December 27, 2011

Made It Moment: Leighton Gage

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:51 am

A Vine In The Blood

It is a particular pleasure of mine when I can present an author who has meant a great deal to me as both reader and writer. Leighton Gage has a generous writer’s heart, and he is also a gifted author. I’ve referred in interviews of my own to Leighton’s sense of place, which brings the heated, tempestuous forces of his current homeland of Brazil to life. Today I am thrilled to be celebrating the release of Leighton’s fifth Mario Silva novel by sharing his Made It Moment. I hope you will enjoy it, and also discover Leighton’s work or top off your collection of his series with this latest. If you like fiction that exposes you to new worlds–in all their raw reality–these novels will deliver thrills.

Leighton Gage

My Made It Moment was supposed to be at 9:00 AM, EST, on Tuesday, the 27th of December, 2011.

9:00 AM, because that’s when bookstores on the east coast of North America start opening their doors.

And the 27th of December, because that’s the official launch date of my fifth book, A Vine in the Blood.

Where did I get a weird idea like that?

Bear with me; I’ll tell you.

A little over a decade ago, when I sat down to pound-out my first novel, conventional wisdom had it that you couldn’t be said to have “made it” if you’d only published one.

If you aspired to be an author who lived from your earnings, you had to have at least five books in print, four to generate money on your backlist and one to pay back your advance.

Five, my friends, was the magic number.

Don’t do that, please: don’t bring up Harper Lee. I know she’s still living, more than fifty years on, from that splendid first-and-only of hers. But for us mere mortals, literary success and continuity go hand-in-hand.

Five years after setting forth on the rocky road, I’d paid my dues. I’d committed my two “learning books” to the scrap heap; I’d found an agent and a publisher; I’d successfully survived editing, the corrections of my galleys and the joy of my first launch.

There I was, like Moses on the mountaintop, looking down on the Promised Land of Literary Success.

Just four more to go, I thought.

But then, on the nineteenth of November, 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle.

And the goalposts shifted.

Thousands of authors discovered they could do an end-run around the “gatekeepers” and offer their books for rock-bottom prices.

And they did.

Publishers, many of them working to a suddenly outmoded model, started getting squeezed.

Print runs shrank. Mass market paperbacks took a hit from which they’ll never recover. Hard cover sales tanked.

The vested interests tried to hold back the digital tide by selling eBooks books at paper prices.

Customers revolted.

The market fragmented.

Advances plummeted. (“The new $50,000 is $5,000,” one publisher was heard to say.)

And a number of authors with six, seven, eight published works to their credit started getting dropped by their publishers.

Not me.

Soho Crime just bought my sixth book. A short time ago, my second was published in Finland, and my third in the Netherlands. France and Italy will publish in the spring. Two other European markets are currently under negotiation.

So I really can’t complain.

But am I comfortable?

No, I’m not.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in this Brave New World of publishing, ten books is the new five.

God willing, my tenth book will go on sale, in (the remaining) bookstores and across the internet, in December of 2016.

By that time, Brazil will have hosted the World Cup (in 2014) and the Olympics (in 2016), both events likely to heighten interest in Brazil and things Brazilian – like my books.

And maybe, just maybe, that will be my Made It Moment.

Or maybe not.

Because, by then, fifteen books may well have become the new ten.

Leighton Gage writes the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, crime novels set in Brazil. His work has been praised by the New York Times, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus and a variety of other publications as well as by numerous online reviewers. You can visit him on the web at

December 24, 2011

Guest Post: Michael Pilla

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:04 pm

For all the wonderful readers of Suspense Your Disbelief! Whichever holiday you celebrate–or if you celebrate no holiday at all–please accept this laugh out loud funny take on a classic poem by the talented Michael Pilla as my gift at year’s end to you all. I am so grateful for each and every reader who stops by the blog, those who comment and contribute to some of the amazing conversations that have gone on, and of course, every author, writer, and reader who has graced us with a guest post. I hope that 2012 brings many wonderful things into all of your lives, and many more wonderful days on the blog. Happy New Year!

Michael Pilla

Twas the Tweet before Christmas

And all through the ‘net, there were last minute specials,

And shopping time yet!

Photos were sent to the cloud with great care

So family and friends would be able to share.

The usual gadgets, some small and some large

Were all neatly plugged in for their overnight charge.

And Mom on her iPad and me on my Mac

Were Skype-ing our friends while having a snack.

When then our connection was lost to the router,

I yanked off my earbuds to see what was the matter.

A tingling I felt, from my head to my toes

Spying a red mini cooper — festooned with logos!

Flying faster than video on 1080p

The driver called out his sponsors, as clear as can be…

Now ebay, now Apple, now Am’zon and Zappos

On Google, on Priceline, on Fedex and Fios.

I knew in a moment, without any pause

It was the new and improved Santa —”Cyber Clause”.

Struck speechless was I, much like a mime

But I had to go greet him and grab some face time.

His clothes were Armani, to give him his due

He looked healthy and rested, and much slimmer too.

No more with the sleigh, or toys in the sack

That was old Clause, with the bad back.

“I’m the Mayor of Christmas,” he chortled with glee,

As he checked in with FourSquare, before speaking to me

“With gadgets, and cards”, he briefly explained

“My job’s become easier, no need to strain

I’ve streamlined my workshop, there’s much less to do

Put a factory in China, reindeers in a zoo.

I layed off some elves, I now work part time —

Since I developed an app to keep kiddies in line.

No more written lists of those naughty and nice,

I get real time updates, don’t have to check twice.”

He dropped off some gifts that were both pretty and small

And sucked down the Red Bull I left in the hall.

Then quick as a wink he dashed out to his car,

It started right up, and was bright as star.

He texted my Droid as he drove out of sight —

“Like me on Facebook” and have a good night!

As a creative director, internet marketer, graphic designer, illustrator and entrepreneur, Michael Pilla has built his career achieving business objectives through the targeted use of art and technology for clients in the arts, entertainment. real estate, professional services and small business.

Michael has served as an Associate Creative Director for the Sponsorship Group at the, where he created interactive advertising for Fortune 100 companies including Clinique, CompUSA, Ford, Fuji Film, and PNC Bank. He next brought his talents to ModemMedia, working on IBM, GE, and the development of IBOL (Investment Bankers Online) portal for USB Warburg.

A sought-after speaker on the power of Internet marketing, Michael has spoken at events for the Westchester Business Council, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Arts and Business Council of New York and Yonkers Partners in Education. He has also taught internet and design courses at Pratt Institute, Pace University and Mercy College.

December 20, 2011

On Butter and Horse & Buggies: An Ode to Reading

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:53 pm

Let me say right at the outset that I am thrilled when I hear that more people are reading in 2011 than in 2009, thanks in large part to e readers. Or that other folks are avoiding shin splints by not having to lug bagfuls of books on the plane. Or even that person X just finds reading on her device a better experience than flipping pages ever was.

If you’re reading, that’s great, and let’s talk story–not medium.

I am a live and let live kind of person. I believe that there are shades of gray and nuance to most things, and that wisdom is seldom found at the poles. It does take all kinds, and I’m so glad for all the kinds there are.

Ahem. All that said.

I love books. And bookstores as most of you know. I believe there are unique pleasures to be found with both of these things. A world without print books and bookstores would for me be a tiny apocalypse.

Maybe a not so tiny one.

I’m happy if people love their Kindles, but I’m less happy when they refer to the alternative as DTBs (I happen to think the jury is still out on whether cutting down trees/fossil fuel-heavy distribution is less green than making ever updateable battery-dependent electronic devices) or when people make the claim that 30 years from now books will be to e readers as horse & buggies were to cars in 1930.

Maybe that will turn out to be so [shrieking as I glimpse the apocalypse]. I don’t claim to have any great predictive powers.

But maybe alongside the convenience, cost-saving, and instantaneous benefits of e readers, people will rediscover a deep and abiding love for the medium of page turning and paper-sniffing and the eye-bending and tactile experience that a truly gorgeous cover can deliver.

Is the horse and buggy the right analogy?

Let me present another one.

In the 1950s we were moving into a whole new era of food. Better living through chemistry. (As a tangent, remember ChemLawn? Can you imagine a world where the pairing of those two words made the customer say, I want to pour me some of that on my lawn?) People, propelled in no small part by the margarine council or the transfats council or whatever it was, started proponing the health benefits of margarine over butter.

Flash forward half a century and we’re just beginning to understand that cholesterol actually doesn’t get lower when we eat saturated soybean oil–and even that cholesterol as we measure it today is only arguably responsible for heart disease. (Give it 10 more years. You’ll see).

But I’m not suggesting people will figure out that e readers actually cause cancer. Remember? I’m happy to have both, or some future, as yet unknown alternative.

What I’m trying to say is that even when margarine appeared to be coming in strong, people still ate butter. We didn’t have to kill all the cows. The butter could be churned and sold to those who wanted it, and when the slow food movement began, we could be offered even more varietals of butter than we once ever conceived of.

Maybe there will be a slow reading movement one day.

Or maybe we can all just figure out that there’s room for both camps and what we find in either is a great love of story.

I take that horse and buggy analogy and raise it…one pat of butter.

December 14, 2011

On Editors & Editing: a Call to Arms for Indie Authors

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:57 pm

This is how my Thanksgiving holiday was spent.


Oh, don’t get me wrong, I had turkey. And all the fixings, thanks to my giving and devoted mother, who was willing to do almost all of the cooking, while I hunkered down in the basement of my childhood home and…edited.

For about twelve hours a day through the holiday and for another two weeks after that.

Let me say at the outset that although this was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done on anything fiction, I was grateful for every second of bleeding, hair-pulling work. Grateful to have a book coming out. Grateful to have the time to make it better. Grateful to have an editor smart enough to know that the book needed more editing.

I’m one of those writers who feels insanely lucky to get to be doing this all day, not quite for a living yet, but hey, my book isn’t even out. I liken writing to the combined joy of summer vacation/Christmas morning/falling in love/finding out you’re having a baby (when you want to be). I flipping love it.

I did not love this. Steam poured from my ears, blood seeped from my pores. But my editor has on her list–I’ve been trying to count–maybe 7 NYT-bestselling and award-winning authors? The woman is brilliant. If she says my book needs work, then my book needs work.

During those times when I was staggering around, pulling out my hair, I started thinking.

I started thinking about good friends of mine, like indie political thriller author Steve Piacente, who has recently raised on his blog the issue of traditional media not reviewing self-published manuscripts.

I started thinking about an author on a FB group I’m part of who cautioned indie authors from uploading their early drafts.

And I thought about screenwriting guru Richard Walter, who said that the #1 mistake he sees writers making is submitting their work too soon.

I came to some tough realizations about myself. For one thing, I realized that if I didn’t have an editor of this caliber telling me my book needed more work, then I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s too hard. The closer a book comes to good, the harder it is to go back and pick it apart. (One editor/writer friend likened it to un-weaving cashmere. Or solving the Rubik’s Cube when you’re only one square away). Whichever simile you prefer, I know I would’ve called my book satisfactory at draft 19. Or 10.

I have many indie author friends, and I know how spectacular their books can be. Many write books whose level I aspire to. I want these books to attract the attention they deserve.

One thing I believe is holding that attention back is the flood of books which aren’t at the same level. Books that didn’t get revised twenty times–or even twice. And I think what is called for is a system to separate the wheat from the chaff, the serious indie writers who labor over their work–as Rick Murcer, Karen McQuestion, or Thomas Knight did, as I did in that basement on Thanksgiving–from those who have uploaded a volume in a weekend.

I don’t know what such a system would entail. An independent rating schematic? Reviews by a governing body that oversees independent authors? Some kind of algorithm, a Good Housekeeping-type seal of Approval? Reader opinions, averaged out over a massive group, such as the Amazon Vine?

The challenge will be to avoid replacing one form of gatekeeper with another–to retain what is precious in the indie world, which is democratic access to publication.

But books need to go through many drafts, and they need hard eyes upon them, eyes that will not blink before the final i is dotted. I know that now. And so does every author who’s sweating–and bleeding–out there to make sure her work is the best it can be.

Books like that deserve reviews and recognition and attention.

What kind of system can be put in place to ensure that the best of the best get that attention–no matter how they come to be in readers’ hands?

December 6, 2011

Guest Post: Terry Odell

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:07 am

Finding Sarah

I’m very happy to welcome author Terry ODell back to the blog. Terry also wrote one of the first Made It Moments. Today she writes about the genre boxes that the publishing world tends to think in terms of–and her liberating experience with indie publishing.

Terry Odell

When I decided to move from fan fiction to see if I could write a totally original novel (although there’s really no such thing, is there?), I began a story in my preferred genre, mystery. However, my daughters pointed out that it was a romance. Since I’d never read a romance, I didn’t understand why they thought I was writing one.

A simple sentence triggered their reaction – and this was in chapter 1, so it’s not like they’d had a lot on which to base their decision. “She looked up into those deep brown eyes again, glimpsing flecks of hazel this time.”

So, apparently I was writing a romance. I knew virtually nothing about the genre and its reader expectations (I refuse to use the terms ‘rules’ or ‘formula’ because they make things sound restrictive.) Aren’t all genres basically following rules and formulas to meet what readers want? The detective solves the crime, the hero and heroine get their HEA, or someone fixes the hole in the space-time continuum and saves the universe.

At any rate, since I had no box to fit my genre-expectations in, I wrote what resonated with me when I read any book. The characters. And that’s really what the book was about. A cop, always following the law. An independent woman determined to make her business succeed on her own.

To me, that was my box. I approached it from those basic conflicts. How could I push the cop to consider crossing his self-imposed line? How could I push the heroine into accepting help from anyone? FINDING SARAH became a story about a cop who met a woman when he responded to a crime. And about a woman who learned to understand that accepting help from someone didn’t violate her own rules of independence.

The world of publishing created a box called “Romantic Suspense” which includes every possible sub-genre of mystery, from cozy to thriller, as long as it has a romance at its heart. But that term “suspense” creates its own set of reader expectations. I’ve never thought of my books as romantic suspense. Rather, I think of them as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Because that’s what I like to read.

Although my box was a story of a relationship, publishers had even more little boxes. Was it a crime? Where was the dead body? Was it a romance? How dare I have another man show up BEFORE the hero? Was it suspense? Where was the villain’s point of view? Was it a mystery? Why was it easy to figure out who the bad guy was?

Because my box wasn’t their box. The story, to me, wasn’t about who the bad guy was. That was easy enough to see. It wasn’t even about solving the crime, which ended up being secondary. The story was having a by-the-book cop have a darn good idea who the bad guy was, but NOT be able to do anything because to do so would have meant crossing a legal line. And, of course, I needed to push him across from the white into the gray, and maybe edge into the black just a smidge. (Since it WAS a romance, he had to keep some of those reader expectations for a hero, after all).

I did find a publisher who looked outside of the usual boxes. The book met with good reviews, and was a finalist in several contests. But it didn’t sell particularly well, because marketing departments only work within the restrictions of their own boxes.

Now, with the surge in indie publishing, I’ve regained the rights, updated and polished the book, and republished it myself. Because readers don’t really care about boxes if they like the story and the characters.

(And, because I never did get into that “you can’t do that” box, I wrote an actual sequel to the book, HIDDEN FIRE, featuring the same hero and heroine, which almost never happens in romance novels. I regained the rights and published that one myself, too.)

I did manage to write a straight mystery novel. Again, publishers were confused as to whether it was a police procedural, because the main protagonist was a cop, or a cozy, because the other two main characters aren’t cops but are still trying to solve the mystery. They said the writing was strong, but they wouldn’t know how to market it. I opted to indie publish this one as well. Look for DEADLY SECRETS on my website.

Terry Odell was born in Los Angeles and after living over 3 decades in Florida, now makes her home in Colorado. An avid reader (her parents tell everyone they had to move from their first home because she finished the local library), she always wanted to “fix” stories so the characters did what she wanted.  She is an active member of the Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America.

For readers of this blog, Terry is offering a special promotion. Email Terry at terry (at) terryodell (dot) com with the words ‘Blog Offer’ in the subject line for details.

December 5, 2011

Made It Moment: C.V. Smith

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:26 am

Nettie Parker's Background

When Cindy Smith and I began talking online, I asked her, as I do many authors, if she’d be interested in contributing a Made It Moment to my blog. And, like many authors, Cindy said modest words to the effect of, “I can’t, I haven’t made it yet.” This led to a conversation about how possible it is to ‘make it’ in this brave new world of legitimate indie publishing, small presses cropping up, and traditional ones being questioned. Is it easier to succeed now? Or harder than ever? Please read Cindy’s thoughts, and take a gander at the links posted after, to take part in this very timely discussion. I would love to hear your perspectives in the comments and/or in a Moment of your own!

C.V. Smith

To be quite honest, I joined the Author Central group right when it started up.  As I religiously followed it daily, I quickly got the sense of who some of the ‘bigger fish’ in the pond were.  It didn’t take too long for Jenny Milchman’s name to repeatedly keep popping up.  I checked out her site and had to admit that it was impressive.  As I am one of the ‘little fish’ in the pond due to my lack of technological savvy, I decided that maybe latching onto her coattails with my book might be a smart move.  When I contacted her about doing so, she answered quickly and with a warm response, but there was a potential problem:  her ‘Made it Moment’ was supposed to be about how I felt as a success.  “The truth of the matter,” I responded, “is that I don’t feel like a success.  Everyone writes a book, and anyone can publish their book with a p.o.d. publisher, so how does this make me more successful than anyone else who’s been doing this as diligently as I have for the past 9 months (my second try at launching the book) and has had little sales to show for it?”

I thought my answer would throw her, but she emailed back that maybe this was a good point to bring up for discussion.  I think most authors will agree with me when I say that about 30% of the struggle is writing the book, and that the remaining 70% is marketing and promoting it.  Currently, I wish I had majored in business or advertising instead of English; it may have helped me a great deal more!  Yes, I can say that thanks to my study of literature and grammar, my book is well-written in the areas of content, style and syntax, some things I know are lacking in many self-published books.  But that doesn’t help me sell any more of my books than ones that are not well-written.  And even if my book were to be picked up by an agent or traditional publisher and published, the responsibility of promoting and advertising it still falls upon my shoulders.  It seems that there are some contradictions here:  why would a publisher want to leave the promotion of what is now theirs  in an unsuspecting author’s hands to publicize?  I’m an author, not an advertising mogul!  I didn’t get a degree in marketing!  They have made an investment in the potential of my book:  isn’t it in their best interest to advertise, promote and market it to the best of their ability?  After all, they not only have much greater experience in this than I, but also more monetary funds!

Yes, I realize that the present state of America’s economy has hurt them, and so have the massive amounts of e-books in the book world, but both of those things have hurt authors, too!  I’m sorry to be so depressing, but when I read articles which state: “proof-readers for many publishers are diminishing”, “don’t expect your book to find itself on bookstore shelves”, and “most agents have an aversion to self-published books”, I can only conclude that ever getting published, other than self-published, is just a matter of pure chance, and the odds are not in the novice writer’s favor.  Millions of books and e-books are submitted for publication every year, and yet bookstores, large and small, are going out of business.  Most I have found will not allow an author to do a book-singing or author presentation.  One author wrote down in detail all the specific steps she followed in getting her book published conventionally, even listing dates, costs, etc.  She finished her article by saying, “If I did the exact same things today, with the same book and the same contacts, I’m not sure it would achieve publication.”  And so, coming ‘round the mulberry bush’ again, I wonder if there really is that much of a difference between traditional and self-publishing.  Why do I continue to work so hard at it then?  I guess I just don’t know what else to do.

The idea for Nettie Parker’s Backyard came to me in a very vivid dream, and whereas most of my dreams go unremembered, this one was definitely unique.  My research took me down some fascinating avenues as I discovered such things as the Gullah language in the Sea Islands, the Kindertransport, sand fly fever, and the role African-American soldiers played in WWII.  Nettie’s character was based on that of my granddaughters; thus, some of her best virtues are those of trust, love, and friendship.

I have been a teacher and para-educator for over 30 years, most of which were spent in classrooms.  The book is written for kids ages 9-13, the time when youth questions everything.  Adolescence is starting and many children feel insecure about themselves, their relationships with peers, or even their own families and home life.  These insecurities manifest themselves in various behaviors; some children withdraw into themselves, while some overcompensate for their fears by bullying others.  I wrote this novel hoping to illustrate to children that bullying and intolerance toward race, religion, or the physically challenged have no place in our world.  I believe that my book inspires readers to see that what matters is the “core” of each person, and that acceptance of others and their differences truly means enriching themselves.

Related links:

The Self-Publishing Hall of Fame

A New Self-Publishing Success Story

When Anyone Can be a Published Author

Why Not to Self-Publish

Blogger’s note: As I’ve written elsewhere, on our recent cross-country trip I had a different experience than Cindy has. We saw bookstores opening and reopening; flagship stores starting up new branches. For excellent tips on how to work with bookstores to set up author events, please discover mystery author Mark Stevens and this excellent blog post.

December 3, 2011

Best. TYCBD. Ever.

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:13 pm

StoryOK, I know it was only the second one. But when I stood at the back of my hometown Watchung booksellers, and saw the children’s room packed wall-to-wall, I felt like I was part of something…magic. The enthusiasm of the storyteller who was reading winter-themed stories was magnetic. “All around the country, kids are going into bookstores today!” she said. “And I’m so happy you all came here to be with us.”

I was, too.

At last count, over 255 bookstores participated in Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day today. They’re from all 50 states and four Canadian provinces. Plus England and Australia. And 7000 people (!) visited the website. A comment on a blog asked if Malaysia should get involved. Please do! Wow–what if the Day could be a global phenomenon??

Most of you probably know that I am a big-time print book lover. In fact, it wouldn’t be offensive to call me a Luddite, so non-gadget-y am I. I don’t have a cell phone. The other day I actually went into a store and bought floppy disks for the non-internet-enabled machine I write novels on. (That’s right. No USB port either. )

But I certainly don’t begrudge any e reader lover his device. If you love yours, that’s great–variety is the spice of life. And cutting down on printed textbooks, say, which require new editions before the ink is hardly dry on the first, is certainly a great application of the technology. I even hear there are some folks who prefer a Nook to lugging fifty pounds of books on an airplane. Go figure.

But from the groundswell behind TYCBD it seems that we haven’t heard as much from the people who cherish bookstores and want to pass on to kids a place that brings back fond recollections and current pleasures. That as technology continues to surge forward, there’s a hefty slice of people who like tactile, olfactory pages, human interaction, and the variety inherent in every bookstore across this great country of ours. That’s what TYCBD is all about.

And I have another goal for next year’s Day.

Gingerbread BabyI would like to be able to offer small grants to children, or possibly classes, who cannot experience the joy of a bookstore for financial or logistical reasons. The grants would include a gift card from a participating bookstore, transportation to that store, and lunch out. I think that this kind of Day could make a pivotal difference in a child’s life–something that says, You are special, and here’s a special place to find out more about yourself, and put yourself back into.

If anyone is interested in getting involved with this next chapter of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, please come find me on FB or email me or leave a comment right here. And I do hope your Day today included a treasure or two!

Thank you, everybody, who has made this holiday what it is. Happy Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day!

Powered by WordPress