January 11, 2012

Guest Post: Lois Winston

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:21 am

Contest Update: Congratulations to reader Lynn Demsky who won an e copy of DEATH BY KILLER MOP DOLL! Thanks to all of you for entering, and here’s to many more giveaways to come!

Death By Killer Mop Doll

Today’s guest post (please welcome back to the blog the incomparable Lois Winston) reminds me of a Billy Joel song I frequently find myself humming:

But if I go cold
I won’t get sold
I’ll get put in the back
In the discount rack
Like another can of beans.

Have a listen, and then read on below to see what Lois says about the gig she and all authors must play when their books come out. Is this role at odds with being a writer? Does it work for some authors and not others? Or is the act of writing a book, to paraphrase Stephen King, an unclosed circle and all the readings and signings and tweeting and blogging a way of reaching the only people who can close it–readers like the good folks who stop by here? Please weigh in on Lois’ lively discussion topic!

Lois Winston

National Book Blitz Month
by Lois Winston

Did you know that January is National Book Blitz Month? I didn’t. But apparently the month-long observance was created by a public relations executive “to encourage authors to promote their own books” and “focus attention on improving the relationships between authors and the media in order to create a best-selling book.”

Huh? As I sit here scratching my head, I have to wonder how much that public relations executive knows about the world of publishing. Or maybe the observance was first established many years ago, back in the golden years of publishing when all an author had to do was write great books and her publisher took care of everything else. A Google search turned up very little information on the subject of National Book Blitz Month, and there doesn’t seem to be a National Book Blitz Month website.

In today’s publishing reality, authors are expected to pound the pavement both literally and cyberly, promoting their books. Unless you’re a bestselling author (and sometimes not even then), your publisher will devote very little effort and dollars to tell the world about you and your book. It’s mostly up to you.

So we authors, the majority of us who are shy by nature and prefer to hole up in our writer caves, are forced to take a deep breath, pull up our big girl pants, and become a sales force of one. We book talks and signings and jump on the social network bandwagon. Whether we want to or not. We have no idea if any of it will help sell our books, but if we don’t get the word out about those books, there’s a good chance we won’t sell many of them. And if we don’t sell many books, chances are, we won’t be offered another contract to write more books.

All I want to do is write!I don’t know an author who hasn’t uttered that lament from time to time. But the truth is, we have to do a lot more than just write. And that’s why I’m visiting Suspense Your Disbelief today (thanks for inviting me, Jenny!) In celebration of National Book Blitz Month and the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I’m on a month-long blog tour.

So whether you’re a reader or a writer, tell me how you feel about author promotion. Post a comment, and you could win one of 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop DollI’m giving away as part of my blog tour this month. The full tour schedule can be found at my website, http://www.loiswinston.com, and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. In addition, I’m giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll.

Also, for anyone attending The American Library Association’s Mid-Winter conference January 20-24 in Dallas, Midnight Ink will be raffling off the hand-crafted mop doll shown in the photo during the opening reception Friday evening. Register for the drawing at the Midnight Ink booth #1459.

Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt here. Visit Lois at her website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

January 10, 2012

Made It Moment: Nancy Bilyeau

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:50 am
Contest Update: Congratulations to reader SavvyBlue who won a signed, hardcover copy of Nancy’s debut novel THE CROWN! Thank you all for entering, and here’s to many more giveaways to come!

The Crown

There’s little I like better than a release day, and I am so glad Nancy Bilyeau decided to celebrate hers here. For one thing, Nancy’s debut novel is a historical mystery, and I know from your emails and comments that there are many fans of the genre. For another, I will be at Nancy’s first ever book signing at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side Thursday night. If you live in the area, and would like to come out, it’s a chance to say hello to a Made It Moment-er! But if you can’t come, don’t despair. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Nancy’s new historical thriller. Good luck to all, and congratulations, Nancy, on this exciting day!

Nancy Bilyeau

When I opened the padded envelope sent by my editor and pulled from it my hardcover book, that was a moment. I ran my hands across the smooth cover, awestruck that this ravishing gold-and-burgundy book had MY name on it.

My journey to publishing a novel is a long one, though I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old. My third grade teacher liked a report I wrote on our field trip so much that she made a sign saying, “Have you heard of Nancy Bilyeau, the famous writer?” and hung it on the wall. I was a rabid bookworm, with a special love for historical fiction and mysteries. I even announced to a high school teacher that I wanted to write novels.

But at the University of Michigan I swerved toward journalism. I became a reporter and then managing editor of The Michigan Daily newspaper. I took classes in English Literature, but reading—and admiring—F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Elliott didn’t make me think I was on the path of becoming a novelist myself. Fiction aspirations moved into a past tense love, like horses.

Out of college I took a job at a tiny Florida newspaper, editing obits and tide charts and “Neighbor of the Week.” After I moved north, I plunged into the magazine business. All my energy went into moving up the ranks at places like Rolling Stone and Good Housekeeping. I worked long hours—and New York City was so expensive, I took freelance work on the side to help pay the rent. After I married and had two children there wasn’t a moment to breathe, much less create fiction.

But encouraged by my husband, I climbed the stairs to the apartment of a writer named Rosemarie Santini who led a fiction workshop every Monday night. I announced I loved English history and wanted to write something set in the 16th century—a mystery perhaps. My first pages were not good. But I kept at it. Later I took online classes at Gotham Writers Workshop. I decided to make my story a thriller, and loved nothing more than losing myself in research.

Time was the problem. I used vacations to work on my book; on weekends I stole a couple of hours here and there and toted my laptop to Starbucks. It wasn’t enough, though, and I began getting up at 5 a.m. and writing until I had to wake up the kids at 7 a.m. By this time I’d been working on my novel for five years. I was desperate to finish it, but didn’t have any idea if I could get an agent or sell my book. I also felt torn. My son has special needs and I worried that the last thing I should be doing was devoting energy to my own creative pursuits. What kind of mother stumbled around with her head in Tudor England?

I’d gone so far, and my dreams of being published were so fierce, I determined I just had to finish this book. I decided to set my birthday, June 16, 2010, as the deadline. I told my husband, “I won’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I don’t do this.” I was really scared that it would all be for nothing. I kept reminding myself, “Nobody asked you to write this!”

The first two agents I queried said no. But the third said yes. He loved my manuscript—historical thrillers are his thing, with Tudor England a favorite setting—and sold it in an auction to Touchstone/Simon&Schuster.

Eighteen months later, The Crown has gone on sale. Sometimes I can’t believe it, that all the doubts in my head turned out to be wrong. It definitely makes all those dark 5 a.m. writing sessions very much worth it!

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Most recently she served as deputy editor at InStyle magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage with Page International Screenwriting Awards and Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown is her first novel.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

January 8, 2012

Cyber Book Sale!

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 11:05 am

Lorie Ham is the editor of the cool Kings River Life Magazine and an avid reader. To offset some tough times in her life, she is selling a few of her books. Since there’s nothing I love better than books for sale, I thought Suspense Your Disbelief could set up a cyber table. I hope you all find some finds!

For details, please see below. If you are interested, email Lorie at mysteryrat@gmail.com

Shipping not included. Deals can be made if you purchase several books:

  1. Unnatural Selection by Aaron Elkins-hardback pulling away from the spine-$2
  2. Little Tiny Teeth by Aaron Elkins-hardback good condition almost new-$5
  3. The Miracle At Speedy Motors-No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith-hardback-some tear on one corner of dustjacket-$3
  4. Tea Time For The Traditionally Built-same series-hardback good condition-$5
  5. The Double Comfort Safari Club-same series-hardback good condition-$5
  6. The Tears of the Giraffe-same series paperback good condition-$4
  7. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective-same series-paperback some water damage-$2
  8. Morality For Beautiful Girls-same series-paperback good condition $4
  9. The Kalahari Typing School For Men-same series-paperback-few bent pages-$3
  10. Paperback ARC of Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson-new $10
  11. Hunt the Mood-Karen Chance-paperback-new with a couple dings on one corner (fantasy) $4
  12. Rule 34-Charles Stross-hardback-new $5 (SciFi)
  13. The Chocolate Castle Clue-JoAnna Carl-hardback-new but slight tears in the dust jacket at the bottom $9
  14. The Worst Thing-Aaron Elkins-hardback-good condition no dustjacket $5
  15. Final Curtain-R.T. Jordan-paperback-almost new-$3
  16. Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters-hardback library copy $2
  17. Murder In The Smithsonian- hardback library copy $2
  18. A Savage Place (Spenser) by Robert B. Parker- hardback library copy $2
  19. High Midnight-A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky- hardback library copy $2
  20. The Howard Hughes Affair-A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky- hardback library copy $2
  21. The Children’s Zoo by Lillian O’Donnell- hardback library copy $2
  22. Dragonfire by Bill Pronzini- hardback library copy $2

January 6, 2012

Made It Moment: Elena Bruck

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:04 am

The Joker

Elena Bruck’s novel focuses on one of my favorite topics–how do we survive a catastrophic event, in this case pandemic? The best of novels such as these highlight the fact that while the worst is happening, we are still the people we’ve always been, limited and benefited by our own choices. I can’t wait to read Elena’s book–and from the first chapters available online, I think you will want to take a look, too. In the meantime, please follow along to see how Elena reached not end times, but her very own made it moment.

Elena Bruck

As a child, I was awkward and dreamed of greatness that eluded me in life: outrunning kids in my Moscow yard, climbing trees and being a proud boy by the name of Andrew. My first story, written at age seven in big uneven cursive, was vaguely based on Tom Sawyer. Plagiarism did not concern me. Soon after, my father’s friend and also the famous Russian writer Aksionov sat in our kitchen, choking on his tea and roaring with laughter while he read aloud from my black-leather bound notebook. I was hiding in the bathroom, excited and scared, when he gave his verdict: “She is talented and writes great dialogue.” Made it? Hmm…

At age eleven I wrote a novel a la Alexander Dumas. Writing it was intoxicating. Every week I read new chapters to my friend Katya on long Metro rides to our English lessons. Katya said once: “You are a genius. You and Pushkin!” Made it? Those novels didn’t have titles.

As a teenager I wrote unrhymed poems full of mysticism and unrequited love inspired by Lorca, Borges and T. S. Eliot. One friend loved it; another one dismissed it as “women’s poetry.” My parents rebelled at my idea of becoming a writer. Medicine consumed my life, first in Russian, then in German after I moved to Vienna. I didn’t write.

In New York, I wrote a novel in Russian called “The Long Body Of Life.” I sent it to Aksionov, who had been exiled to the US and taught literature at some college in Maryland. The novel was unedited (I believed that editing destroys the spirit of writing). He said “Wonderful writing! But it needs editing. I’ll give it to my publisher.” He didn’t. I was hurt and didn’t call him again. Now, how stupid was that? I’d almost made it.

I wrote short stories, increasingly more in English. It was less nuanced and more exciting than Russian, like a new ice-cream flavor. English was new to me and pure, a perfect tool of self-expression. It did not expect return favors like Russian: all this tiptoeing around concepts, choosing the best word.

The subtlety came as my English matured, and I wrote “The Joker,”a novel about choices of adulthood and surviving the pandemic of Avian Flu, published in September. It was fantastic to see my book in print, but the best reward remains the joy of writing itself, the process of making it.

Elena Bruck was born in Moscow, Russia, studied Medicine in Vienna, Austria, and is currently an assistant professor of psychiatry at one of New York’s hospitals.

She lives in the East Village together with her husband and two children.

January 4, 2012

Made It Moment: Lauren Sweet

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:14 am

Contest Update: Congratulations to reader Jessica Wentz who won an e copy of ALADDIN’S SAMOVAR! Thanks to all of you for entering, and here’s to many more giveaways to come!

Aladdin's Samovar

Late last spring, the Made It Moments forum quietly celebrated its second anniversary, which means that this June it will be three years old. When something runs for that long, milestones begin to take place, and today’s Moment celebrates a great one. Today I welcome someone to the forum whom I’ve known for well over a decade, as a writer, as an editor, and as a friend. Lauren Sweet has had a pivotal effect on my own work, and I am thrilled to see her come into her own as author with a humorous mystery that delivers as many laughs as it does twists.

Lauren Sweet

When Jenny invited me to write a Moment, I told her I’d love to. But it wouldn’t really be a Made-it Moment, I explained very seriously. It would have to be a Did-it Moment.

At the time, I’d just decided to self-publish my humorous mystery, Aladdin’s Samovar, as an ebook. It wasn’t even out yet, let alone selling. I’d decided to “Do It.” But would I “Make It?”

I’d been dreaming of “making it” as a writer since 1983—about the time I graduated from college and was forced to, you know, work for a living. I began submitting my first romance novel in 1984—no luck. I started numerous other books and struggled with them, unable to bring the stories to fruition, and finally slid into a bout of writer’s block that lasted for years. Every idea I came up with trickled away like sand between my fingers as I tried to capture it on paper. After awhile, I stopped trying.

One day, a coworker at my temp job asked me if I would help him type up a novel he and his cousin were writing. He had no idea I’d ever written a word of fiction. Being me, I was unable to stop myself from critiquing and offering suggestions. (I do that. It used to be a flaw—now it’s a profession. Go figure.) Gradually, my writing spark was rekindled. I started novels. I didn’t finish them. I ran away to Alaska and got an MFA. And then I wrote a crazy, fun book about a woman who finds a genie in a brass samovar and wishes to meet her long-lost father, only to find out that he’s on the run from the Mafia.

Aladdin’s Samovar sold 25 copies last week—its first week out. (One or two were even bought by people who don’t know me.) I was back to pondering, “How will I know when I’ve made it?”

And then I started getting feedback. An acquaintance emailed me to say that she’d just downloaded the book and was sucked in—up to Chapter 3 already. Another was up to Chapter 8. My college roommate wrote to ask why I had to write something with fantasy in it, because I know she hates fantasy. A few hours later, she wrote to say she was halfway through, and loving it.

But the best was an old friend who finished the book in two days and immediately posted on Facebook, wanting to know when the next one was coming out.

And suddenly, I felt like I’d made it.

Lauren Sweet was born and raised in New Jersey, spending her formative years with a book in her hand. She tried her hand at writing romance novels in the ‘80s, took a twenty-year detour through the business world, and finally escaped to Alaska and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Lauren now lives near Portland, OR, and is a freelance writer and editor. Her other esoteric skills include astrology, figure skating, and the ability to do a perfect split.

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