of characters gets confusing. But it’s  hard to write good suspense or a good thriller with just a few characters. Remember The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy? Yikes! If there were ever books requiring the reader to take notes, those were the ones. A few of the names were even spelled very similarly. And that series was on the NYT bestseller list for years.
            So what makes a tolerable character list for readers? And why will readers accept dozens from some authors yet complain about too many from authors with 10 or twelve? Readers—we want to hear from you!
            Here are some ways to keep your reader abreast of your characters:
1.     Do keep characters’ names different. Avoid names that sound alike, look alike or even begin with the same letter.
2.     If possible, introduce characters one at a time, with scenes in between the introductions. There’s nothing harder to follow than getting hit with an entire team of law personnel, for example, at the same time.
3.     Try not to switch points-of-view within a scene. This is a basic “rule” of writing style, however, I’ve seen some famous writers breaking it when doing dialogue between two main characters. Unless you’re in their league, stay away from it. It’s difficult to do it effectively without confusing the reader.
4.     Find creative ways to remind the reader of who a character is and how he fits into the story when he hasn’t been mentioned for a while. Keep in mind every reader won’t be reading the book straight through and will need to have his or her memory refreshed.
5.     Always be sure each character is necessary to your story. Characters, like words, need to be cut if not relevant to the plot line.


Dear Readers,
I hope you are enjoying our early spring. The ice went out early here in NW Wisconsin and the temperature has been above normal. The boats are out on the lake, the trees are budding, and the eagles are circling. Summer will be here soon.
For the last three months I’ve been recovering from hip surgery and have been doing a lot of reading, which has inspired me to repeat this blog on numbers of characters in a book, so my apologies to anyone who remembers it. But, of course, most valuable advice bears repeating.
Have a wonderful week,
Marla


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

WHAT’S LUCK GOT TO DO WITH IT?

FIVE TRAITS OF LUCKY PEOPLE

 
  
March is the month of four-leaf clovers, little green leprechauns, green beer, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and we all hope to be showered with that famous luck of the Irish.
         The word luck, beaten and bastardized, gets tossed around like a day-old doughnut whenever Indie authors discuss success (or lack thereof) of their book sales.
         The first time I ran a KDP free book promotion, and placed my suspense eBook, She’s Not There, free on Amazon.com, I only had 8,202 downloads at the end of my two days. This result was disappointing compared to those of an friend, who had 26,000 for her book using the same promotion.
When I asked her about it, she said that her success was a matter of luck, due the fact that a popular eBook site noticed her promotion and highlighted it for their readers. I know firsthand that her success is not all due to luck. She is a devoted marketer and spends every available moment working to maintain her books’ sales momentum. Me, I’m addicted to things like playing bridge, reading, and watching soap operas; my marketing ethic is not nearly as fierce!
         Here is a universal truth:
Luck is more likely to happen to those who go after it.
No one wants to hear that. We would all prefer to cling to magical thinking: I’ll get rich when I win the lottery, the perfect man will come knocking at my door, a stroke of fate will send my book sales through the roof.
         It ain’t gonna happen!


Secrets of Lucky People

1.    They believe they will be successful. Research shows that if you believer you’ll succeed, your odds of hitting a lucky streak go up. There is no magic involved—expectancy is a real driver of results. Expecting something as opposed to wanting or hoping for it, will affect your decision–making and you’ll put in more of an effort than you normally would have. Find ways to stay positive and expect success—it works!

2.    They Notice What Others Miss.
a.    Lucky people are more open to random opportunities. They notice chance situations and act on them. They are flexible in their thinking, and it’s that relaxed, open attitude that allows them to see what others don’t.
b.    Keep your eyes open for opportunities—they’re out there!

3.    They Say “Yes”
a.    Lucky people do not remain passive. Instead, they seize opportunities as they come without endless second-guessing.
b.    When chance encounters occur, don’t over-think them, act on them!

4.    They Switch Things Up
a.     Lucky people increase their chances of getting opportunities by meeting new people and trying new things. Luck won’t come looking for you or call you on your Smartphone.
b.    The more you put yourself out there, and try new things, the more likely it is you will find luck.

5.    They Practice Bouncing Back 
a.     Lucky people don’t let one failure sidetrack their road to success. When you let a bad break get you down, you close the door on new situations that could lead to a lucky break. Closely linked to the first trait, expecting the best, bouncing back means you will have a greater chance of success with each failure, because you’ll be trying more often.
b.    Regard every bad break as an opportunity to find the right course for you!

Dear Readers,
         So many of us, myself included, wait for that magical break that will mean success for our writing. But magical thinking delays success. Practice these habits of lucky people and reap the rewards.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Marla
Note: I seldom repeat a blog, but this one on luck has been so popular that I repeat it every March when everyone's thinking bout the luck of the Irish.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't Turn Out the Lights - A review










When I was working on my first novel, one of my earliest bits of writing advice was never kill off or injure a pet because most people were pet lovers and doing so would put them off.

This advice came back to me in the very opening pages of Don’t Turn Out the Lights.

The prologue, which the author termed an Overture, was such an extreme example of this, that the scene haunted me for days. A man out in a severe snowstorm, aided by his devoted dog, comes across a cabin where (an extremely gory scene) he finds a mutilated woman’s body, still warm. He decides he has to take her corpse to his car and leaves the cabin with her body. Back in the storm he discovers that a pack of wolves are waiting to devour him. He believes that the only way to make it to the car with the body, is to sacrifice his dog to the wolves and he commands the dog to attack the wolf pack. If that isn’t bad enough, the author describes the sounds.

I would have stopped reading right then, but the author quickly covered up the scene by telling the reader it was a dream. Too late. The disgust was already stuck in my mind.

After that opening, the book became quite interesting, so I kept reading, foolishly, as it turned out. In a later scene, an intruder injures a woman’s dog so badly that his leg has a bone sticking out. Rather than take him to a vet, Christine calls her boyfriend, who she no longer trusts, and asks him to call his friend who is a vet. When he refuses and hangs up on her, she forgets all about the injured dog and goes to work the next day without pursuing the poor thing’s injuries. Hard to believe, since she lives in a big city, that there wouldn’t have been an emergency vet service available.

I rarely do reviews on books I don’t finish, but these two scenes took me so far out of the story—which could have been good without them—that I put the book aside for something better that didn’t describe cruelty to animals. Unfortunate, because otherwise the book had an interesting plot.

My advice to other readers is to avoid this book unless you don’t care for animals or can tolerate reading about their abuse

Saturday, November 12, 2016

THE KEPT WOMAN
BY
KARiN SLAUGHTER







Much as I enjoy Slaughter’s Will Trent, a detective with a complex past and an even more complex relationship with a woman from that past, I found this latest episode of Trent’s life frustrating to read.
            Trent’s new involvement with Sara Linton is crippled by Trent’s inability to let go of Angie, the woman from his childhood whom he both grew up with and married. A lot of series do this, keep the main character from moving on from an old relationship that forever pops up when he or she has a new person in their life. I think most of us readers get weary of ongoing triangles and would appreciate new obstacles for the main character.
            Not only does Slaughter bring Angie back in this novel, but also, despite several attempts on her life, she manages to survive to come back in the next one!
            As a whole, the book was rather long. It might have been easier to read if it had been tighter, especially a long episode of Angie’s life and an endless survival scene near the end.

            Despite those criticisms, The Kept Woman is an enjoyable suspense read, worthy of a weekend spent on the couch.



Dear Readers,
I am sure that many, if not most of Slaughter's fans will not mind Angie's perpetual returns to Will's life. I do love her writing, but found the above mentioned criticisms rather slowed down my enthusiasm as I read The Kept Woman. It could be just a personal like, but at some point in a series, I want the main character to move on and learn from past experience.
Have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving,
Marla

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Review of ISIDIOUS, by Catherine Coulter



INSIDIOUS

By

Catherine Coulter





Insidious runs two parallel plots. One is about a serial killer in LA who targets starlets. The other takes place in D. C. when a wealthy woman who is a family friend of Savich is poisoned, and every member of her immediate family becomes a suspect. The plot of the latter is so clich├ęd that we've all read something similar over and over again, beginning with Agatha Christie. I found myself skipping through those sections to get to the other plot, which was more interesting.
Overall, the book was disappointing. Coulter’s books should be described as romantic suspense since nearly everyone in the story ends up connected with someone else or is already in an idyllic relationship.
Coulter’s fans are loyal, and she definitely has a huge market following, based on how frequently her books hit the top ten on the NYT bestseller list. Insidious, however, drew a lot of unhappy reviews from her fans.

What authors can learn from Insidious:

1.    Be true to your genre. Don’t describe your book as something it is not.
2.    A dash of romance is enjoyable to most readers. If your book is not advertised as romance/thriller or romantic suspense, then keep it to a minimum.
3.    If you’re going to use a plot that’s been used a LOT, be sure you have a creative twist to it. You may not be accused of plagiarism but you will bore your readers to death with a hackneyed plot.


Dear Readers,
I hope you are enjoying a lovely autumn. Here in the upper Midwest we are having warmer-than-normal weather and mostly sunny days. Make time for reading, and remember to leave a review for every book that you read, even if you didn’t enjoy it. Authors appreciate each review!
Till next time,
Marla
Bottom of Form


Friday, September 16, 2016

I LET YOU GO

By
Clare Mackintosh



  
I Let You Go, was for me, a 5 Star read. Psychological suspense at its best, the story kept me eagerly reading until the end.
The book is divided into Part one and Part two. Part one, especially at the beginning, moved rather slow, but picked up quickly as the story moved on. The character of Jenna was extremely well developed and I found myself living through the story with her.
It is difficult to review the book without giving away the plot, but I’ll do my best:
Jacob, a 5 year old boy who lets go of his mother's hand for a brief moment is killed in a hit and run accident when he rushes across a dark street in the rain. His mother’s life is forever changed and she flees town immediately following the accident.
Two police officers are assigned to find the hit and run driver. After months of frustration with no new leads they are forced to move on to other crimes. On the anniversary of the accident, a surprising new lead brings it back to the forefront with an exciting twist.
I think my only real complaint was the final scene, which for me, went on too long. The ending, however, was excellent.

Three things Mackintosh did well that other authors can learn from:
1.     Make your main characters sympathetic. Show them in their best light often (especially in the beginning) to keep the reader interested in what happens to them. This doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws!

2.     The beginning is the most important part of your novel. Keep the reader engaged by making it exciting. Don’t overload it with back-story or over describe scenes.


3.     The final action scene. This may be a personal taste thing, but I really hate one that goes on too long, with a protagonist who seemingly keeps rising from the dead to attack over and over again like a cat with nine lives. Keep it believable.


Dear Readers,
I love reading. So much so, that at times my own writing slows down as a result. That said, I will never give up my favorite pastime! Hope your reading stack is close by, even if you are an author like me, or maybe, especially if you are an author like me. Stephen King’s number one point of advice to other authors is, “Read.”
So keep reading and don’t forget to add your reviews on Amazon. Authors love them.
Have a wonderful fall season,

Marla

Thursday, August 4, 2016


EXTREME PREY 


 By John Sandford 







     Having recently been critical of Sandford's novels—his early ones were my favorites—I was thrilled to find Extreme Prey to be a real page-turner!
     Lucas Davenport takes a job investigating a threat to a presidential candidate who is making her political rounds in Iowa before the caucuses begin. Davenport no longer beds every woman he meets, a fact I found refreshing, although, oddly enough, I saw a review that mentioned this fact made the book boring.
     Having spent a lot of years living in Iowa, I particularly enjoyed following the trail with Davenport as he visited so many small Iowa towns trying to find the culprits. The suspense carries the reader quickly through the book to a nail-biting final scene at the state fair. A great read, one I highly recommend to lovers of suspense.

Things authors can learn from Extreme Prey:

  1.  There is always a fresh approach to a long-term series. 
  2.  Always have a few characters that are sympathetic.  
  3.  Have interesting characters! The Purdy family was excellent, and even had one member who was a sympathetic drunk. 
  4.  Have the main character visit lots of different places searching for clues, and interview many  kinds of people. 
  5.  Keep the suspense and conflict at a steady pace, don’t slow it down with lengthy back-story or  family drama. In Extreme Prey, the reader sees just enough about Davenports own family to  understand where he’s coming from. 

Dear Readers,
    As a long-time Sandford reader, I was happy to be able to share a glowing review for one of his Prey series’ books. Glad I hung in there. Hope you will enjoy reading Extreme Prey. If you’ve discovered another suspense book we should know about, please comment.

Hope, you’re enjoying the summer,

 Marla

Friday, July 1, 2016

The 15th Affair by James Patterson

15th Affair


by James Patterson

The first half of this Women’s Murder Club story drew me in from page one and I had a hard time putting it down. When a disturbing double murder takes place in an exclusive San Francisco hotel, Lindsey Boxer is drawn into a case with far-reaching, even global implications. While investigating the murders on a surveillance tape from the hotel, Lindsey sees a man who looks remarkably like her husband and becomes personally drawn into the case.

Before I was halfway through the book, I lost interest in hearing about Lindsey’s devotion to her infant daughter: the detailed descriptions of the child’s every expression, diaper change, and mood, became extremely tiresome. Patterson claims to write this series for women. But as a woman and a mother, I don’t need a reminder of maternal love and the cuteness and demands of babies on every-other page. Enough is enough. I read suspense for the plot, not to read a detailed account of Lindsey's motherly devotion in every paragraph.

The reader need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that despite the many clues to the contrary, Lindsey’s husband would turn out to be on the side of the good guys. (How could he possibly be a villain when he had fathered such an adorable baby?)

We don’t see much of the Murder Club in this book. It was mainly all about Lindsey and her frustration with her husband’s (possible) betrayal and her dedication to a case that put her child constantly in the hands of an always-available sitter.

Yes, the second half of the 15th Affair was a letdown and the ending predictable.
Hard to recommend this one.

What other authors can learn from the 15th Affair:

1.     Readers do enjoy subplots that tell them about the main character’s family life, but it’s important to find a balance. Every chapter does not have to include family drama.
2.     Keep things unpredictable. The sitter shouldn’t always be available, the husband always perfect, and the plot does not have to always end up being part of a global conspiracy; unless, of course, your book falls into the thriller genre instead of suspense.
3.     If you’re writing a series that includes more than one main character as the Women’s Murder Club does, try to keep a balance of the characters in every book. Readers do complain when one is missing from the action.

Dear Readers,
I am definitely a Patterson fan, but not necessarily a fan of every one of his series. I don’t care for suspense books that go into too much detail about the personal lives of the characters unless their families are somehow involved in the plot. That is why I don’t read Patterson’s series about the New York detective who is a single parent with about 10 children. I quit reading them after one of the books had scenes in every chapter describing the children’s stomach flu and how much they threw up.
That is not to say that every reader feels the way I do. I’m sure there are many who enjoy a lot more family drama included in a mystery/suspense book than myself. But as authors, we would like to satisfy both group of readers, wouldn’t we?
Finding the right balance can be tricky, but worth the effort.

Have a wonderful summer and Fourth of July,

Marla

Friday, June 3, 2016

MOST WANTED by Lisa Scottoline, A review

MOST WANTED

BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

A review





I haven’t enjoyed all of Scottoline’s recent books. Many have leaned away from mystery, with at least half of the book going heavily into family drama. For me, a good suspense story does have some amount of personal-interest story lines for the protagonist, but I’m quickly bored by things like lengthy dialogue with their children and endless pages with extensively  detailed family background.
But in Most Wanted, Scottoline finds a perfect balance. I started reading this book on Memorial weekend and finished it in twenty-four hours. It’s that good.
In an absorbing and creative plot, Scottoline’s protagonist, Christine Nilsson, and her husband Marcus have just become pregnant using donor sperm. Then Christine sees a photo of a newly captured serial killer on the news and realizes he looks just like her donor. After the agency they used refuses to confirm or deny he is the same man, she takes it upon herself to discover if she’s made the right connection.
As she delves deep into uncovering the truth, Christine is forced to face her worst fears and make a painful decision.
The end of the book has a surprising twist, culminating in what most will find a satisfying ending, although I was somewhat disappointed at the progression of Christine’s husband’s personality.
Overall, Most Wanted is an amazing, five-star suspense read. Be sure to start reading it when you time to finish!


Dear Readers,


I hope you are enjoying these late spring days. Here in Wisconsin we are facing some warm-weather storms, and fortunately, most of the damage done by them has missed us and no one in our area has been injured.Stay safe wherever you live and enjoy the season.

Marla

PS - I hope the photo Isn't confusing. I was unable to duplicate the cover of Most Wanted.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jeffrey Deaver's THE STEEL KISS

REVIEW OF

THE STEEL KISS

By Jeffrey Deaver






Jeffrey Deaver is my most admired author. His stories are immediately captivating, and he writes suspense that is loaded with detail, managing to do it in such an interesting way that the reader enjoys every word, a truly unique trait.
The Steel Kiss is right up there with Deaver’s best, pulling the reader into the plot with a horrific and never-before-heard-of death: an escalator trap door opens at the top of the stairs, pulling a man on the stairs into the mechanism below. Amelia Sachs, who happens to be in the shopping mall at the time following a suspect, witnesses the accident. She drops what she’s doing and crawls into the innards of the escalator in an attempt to save him.
Lincoln Rhyme is as interesting as ever, even working independently of the police. He gets involved in the escalator death when he forms an alliance with an attorney attempting to help out the man’s widow by recouping a death benefit for her from whoever is responsible for the accident that killed her husband.
The plot moves on from there at a rapid and detailed pace, introducing a new character, Juliette Archer, in a way that makes her immediately interesting and enjoyable to the reader.
The author concludes with a superb and memorable ending.

Kudos to Deaver on this super suspense read.

Dear Readers,
As I write this, I’m working on the finishing stages of my own suspense novel, Promise of Malice, the third in my Detective Kendall Halsrud series. I feel so inferior as I absorb Deaver’s words that I nearly want to stop writing! 
But then I remember how many different writing styles I read and enjoy, reminding me that there is room for everyone’s writing style, even mine. Deaver has a style totally different from James Patterson, for example, and yet both have wide, appreciative audiences, leaving plenty of room in between for the rest of us striving authors.
Till next time, take care and have a wonderful May,
Marla

Monday, April 4, 2016

Are you an AMAZON & KDP basher?

Are you an AMAZON & KDP basher?



  
Every day I receive dozens of emails from sites for authors, and every day, somewhere on the list is a recurring theme—complaints about Amazon. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one that had something good to say about any of Amazon’s practices regarding things for writers.
     Are you among the many authors who constantly criticize KDP and take your books out every time Amazon does something that you don’t approve of?
     It’s important to take a step back and examine the big picture here—Amazon’s KDP does authors a huge service.
     Don’t think so?
     Then take an even further step back and think about what life would be like without Amazon's assistance. Realistically, chances of getting your work published the traditional way, through an agent and then a publishing house, are similar to your odds of winning your state lottery.
     And even if you do manage to get a publisher to pick up your work, then guess what? The publisher expects authors to do their own marketing. Now, you’re making considerably smaller royalties, while doing the same amount of endless marketing chores.
     Maybe this phenomenon of complaining is a natural thing; Amazon is, after all, our employer, and everyone loves to complain about their employer. Unlike a traditional employer though, there are no touch-bases, no monthly or even annual dialogue to discuss how the employer/employee relationship is going. Admittedly, our Amazon employer is not easy to communicate with.
     KDP does answer email questions, although it takes one to two days to get an answer. Their answers are canned, and are usually not specific enough for your problem unless you happen to ask just the right question. If it were up to me—and I know many of you will violently disagree—I’d be in favor of Amazon charging authors a minimal fee for publishing in order for them to pay for an easy-to-access support system.
     Most of us have a love & hate attitude toward Mother Amazon.
Where is the love?

Ten things to love about Amazon and KDP
1.     Any writer can publish his/her eBook on Amazon in only 2 days.
2.     There are now millions of Kindle owners all over the world buying eBooks.
3.     Amazon has made it easy now for people with other digital readers to download AZ products.
4.     An author can get as much as a 70%  royalty from his/her book sales.
5.     KDP pays authors for eBooks lent to Prime members by paying for pages read.
6.     Profits are deposited directly into an author’s bank account.
7.     Amazon sells eBooks to a worldwide market and shares the profit.
8.     KDP’s Select program offers authors free days to help promote their books and many other options for promotion.
9.     Amazon is continually adding new ways for authors to market their writing.
10. Author profile pages give writers a platform for all their books, their trailers, their blogs, and other information they want to supply to their readers.

My personal experiences with publishing on AZ have been over a period of five years. I’ve seen their promotion choices go from offering free days to many different options. Formatting instructions for uploading books are improved regularly, making the publishing process simpler.
      For an indie author Amazon and KDP remain—the best game in town.

Dear Readers,

You’re probably wondering if I ever add my complaints about Amazon to the long list that others whine about daily. Like any employee, yes, I have my criticisms. 
Right now, I love the profits I’m receiving from their pages-read system of rewarding those who put their books into Amazon Prime. I write long books and people tend to read the entire thing, so pages-read has been a bonanza for me. I know that system most likely is not something that Amazon will use forever and when it’s changed, I'll probably complain. But I believe that Amazon wants to keep their authors happy and when it is changed, I trust that it will be to something equally profitable.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and successful spring,

Marla